The clandestine production of nuclear weapons by rogue states promises to create what Yale Professor Paul Bracken terms an "exceedingly volatile poly-nuclear Middle East."
Against the backdrop of negotiations between the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany, (known as the P5+1), on the one hand and Iran on the other, his warning is particularly important.
In 1961, a leading defense analyst, Fred Ikle, wrote, "In entering into an arms-control agreement, we must know not only that we are technically capable of detecting a violation but also that we or the rest of the world will be... in a position to react effectively if a violation is discovered."
At least five states have sought to build nuclear bombs clandestinely: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea. All are or were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], which prohibits all except the permanent five members of the UN Security Council from acquiring nuclear weapons.
During the past few decades they were given clean bills of health by the International Atomic Energy Administration, [IAEA], the UN organization monitoring nuclear energy programs to prevent them from being secretly transformed into parallel nuclear weapons programs.
The reason Iraq and Syria did not succeed in becoming nuclear weapons states was due to Israeli air strikes on their nuclear reactors in 1981 and 2007.
Iraq failed again in its quest for nuclear weapons because -- in the immediate aftermath of the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, which ousted Iraq's Saddam Hussein from the occupation of Kuwait -- the U.S. discovered and destroyed Baghdad's nuclear program.
As for Libya's nuclear program -- more advanced than the UN's IAEA had assumed -- the heart of it was interdicted at sea by the U.S. and Great Britain when they seized thousands of nuclear centrifuge parts destined for Libya. The centrifuge parts had been manufactured in Malaysia by the Pakistani nuclear smuggling network led by A.Q. Khan, the father of Islamabad's nuclear weapons program.
But North Korea?
In 1994 the Agreed Framework agreement between North Korea and the United States called for Japan and South Korea to fund the construction of two nuclear power plants in North Korea, in return for Pyongyang remaining in the NPT and making transparent its nuclear program. The agreement included North Korea's ending any pursuit of nuclear weapons.
What if Israel had not destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981? Saddam Hussein might very well have had a nuclear weapons capability when, in 1990, he invaded Kuwait. Might Saddam, armed with such weaponry, have continued south to seize the oil fields in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? And would a U.S.-led coalition then even have tried try to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait or even Saudi Arabia?
Today, we either naïvely or venally assume Iran is open to a simple trade. That is, the U.S. and its allies eliminate economic sanctions in return for Iran being transparent about its nuclear program.
This assumption misses why we have a problem in the first place.
Iran has been sanctioned because it is a terrorist-sponsoring state seeking nuclear weapons, not the other way around.
Iran is seeking nuclear weapons for what reason?
Most probably to fulfill its constitutional mandate to a) Destroy Israel; b) Stop America from protecting the Persian Gulf and our allies there; and c) Become the hegemonic power in the region. And, into the bargain, to control some two thirds of the world's proven reserves of conventional oil and one third of its natural gas.
With Iran, we face either the North Korean 1994 spurious-deal option, which permits it to acquire nuclear weapons capability, or the Israeli 1981 and 2007 Iraq and Syria option of a military strike.
An Iranian long-range missile test in 2012. (Image source: FARS)
David Albright writes that if we choose the "deal" route, we have to ensure that any agreement with Iran totally ends its nuclear weapons capability, unlike the 1994 deal with North Korea.
Proliferation expert Professor Matthew Kroenig, of Georgetown University, alternatively argues that we should simply destroy as much of Iran's nuclear program as possible.
However attractive a diplomatic agreement with Iran might be, its supporters assume three things, all questionable.
First, most assume we will know in a timely way of any significant Iranian breach of a new agreement.
Second, many assume that, once we find out about violations, we will muster the will to take appropriate action to end the violation. To date, however, Iran has declared the Parchin military facility off-limits, in the face of considerable evidence that suspect nuclear warhead design work has taken place there.
Third, much of conventional wisdom says "don't worry". For example, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian and former CIA analyst Paul Pillar both claim that even if Iran acquires a nuclear warhead, it cannot deliver it to the U.S.
They both thus assume we have sufficient time to protect ourselves even if Iran does get a bomb.
This is wrong on two counts.
The consensus of the US intelligence community is that Iran will have an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] by 2015, according to Congressional testimony on February 14, 2014 by Lt Gen Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Why is this?
Most Americans seem to forget that less than a year ago, North Korea showed that its missiles can now reach the U.S. if launched in a southerly direction — and demonstrated its ability to do precisely that.
Given North Korea's extensive cooperative missile work with Iran, and that North Korea can now mate its nuclear warheads to its missiles, Iran will most likely soon learn to do likewise.
What can history tell us?
On one side, in 1981 and 2007, Israel warplanes respectively struck an Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactor.
Great Britain and the United States in 2003 seized a Libya-bound nuclear centrifuge shipment aboard the ship BBC China after it was diverted to an Italian port.
And in 1991 the U.S. liberated Kuwait -- also discovering and dismantling Iraq's nuclear program -- while using a coalition of military forces.
On the other side, in 1994 the U.S. made a "deal" with North Korea. Pyongyang cheated immediately, now has a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, and is assisting other countries in acquiring nuclear weapons.
If one is concerned about the future of the U.S. and the free world, the choice seems clear. Will politicians have the courage to make it?
 "The Second Nuclear Age: A Conversation with Professor Paul Bracken", Luncheon Series, The Hudson Institute, May 6, 2014.
 See, for further discussion of these cases, the website of The Wisconsin Project on Arms Control, "Libyan Timeline;" "Iraq's Real Weapons Threat" by Rolf Ekeus, Former Head of UN Inspections Effort in Iraq, The Washington Post June 29, 2003; and Micah Morrison, "New A.Q. Khan Documents Suggest Pakistan Spread Nuclear Weapon Technology", Fox New, November 18, 2011.
 For an excellent chronology of these events, see "North Korean Nuclear Developments: An Updated Chronology" and "CRS Issue Brief for Congress, North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program".