A Nuclear Iran is Inevitable

The Islamic Republic is very close to being able to fuel a single weapon.

The Islamic Republic is very close to having enough fuel for a single warhead.

David Sanger and William Broad of the NYT report that “Iran Nears an Atomic Milestone.”

Iran has come within roughly a month of having enough material to fuel a single nuclear weapon, crossing a threshold that may raise pressure on the United States and its allies to improve the terms of a potential deal to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Experts studying new data contained in reports last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ atomic inspection group, say that by enriching nuclear fuel in recent months to near bomb-grade levels, Tehran has gained the capability to produce the fuel needed for a single nuclear warhead within a month or so, under the most extreme timeline. Federal officials who have seen classified estimates are prevented from discussing official assessments but conceded in background conversations that they believed it would take Iran only a few months.

Manufacturing an actual warhead — one that could fit atop an Iranian missile and survive the fiery re-entry into the atmosphere, a technology the Iranians were actively studying 20 years ago — would take considerably longer. Iran continues to insist it has no desire for a nuclear arsenal.

Nonetheless, Iran has not been this close to a weapon capability since before President Obama agreed to the 2015 nuclear accord. That agreement forced the Iranians to ship more than 97 percent of their fuel out of the country, and the United States said it would take at least a year for Iran to succeed at “breakout,” the term nuclear experts use to define a race to build a bomb’s worth of atomic fuel.

Now, more than three years after President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the treaty, a slow and steady Iranian effort to restore the country’s capabilities appears to have succeeded.

A report issued on Monday by the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group that specializes in analyzing the findings of the United Nations agency, concludes that a race over the summer to enrich uranium at 60 percent purity — just below bomb grade — has put Iran in a position to produce the fuel for a single bomb in “as short as one month.” A second weapon’s worth of fuel, it says, could be produced in less than three months, and a third in less than five.

WSJ‘s Laurence Norman reads the same study and reports “Iranian Guards Physically Harassed Female U.N. Nuclear Inspectors, Diplomats Say.”

Iranian security guards have physically harassed several female United Nations atomic agency inspectors at a nuclear facility over the past few months, diplomats say, and the U.S. has demanded that Iran stop the behavior immediately.

The previously unreported incidents at Iran’s main nuclear facility, Natanz, allegedly included inappropriate touching of female inspectors by male security guards and orders to remove some clothing, the diplomats said.

One of the diplomats said there had been at least four separate incidents of harassment. A second diplomat said there had been five to seven.

A paper circulated by the U.S. among International Atomic Energy Agency members ahead of its member states’ board meeting this week, seen by The Wall Street Journal, demanded an end to such conduct.

“Harassment of IAEA inspectors is absolutely unacceptable, and we strongly urge you to make clear in your national statement at the Board meeting that such conduct is deplorable and must end immediately, and that the Board should take appropriate action if further incidents are reported,” the U.S. paper says.

The first incident was in early June and the most recent was in the past few weeks, the diplomats said.

The reports come amid heightened tension between Iran and the IAEA over Iran’s nuclear activities and its lack of cooperation with the agency. Iranian officials over recent months have increased their criticism of the agency and its director-general, Rafael Grossi, publicly accusing the IAEA of undertaking political attacks and showing bias. Some hard-line and state media have echoed those statements.

Given that former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal, I’m hardly shocked that Iran is aggressively pursuing enrichment and thumbing its nose at inspectors. The sexual assaults on female inspectors is outrageous, of course, but not exactly surprising, either.

Still, many experts believe the Iranians want to bargain. A recent analysis from Samuel M. Hickey of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Manuel Reinert ofAmerican University concludes

It remains likely that the hardliners running Iran see a resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with any concessions and sanctions relief that can be squeezed out of Washington, to be in their best interest. However, negotiations require flexibility and can easily be derailed by existing red lines. The December law was a show of force by hardliners while the Rouhani administration was in office. Hardliners are now in control of the negotiations and are realizing that their maximalist stance is not going to achieve much. Unhappy with the status quo, they would like to see a breakthrough but seem to be hesitating over what strategy to adopt. This has led to a short-term approach that combines radical escalation and very partial compliance. The result, so far, is confusion, delays, and stalemate.

