Stanley Kurtz, writing in the National Interest, describes a frightening international system that may emerge in a nuclear Middle East:
With multiple nuclear powers, there will probably be a lot of shifting coalitions. True, the initial alliances are already evident. In a nuclear Middle East, we will be allied with Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia against Iran. But who knows whether Iran may try to strike a deal with one of the other Muslim states at some point, perhaps cozying up to Saudi Arabia if America puts too much pressure on the House of Saud. Just as America (very imperfectly) peeled Pakistan away from the informal rogue-state coalition after 9/11, shifting alliances between multiple nuclear camps will become a real possibility. American power will no longer command a fully nuclearized world. Instead, we’ll be the first among nuclear equals, jockeying for position against coalitions of powers who collectively may be able to stand us down.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with his prescription on how to prevent or react to such a future – he sees a hawkish future for the United States – but it’s certainly a problem that we need to be aware. If we fail to prevent one country after another from going nuclear, we won’t necessarily be able to rely on the ‘luxury’ of knowing who fired the first shot.