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Bomb, Coerce or Contain Iran

Author: Gregory D. Koblentz
May 15, 2013
National Interest

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Although Syria's civil war is dominating front pages around the world, a debate is still raging in Washington, Tel Aviv and other capitals about how to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Policy makers and academics are all grappling with the same set of questions about Iran: Is Iran rational? Can Iran be deterred? What are Iran's nuclear ambitions: Will it be satisfied with having a "break-out" capability or is it determined to build and deploy a nuclear arsenal? How effective are sanctions? What is the feasibility of a military attack to eliminate Iran's nuclear program? What are the risks of such an attack? What would be the political and strategic consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?

Three schools of thought have emerged, which have different answers to these questions. I call these schools (for the lack of more elegant terms) the Bombers, the Coercers and the Containers. These labels are not meant to be flip, but to crystalize the core assumptions and policy prescriptions of the most prominent voices in the current debate on Iran.

The first group is the Bombers. The Bombers believe that only a military strike will end Iran's nuclear program and that a military strike is better sooner rather than later. They are convinced that Iran is dead-set on building nuclear weapons, that it is ominously close to acquiring these weapons, and that a nuclear-armed Iran will pose a greater danger to the Middle East.

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