If Raisi and his government stick to maximalist demands — like making sanctions relief irreversible — while moving ahead with their escalatory measures, a return to the deal may soon become impossible. Iran would likely continue to advance its nuclear program, which could lead the United States to retaliate with more punitive economic sanctions. If tensions do escalate, it is possible that Iran could further reduce cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its nuclear program could be referred back to the United Nations Security Council. At this point, Russia’s position on whether Iran had gone too far would become crucial.

The Biden administration’s initial optimism about reviving the nuclear deal is rapidly waning. Biden’s point man on the issue, Robert Malley, now assesses the future of the deal as “just one big question mark.” Senior U.S. diplomats appear set on rejecting any concessions to Iran’s escalatory negotiating strategy. As one official said, “If they think they can get more, or give less to return to a deal … it is illusory.” Furthermore, the Biden administration will be wary not to waste additional domestic political capital on foreign policy, especially after Afghanistan. According to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “We have clearly demonstrated our good faith and desire to return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement … The ball remains in Iran’s court and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance.”

This is the right approach. For now, U.S. negotiators should continue to wait and see whether Iran is willing to return to talks in Vienna. Ultimately, compromises on both sides will be necessary. But there are several reasons why it would not make sense to preemptively offer the hardliners a “better” deal. First, Iran is now far from the guidelines of the original deal. Enriching uranium to 60 percent, even if this is in response to an act of sabotage against the Natanz nuclear facility, demonstrates the pursuit of capabilities with no civilian purpose. Second, Washington should not give the hardliners an easy win. Allowing them to use their undemocratic election to accumulate greater leverage would undermine the administration’s efforts to promote more moderate interlocutors in Iran. Finally, the better deal Iran wants may not be possible. Tehran would like to see Biden guarantee that a future U.S. president cannot reimpose sanctions. But the nature of American democracy means that this isn’t a promise that Biden can make.

Despite all of the obstacles, reviving the nuclear deal should theoretically be easy. Iran wants sanctions relief, and the United States wants constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. While both the United States and Iran have accumulated bargaining chips, further escalation is possible, and it will be up to the new Iranian government to decide how to move forward and manage its own domestic politics. There is room for compromise on the timing and sequencing of a return to compliance with the nuclear deal. But hard decisions should be made now before the situation needlessly spirals out of hand.

Despite the harsh criticism it received, at least partly a fault of setting unreasonable expectations, the deal the Obama administration signed was likely the best that could have been hoped for. Iran has all the cards and has every incentive to become a nuclear power, if only a token one. They’re a relatively wealthy country with enormous human capital. Keeping them from acquiring 1940s technology is an unreasonable long-term goal.

FILED UNDER: Iran, Iranian Nuclear Program
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    And that’s why countries in the Persian Gulf are getting chummy with Israel, the region’s existing nuclear power.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Now, more than three years after President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the treaty, a slow and steady Iranian effort to restore the country’s capabilities appears to have succeeded.

    Say what? You mean the Israeli policy of destroying the JCPoA is about to result in a nuclear armed Iran? Who’da thunk it! Well, unless of course what Bibi and company wanted was a new bogeyman to fear monger about.

    trump was always a useful fool.

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Trumps bungling of this is not just limited to Iran getting a nuke…they’ve also gotten a much more hard-line Government. Trump screwed the pooch on this six ways to Tuesday…like everything he touches.
    I’m sure Trump’s lover in NoKo is going to become a major problem for us in the very near future, as well.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    Still, many experts believe the Iranians want to bargain.

    How can you bargain with a country that is precariously balanced on a knife’s edge between reasonable and crazy? There’s no reason to believe that a bargain will be honored. The Iranians might want to bargain, but it’s really not in their best interest.

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  5. They’re a relatively wealthy country with enormous human capital. Keeping them from acquiring 1940s technology is an unreasonable long-term goal.

