Steve Chapman

This panic requires a total disregard for everything we have learned during the nuclear age. Over the past 60 years, assorted enemies and rivals have acquired nuclear stockpiles: the Soviet Union, China, Pakistan and North Korea. All of them have learned that they are useless as offensive weapons against other nuclear states and their allies.

The reason is simple: Any nation that carries out a nuclear attack assures itself of cataclysmic retaliation. You can't win a nuclear war. You can only lose one.

Alarmists claim the past is irrelevant because the mullahs in Tehran are an entirely different enemy: willing to accept national annihilation for the brief pleasure of erasing Israel. But if the Iranians were bent on mass martyrdom, they could have found a simpler way.

The incineration of Israel could be done with conventional weapons -- remember what the U.S. did to Dresden and Tokyo? -- which are far easier to acquire in bulk than nukes. For some reason, Iran has passed on this option.

China was equally terrifying back when it was developing nuclear weapons. The dictator Mao Zedong declared, "We are prepared to sacrifice 300 million Chinese for the victory of the world revolution." President Kennedy, however, wisely rejected a preemptive attack.

North Korea provoked intense anxiety when it built the bomb. But in the ensuing years, it has been no more or less intractable or belligerent than before.

Alarmists insist that an Iranian bomb would set off a regional arms race, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey hastening to get their own. But they already face a worrisome neighbor with a nuclear arsenal: Israel. None has seen the need for a comparable deterrent.

The world has seen the rise of one nuclear state after another without the outbreak of nuclear war or nuclear blackmail. Yet this one, we are told, will change the world in ways we cannot tolerate. We've heard that warning before. It's still wrong.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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