Why Won't We Impose a No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine? | Opinion

There is a simple answer to the question many Americans are asking: Why not accept the Ukrainian request for a lifesaving no-fly zone to protect its civilians? The answer is simple and important: because the Russians have nuclear weapons. If the Russians did not have nuclear weapons, the United States and NATO would not only impose a no-fly zone, but they might also send troops to stop the Russian massacre. But the understandable fear is that these defensive actions, reasonable as they would be, might well provoke a nuclear confrontation.

The lesson, therefore, is that any nuclear power can now blackmail the world into accepting any bullying aggression, without fear of military intervention. That is true not only of Russia, but North Korea as well. The difference is that North Korea does not seem to have aggressive territorial ambitions other than preserving its hermit tyranny over its own people.

There would also seem a clear lesson here with regard to Iran. For Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, it would probably act more like Russia than like North Korea. It might use its nuclear blackmail to invade Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other oil-rich neighboring countries. It might also use its nuclear threat against Israel, despite Israel's possession of a significant nuclear deterrent. As a former president of Iran once put it: Israel is a "one bomb state," meaning it could be wiped out with one nuclear weapon. Even if Israel were to retaliate and use its nuclear arsenal against Tehran, the trade-off would be worth it, according to this former Iranian leader, because it would destroy the sole nation-state of the Jewish people. It is this kind of irrational, suicidal thinking that has led Israel to state categorically that it will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear bomb—period.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at a press conference for selected media at his official residence the Maryinsky Palace on March 3,2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde/Getty Images

Now the United States is re-entering into a deal with Iran that will make it possible for the mullahs to develop a nuclear arsenal, assisted by the infusion of billions of dollars of money and the end of sanctions. Anyone who doubts whether Iran will continue its efforts to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon is either a fool or a knave. As Elie Wiesel once put it: "Never rely on the promises of your friends, but always believe the threats of your enemies." For him, this was the lesson of the Holocaust. And he made that statement in the context of Iran's repeated genocidal threats.

A deal between the United States and Iran will make it even more difficult for Israel to take the unilateral military action that may be required to stop the development of Iran's nuclear arsenal. Israel, along with the United States, will continue to subvert Iran's nuclear ambitions by sabotage, espionage and one-off targeted killings. But these tactics may not be enough. Whatever deal Iran makes on its nuclear program will not prevent it from cheating and lying, as it has done for several decades.

The United States should be wary of entering a new deal that would increase the likelihood of a nuclear-armed Iran. It is not clear, as a matter of constitutional law, whether the president even has the authority to make such a deal without the approval of the Senate. The rest of the world regards the Iran deal as a "treaty," and the U.S. Constitution requires that all treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Both Presidents Obama and Biden have interpreted the Constitution to permit the executive to circumvent this requirement by calling it a mere executive "deal," rather than a full treaty. That is legally dubious, although finding proper Article III "standing" to bring such a constitutional challenge might prove difficult.

In the meantime—and we always live in the "meantime"—the Biden administration should be very cautious about what it agrees to with Iran. It should assume the worst, and it should be prepared to act on that assumption if it turns out—as it certainly will, in this case—to be true.

Let us not allow Iran to become a bullying Russia. Let us learn the lesson that Ukraine is now painfully learning about nuclear-armed bullies. Peace requires that Iran never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons—no matter what it takes.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter @AlanDersh and on Facebook @AlanMDershowitz. His new podcast, The Dershow, can be found on Spotify, YouTube and iTunes.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.