Event Review: What should we do with nuclear outliers?

posted by Katharyn Nicolle on February 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm

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Yesterday, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Robert Litwak spoke at George Washington University about subjects addressed in his recently published book, Outlier States, as a part of the Elliot School of International Affairs’ talks on nuclear policy.

Addressing nuclear outliers, a recently coined term for states that do not abide by international norms, presents a unique challenge, particularly after what Litwak calls the “Libya Deal.” In 2003 the Qaddaffi regime gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for assurances of nonintervention. At one time, it may have been appealing to outlier states to be “brought in from the cold” by making internal policy changes without regime change. The promise of nonintervention, however, looked insubstantial when NATO contributed to Libyan regime change two years ago.

When outlier states do not agree to the “Libya Deal,” the administration then must look at all the options on the table in regard to policy decisions for Iran. Litwak cautioned against the military option arguing that a military strike could set back Iran’s nuclear program in the short-term but might not be sustainable in the long-term. Litwak also noted the potential consequences of military action, including the danger of military action escalating to full-scale war.

Litwak’s assessment of the military option is shared by many respected military leaders. Gen. James Cartwright, former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman, note speaking at a recent CSIS event that the preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, versus just setting back the program, would likely require sustained military operations.

Last year, a group of over thirty former military leaders and high-level officials and, including ASP Board member Adm. William Fallon and ASP CEO BGen. Stephen Cheney, endorsed an analysis of the military option. These security experts noted that the costs and consequences of military action could be significant and must be weighed against the expected benefits.

With the next round of P5+1-Iran talks fast approaching, avoiding partisan rhetoric and taking a level-headed, strategic approach will be the key to an effective policy.

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