Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, has a lengthy piece in Policy Review on Iran. He argues that were Iran to attain Nuclear weapons capability there would be three major repurcussions:
Even more nuclear proliferation. Iran’s continued insistence that it acquired its nuclear capabilities legally under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (npt) would, if unchallenged, encourage its neighbors (including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Algeria) to develop nuclear options of their own and overtly declare possession or import weapons from elsewhere. Such announcements and efforts would likely undermine nuclear nonproliferation restraints internationally and strain American relations with most of its friends in the Middle East.
Dramatically higher oil prices. A nuclear-ready Iran could be emboldened to manipulate oil prices upward, either by threatening the freedom of the seas (by mining oil transit points as it did in the 1980s or by seeking to close the Straits of Hormuz) or by using terrorist proxies to threaten the destruction of Saudi and other Gulf state oil facilities and pipelines.
Increased terrorism geared to diminish U.S. influence. With a nuclear weapons option acting as a deterrent to U.S. and allied action against it, Iran would likely lend greater support to terrorists operating against Israel, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the U.S.
He believes the two options currently proving popular, bribery or bombing, could be disastrous.
Targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities risks leaving other covert facilities and Iran’s cadre of nuclear technicians untouched. More important, any overt military attack would give Tehran a casus belli either to withdraw from the npt or to rally Islamic Jihadists to wage war against the U.S. and its allies more directly. Whatever might be gained by technically delaying the completion of Iran’s bomb option, then, would have to be weighed against what might be lost in Washington’s long-term effort to encourage more moderate Islamic rule in Iran and the Middle East, to synchronize allied policies against nuclear proliferation, and to deflate Iran’s rhetorical demonstrations against U.S. and allied hostility. Moreover, bluffing an attack against Iran — sometimes urged as a way around these difficulties — would only aggravate matters: The bluff would inevitably be exposed and further embolden Iran and weaken U.S. and allied credibility.
As for negotiating directly with Tehran to limit its declared nuclear program — an approach preferred by most of America’s European allies — this too seems self-defeating. First, any deal the Iranian regime would agree to would validate the claim that the npt legally allows its members to acquire all the capabilities Iran possesses. In other words, working supposedly within the terms of the npt, any state can get as far along as Tehran is now. Second, it would foster the view internationally that the only risk in violating required npt inspections would be getting caught at it — and that the consequence of getting caught would amount to being bribed to limit only those activities the inspectors managed to discover.
He then goes on to suggest a broad range of diplomatic alternatives – all of which are worth reading.