    So much this. Any policy on this topic has to keep this in mind and trying to wish away reality is just foolish.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    Iran becomes a nuclear power only if Israel decides to allow it. As @Kathy notes above, the Arab pivot to befriending Israel is all about Israel’s nuclear shield against the Iranians. It was a stretch when Israel was looking at having to fly clear around the Arabian peninsula with multiple mid-air refuelings, but now, if Israel acts, it will be launching its planes from the very conveniently-positioned UAE, and be backed by the very expensive air force the Saudis have bought.

    If Israel really means to stop Iran, Iran will be screwed good and hard. There’ll be blue stars of David in the skies over Teheran. I wonder if the ayatollahs have considered how that will play politically for them.

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  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    A Nuclear Iran is Inevitable

    Wait? There are people who didn’t KNOW this? Fork! I realized this 15 or 20 year ago.

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    They’re a relatively wealthy country with enormous human capital. Keeping them from acquiring 1940s technology is an unreasonable long-term goal.

    I’m not sure this is true. See: the Israeli Air Force. See also: possible regime change in Iran. There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip. There’s quite a list of countries that could, theoretically, build nukes: Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Australia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Kazakhstan and probably more. Most of those countries refrain because they don’t feel the need. Many are under the American nuclear umbrella.

    I think the odds favor the Iranians building a bomb, but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.

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  9. Moosebreath says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    “trump was always a useful fool.”

    Evidence for Trump being useful is…?

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  10. Bibi the Great says:

    That means “good bye Israel”? What a “political success!!”… 50 years of bla-bla politics and the result is an atomic towelhead… They stone women but have the Abomb! Now THAT’S a failure!

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Moosebreath: Iran, N Korea, Russia, China, the Taliban… Basically anybody with whom we have an adversarial relationship.

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  12. Raoul says:

    JJ: you mention “unreasonable expectations” – do you care to elaborate or are you just saying that so you can look reasonable by criticizing both sides? Whatever goodwill that was developed was suddenly dashed by Trump, so to a certain extent we will never know if Iran indeed was going to be more engaging. One thing we all know is that a substantial composite of the population of Iran is more Western oriented than other ME countries like Afghanistan.

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  13. mattbernius says:

    Given how well our acceptance of the reality that North Korea is and will remain a nuclear power has gone, I have literally no hope for any good outcome here.

    Oh, and of course, the ongoing Casablanca-style pantomime game that is pretending that Isreal is not already part of the nuclear club too.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Wait? There are people who didn’t KNOW this? Fork! I realized this 15 or 20 year ago.

    A nuclear capable Iran was inevitable, but Iran has always been clearly stating that they are willing to trade being nuclear armed for security.

    But, there’s no security when one election can switch the US policy from a slow, methodical, predictable foreign policy to a spastic, unpredictable belligerence-mixed-with-isolationism.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher:

    But, there’s no security when one election can switch the US policy from a slow, methodical, predictable foreign policy to a spastic, unpredictable belligerence-mixed-with-isolationism.

    Which is why I’ve always discounted the security argument. (Not that the Iranians are being disingenuous, but “security” has always been hypothetical at best.)

    Still, we’ve got Reynolds out here inferring another lawn moving job for someone. What could possibly go wrong with that?

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  16. dazedandconfused says:

    Iran developing the capability seems inevitable, but actually building one is not. Strong possibility they are following the Japanese model, “almost but we can do it in a month or so”, which they keep in their hip pocket just in case for some reason they need to deter China all alone.

    A few nukes are only useful as a deterrent or for murder/suicide.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I prefer mowing the lawn to tut-tutting and tsk-tsking after Tel Aviv and Riyadh go up in mushroom clouds, followed shortly by Teheran doing likewise. You want to know what could go wrong? A nuclear war in the middle east, that’s what could go wrong.

    We went to the brink of global thermonuclear war to keep nukes out of Cuba, and Khrushchev was not an octogenarian religious fanatic. Israel’s fear is not unfounded or unreasonable. The only way Israel will allow an Iranian nuke is if the US does what we’ve done for Japan and South Korea – extend our nuclear umbrella to cover Israel.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    There’s another nuclear power quite close to hand.
    Pakistan, roughly equal distance from the Gulf as Israel.
    There have long been rumours about Saudi bankrolling of the Pakistan nuclear program in exchange for an “option to buy” on warheads, which would fit suspiciously conveniently on the Saudi ballistic missiles bought from China.
    And Pakistan has very close defence ties to the UAE.

