As noted, Waltz's theory is "structural" in that it abstracts away from the decision-making processes of leaders to focus on systemic factors like the balance of military and economic capability. This is parsimonious theory. But it simply cannot explain why states deviate from the theoretical expectations derived from objective factors alone. My beef here is that Waltz assumes the Iranian leadership to act as a perfect rational actor, and thus target states shouldn't worry about the Iranian bomb --- Iran will follow the logic of deterrence and a cold peace will emerge. I'd say this gets it wrong not just on rationality, but on intentions as well, which in the case of Iran have not been hidden or concealed in any way. Notice how Waltz handles these concerns at the essay:
One reason the danger of a nuclear Iran has been grossly exaggerated is that the debate surrounding it has been distorted by misplaced worries and fundamental misunderstandings of how states generally behave in the international system. The first prominent concern, which undergirds many others, is that the Iranian regime is innately irrational. Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, Iranian policy is made not by "mad mullahs" but by perfectly sane ayatollahs who want to survive just like any other leaders. Although Iran's leaders indulge in inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, they show no propensity for self-destruction. It would be a grave error for policymakers in the United States and Israel to assume otherwise.I mentioned some of this at my previous entry, and there are additional links there: "A Nuclear-Armed Iran May Be the Best Path to Stability to the Middle East."
Yet that is precisely what many U.S. and Israeli officials and analysts have done. Portraying Iran as irrational has allowed them to argue that the logic of nuclear deterrence does not apply to the Islamic Republic. If Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, they warn, it would not hesitate to use it in a first strike against Israel, even though doing so would invite massive retaliation and risk destroying everything the Iranian regime holds dear.
Although it is impossible to be certain of Iranian intentions, it is far more likely that if Iran desires nuclear weapons, it is for the purpose of providing for its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities (or destroy itself). Iran may be intransigent at the negotiating table and defiant in the face of sanctions, but it still acts to secure its own preservation. Iran's leaders did not, for example, attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz despite issuing blustery warnings that they might do so after the EU announced its planned oil embargo in January. The Iranian regime clearly concluded that it did not want to provoke what would surely have been a swift and devastating American response to such a move.
And recall that Saddam's Iraq is the key recent example of decision-makers either deviating from pure rationality, or more generally leaders subject to strategic misperception resulting in calamitous security outcomes: "Chronic Misperception and U.S.-Iraq Conflict."
RELATED: At the Wall Street Journal, "Iran Tests Missiles After EU Oil Move." And see the ITN video here: "Iran launches long-range missile."