- - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

America must not permit Iran to produce nuclear weapons. If a rogue state, the world’s No. 1 supporter of terrorism, is allowed to go into the production of nuclear weapons, no other state can be denied them. Proliferation — in self-defense — will go wild, and the result will be a world of nuclear horror and chaos, from which there is no return. Here’s how it will happen — and how it can be avoided.

The Iran nuclear agreement, formally titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, makes Iran a threshold nuclear weapons state. Iran must wait only a few years and it will be permitted to produce nuclear weapons. Mideast politics cannot permit Iran to be the sole regional possessor — not with their record of arming and directing proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis or even the Taliban. Already, other states (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt) are making covert preparations to go nuclear.

Given the tinderbox nature of the Mideast today — Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Kurdish regions, ISIS, Iraq, Yemen — the nuclear proliferation race will be intense. It will be accelerated by three factors: first, the regional nuclear fright in Northeast Asia, where North Korea’s neighbors, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, are developing nuclear plans, technologies, personnel and resources; second, the increasing availability of fissile material from reactor growth in developing nations (some of which is intended for weapons purposes); and third, the startlingly rapid increase in international availability of intercontinental ballistic missile technology. No state will be safe without nukes.

Proliferation will be rapid. By 2030, we will have spurted from eight to about 20 nuclear weapons states, mostly our allies, which formerly relied on the deteriorating U.S. nuclear umbrella. By 2040, expect to see about 30 nations with nukes, as high-tech countries rush to protect themselves. By mid-century the count will be about 40, as the leading Third World countries proliferate. Nukes will be everywhere, unrecognized, uncounted and many unprotected. And the count will continue to rise. Nuclear weapons will be available for seizure and use by aggressors, terrorists, criminals, failed and failing states, even extortionists. The world will be marked by ruined, radioactive, deserted cities, large and small.

Is there any hope? Yes. But it requires immediate, forceful action by America. We must use military force to prevent Iran — and North Korea — from developing nuclear weapons.

Immediately withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement. Formally advise Iran that if it does not dismantle all its nuclear facilities, we will do it with military force. As an initial element of the negotiating process, demolish the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Be generous with the carrots, but use the stick without delay if needed. As Iran is denuclearized, the world will rejoice. Hopes for nonproliferation will surge.

Strike North Korea hard (electric power plants, communication networks, known nuclear and launch sites, leadership sites, artillery and missile sites targeting Seoul. Offer the populace a better life than they have ever known if they help.

The damage and casualties incurred in these two actions is tiny as compared to the catastrophe these two rogues will inflict through proliferation.

By these two actions America will have temporarily stopped proliferation. There is now time for us to make nonproliferation permanent.

The single fault in the landmark Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is that its creators were not able to agree on any mechanism to prevent proliferation. They did, however, take a giant step in that direction by creating two tiers of states: five approved nuclear weapons states (permanent members of the U.N. Security Council); and the balance (currently 185) who signed as non-nuclear weapons states.

A half-century of NPT experience has now proved that nonproliferation requires enforcement. America must now take on the intense, decades-long diplomatic effort to convince the world that these five must be accorded the responsibility of enforcing nonproliferation, collegially or individually. It is a fitting challenge for America’s foreign policy. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty must also be made nonapplicable to these five, so they will have the unquestioned power, as well as the responsibility, to enforce nonproliferation.

The world can remain stable at eight states with nukes, and future diplomacy can work to make it five.

America has the capability to show the world how to live comfortably with nuclear weapons for the long term. Do we have the will?

• Robert R. Monroe, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, is the former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

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