In an article published in Foreign Affairs, titled “The Nuclear Domino Myth,” Johan Bergenas argues that a nuclear domino effect resulting from Iran’s nuclear weapons program in the Middle East is an overly fearful theory with no historical basis.
Bergenas points toward historical trends in nuclear arms races, the US nuclear umbrella, and the containment power of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) as reasons to delegitimize the nuclear domino theory in the Middle East. If the international community continues to use the theory, he argues, a self-fulfilling prophecy may find the region in an actual nuclear arms race.
Bergenas defines the nuclear domino effect (NDE) in the context of Iran’s influence: “If Iran develops nuclear weapons, its neighbors will inevitably do so too.” The author also points out that exclusively one political group does not use NDE. The theory is used by people on all sides of opinion to characterize the dangers of nuclear Iran, people like “US Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA)…John Bolton, conservative former ambassador to the UN, to Vice President Joe Biden.” The author assumes reader familiarity with the history of Iranian nuclear activity and after presenting his disbelief in nuclear domino theory, gives the reader an historical record of nuclear proliferation and regional influence. Bergenas points to the historical record of global nuclear development, or lack thereof, as proof that the nuclear domino theory in the Middle East is only a myth, and certainly not as dire as supporters have made it out to be.
He highlights that “after Israel developed a nuclear weapons capability in the late 1960’s, no regional nuclear chain reaction followed, even though the country is surrounded by rivals.” He calls attention to a similar situation after North Korea developed their nuclear weapons program, without causing South Korea or Japan to domino and develop in competition. The author also suggests that the strength of the NNPT and US influence have dissuaded many possible domino effects as well. He suggests that the US effort, and their visible success in avoiding widespread nuclear proliferation then, are the very reasons a nuclear domino effect remains a myth. He concludes this argument of nonproliferation through containment by pointing out heavy US influence and success in managing the Middle East’s nuclear desires, mainly citing United Arab Emirates' back down.