Three-quarters of National Journal's National Security Insiders disagreed with a recent statement by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said a nuclear Iran represents the greatest threat to the world.
If Tehran acquires a nuclear weapon, Romney told Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, it would pose the most serious threat to the world, to the United States and to Israel's existence.
Not so, said 73 percent of NJ's pool of national-security experts, even as they acknowledged that a nuclear Iran could have a destabilizing effect on the Middle East and erode international nonproliferation efforts. "It would be an unmitigated negative for U.S. interests," one Insider said. "But it is not the greatest security threat facing the U.S. or the world at large."
If Iran -- or any other country with money -- truly wants to go nuclear, another Insider said, there is not a whole lot the world can do to stop it. "Making such comments reduces your maneuver room when Iran actually gets close to going hot, makes you look impotent when they do, and blinds us to other challenges (e.g., a rising or failing China, Pakistan imploding, etc)," one Insider said.
(RELATED: Who Are the Experts?)
Individual nukes rank behind several other threats, including cyberthreats, another Insider said. "Coupled with its aggressive ideology, Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose a greatly heightened danger to others. But so would other potential scenarios: the collapse of authority in Pakistan that undermined the security of its nuclear weapons, Pakistani aggression against India that risked escalate to nuclear war (feared in their 2001-2002 crisis), or unstable disintegration of authority in North Korea or spasmodic acts by its leaders in a crisis," another Insider said. Others said that climate change, or the "invasive species known as Man," rank as bigger threats.
One Insider cited Israel itself, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, as a greater threat. "The greatest threat to the world is clearly nuclear-armed Israel with its almost daily threats to launch an attack on Iran, inevitably involving the U.S. in a potentially catastrophic Middle East war," the Insider said. "Continually threatened by Israel, with its 200+ nuclear weapons, and with nuclear-armed neighbors -- American allies Pakistan and India -- Iran has every reason to arm itself in equal measure, although U.S. intelligence believes it has not yet decided to do so." The best way to stop Iran from going nuclear is to turn the entire region into a nuclear-free zone, starting with Israel which never signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Insider said.
Another Insider agreed that Iran is not the world's biggest threat but cautioned against making the "mistake" of pinning concerns on Israel. "A nuclear Iran is not THE greatest threat, but it is still a major threat.... A nuclear capable Iran would be a major threat to the Gulf, to South Asia, and to regional stability."
Twenty-seven percent of Insiders did agree with Romney's assessment. "A nuclear Iran is certainly one of the most immediate threats to the U.S. from a national security and economic security standpoint," one Insider said. "A nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians would be tremendously destabilizing to the Middle East and could tempt the Iranians into closing the Strait of Hormuz, thus provoking a U.S. reaction in an effort to re-open it."
Another Insider said that the experts "err" when they assume the Iranians think like Westerners. "They do not," the Insider said. "And should they unleash a nuclear attack, the ultimate consequences could be devastating far beyond the confines of the Middle East."
Or, as one Insider put it: "Can lead to nuclear war. That ain't nothin."
1. Do you agree with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s recent statement that “a nuclear Iran represents the greatest threat to the world”?
- No 73%
- Yes 27%
"Political leaders and wannabees should exercise rhetorical caution as they paint themselves and the U.S. into unwanted corners. Preventing Iran from nuclear weaponizing is important but not the greatest global threat."
"The hysterical, election-driven rhetoric about Iran today is almost verbatim the same as that associated with the Chinese acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1960s."
"Iran is a dangerous country under great stress because of sanctions and fissures within the governing circles, but there are a number of dangerous threats to U.S. and world security. Hyperventilation is not helpful, but this is done on both sides of the aisle, especially in a political season."
"Sounds like Israeli hype. That Iran would be any more irresponsible than other nuclear powers is unsubstantiated."
"It is hard to think of any other contingency about which the hyperbole has gone so very far beyond any careful analysis as to exactly why it supposedly would be a threat."
"I thought it was Russia. What changed? The policy or the audience?"
'If he's right, we're in a delightful spot. Did our way of life really change on May 25, 2009? Compare an Iranian deterrent to, say, a euro collapse or a Chinese hard landing. It's no contest."
"We might have hoped for a bit more measure and a bit less hyperbole and pandering."
"Climate change comes higher, even if a nuke Iran were a nasty piece of work."
"The greatest threat to the world is the invasive species know as Man."
"Iran is a sponsor of terrorism. Enough said."
"A nuclear Iran would create a destabilizing arms race in the Middle East that could very well lead to a nuclear exchange in the region."
"Iran seeks to build an empire by defining itself in opposition to the West -- that would threaten peace for decades to come."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.