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Would a nuclear-armed Iran really be so dangerous?

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Further, there is scant evidence that possessing the bomb makes coercive threats more successful when they are made. Nuclear weapons did not help the United States compel North Korea to release the USS Pueblo and its crew in 1968. Israeli coercive threats backed by the implicit threat of nuclear war failed against Syria prior to the 1982 Lebanon War, just as British threats against Argentina in 1982 were unable to compel the return of the Falkland Islands, despite Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons.

If history is any guide, the acquisition of nuclear weapons will not embolden Iran to blackmail its neighbors. This does not mean that Iran will refrain from threatening its neighbors if it builds the bomb. Tehran has threatened other states in the Middle East in the past and it will probably do so again in the future. Building nuclear weapons, however, is not likely to accelerate the rate at which Iran makes coercive threats.

Would a nuclear-armed Iran have more success blackmailing its neighbors? The historical record suggests not. For example, during the 20th century, Britain made successful threats against Germany, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and others before acquiring nuclear weapons in 1952. Since acquiring the bomb, however, it has made only one successful threat, as part of a NATO coalition against the Bosnian Serbs in 1994.

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