When the debate over an invasion of Iraq first began, it seemed there was a countless number of causes for war offered for its justification – Iraq’s horrifying human rights record, its proclivity for war-starting, its weapons of mass destruction programs, U.N. sanction violations and the suffering of Iraqis under tyranny. Most of these are indeed worthy reasons, but only one makes confrontation inevitable: nuclear arms.

To understand what is so threatening about a nuclear Iraq, one must be aware of Iraq’s strategy. Saddam Hussein’s vision of Iraq’s role in the region is clear, both from his own statements and behavior: Iraq seeks to establish regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf and control over its oil resources.

Enter nuclear weapons, Iraq’s instrument for turning criminal dreams into horrifying reality. According to experts, Iraq has invested somewhere around $130-180 billion in its WMD program, taking priority over Iraq’s economy, the welfare of its people, international status and even its conventional military. Why the all-out drive for nukes? Because nukes change everything. Their destructive capacity alters the balance of power in such a way that conventional, chemical, even biological weapons cannot. Saddam knows as well as anyone that possession of nuclear weapons would mean both an end to his worries and a means to his end.

If Saddam possessed a nuclear weapon, the possibility of future foreign overthrow would immediately evaporate. Saddam’s nuclear umbrella would mean that any conventional deterrence would become nuclear deterrence, taking on a more apocalyptic bent. And the result of him actually using the weapons could mean millions dead.

Nuclear capabilities would instantly make Iraq the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. It would permit Iraq to “redraw the map of the Middle East,” as Saddam’s half-brother Barzan said, most likely meaning the re-invasion of Kuwait as in 1990 or even Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province as in 1980 (either of which means control over at least 20 percent of world oil reserves.) This time, however, no opposing nation or coalition could challenge him, because the dangers of confronting a nuclear Iraq would be too immense.

Finally, it would provide the overwhelming leverage against other nations that membership in the “nuclear club” confers. This bestows the possessor with the ability to demand an immediate end to U.N. sanctions and efforts at disarmament. The southern Sh’ia and northern Kurds would be left to the mercy of Saddam’s cruel hands, because the no-fly zones would no longer be sustainable.

Nukes change everything.

All this, of course, is not to forget that Iraq developing nuclear arms is illegal in the first place. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the Gulf War cease-fire resolution and the most recent U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 all prohibit Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, and all of which Iraq has consistently and contemptibly violated.

Motives of regional domination and control over oil resources, combined with a proven proclivity for miscalculation, dangerous risk-taking, threats and actual uses of force against neighbors, and a complete lack of moral restraint make a nuclear Iraq unacceptable. An invasion to forestall the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iraq is a decision that does not come lightly to both policymakers and citizens. But the unpleasant reality remains.

It is for the nightmare consequences of a nuclear Iraq that the talk over invasion has honed in on disarmament, even at the expense of issues like human rights and democracy. Even as Saddam shows no sign of letting even up, after a decade of efforts, we will unflinchingly continue to insist that the burden of avoiding war rests on Iraq’s decision to give up the nuclear game.

Joey Tartakovsky is a junior global studies and Slavic studies major.