    The potential downside for the al-Saud, and the Emiratis, of a full on war alliance with Israel, is the reaction of the ulema side of the dyarchy, and the people.
    The Wahhabis heartily dislike the Shia mullahs; but they are not exactly fond of Israel either.

    But the Saudi’s might decide to bet that way.
    The questions then would be, what would the medium term consequences be for the domestic politics of Arabia?
    And foreign policies: about half the Saudi Air Force are European aircraft, and serviced by European contractors.

    And above all: can the hypothetical Israeli/Saudi alliance do the job without having to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy super-hardened targets?

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Which is why I’ve always discounted the security argument. (Not that the Iranians are being disingenuous, but “security” has always been hypothetical at best.)

    I think the foreign policy of the US has been pretty stable up until Trump — the two parties were likely to have a different bent to it, and Obama did some serious damage with the intervention in Libya (we should have honored our commitments to Gaddafi to not get involved), but generally pretty stable.

    Sure, there was our Iraqi adventure, but Iran was pushing for that, and IIRC some of the sources US Intelligence was relying upon were basically Iranian assets, so… I think that from Iran’s perspective, we get a pass on the Iraq adventure.

    Iran was willing to kick the can down the road, year by year, never giving up their ability to get nuclear weapons, but also never bothering to get nuclear weapons. The US is the one that broke that — whether Iran would have in the future is likely unknowable, but it was a stable adversarial relationship.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The only way Israel will allow an Iranian nuke is if the US does what we’ve done for Japan and South Korea – extend our nuclear umbrella to cover Israel.

    Which is all the more reason for us never to do such a thing.

    If the right-wing zionist fanatics that make up the Israeli governing coalition these days (the immigrants from Russia have been pretty radical, and have reshaped the country) want to take care of the fanatics in Iran, I don’t see why we would ever want to tell them not too.

    If Israel were either committed to a two-state solution, or becoming a multi-ethnic democracy*, then we might want to embrace them that way, but I’m ok letting an apartheid state sit outside the US nuclear umbrella.

    —-
    *: I am open to other stable situations for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which protects the self-determination of both sides, but I don’t see any. Israel has a right to exist, but so does Palestine, etc.

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  21. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    The trouble with that, is that the more frisky elements of the mullahs and the IRG could not, from the outset, resist continually poking Israel and the Arabians in the eye, rather unnecessarily.
    (And even the Egyptians, re Sudan, pre-2015, crazily enough)
    Though part of the post 2015 problem was that Iran became committed to a militarily forward policy due the Arab Spring and then Islamic State crises in Syria and N Iraq.
    Which in turn gives Riyadh, even more than Israel, fits.

    And the mullahs in general opted for a basically anti-American and anti-Israel stance from outset, as a matter of choice and a matter of policy.
    The situation was certainly adversarial, but hardly stable.

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  22. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    Extending the umbrella formally might have big problems.
    But it might be preferably to the Persian Gulf being lit up by “Canned Sunshine”

    Actually the umbrella is believed to have been unofficially in place during the late Cold War.
    Israeli weapons being incapable of reaching the USSR, the Soviets sometimes considered deploying armed forces to the region, with the implicit cover of their nuclear weapons.
    Washington in turn let Moscow know that a nuclear strike on Israel would bring retaliation.
    Hence the US move to Defcon 3 during the Yom Kippur War.

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  23. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    The politics of the Russian immigrants have been a factor.
    But more so the Israelis of Middle Eastern origin, about half the population of Israel, who were largely forcibly expelled in the 1940’s and 50’s, and whose attitudes reflect that.

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  24. dazedandconfused says:

    We do not have a shield or umbrella to extend. A weapon does not have to be delivered by air, can be delivered by what appears to be an airliner if it were, so those metaphors mislead.

    We can only offer terrible vengeance, and that is currently to be assumed as being in place for anyone who uses a nuke in the vicinity of the oil patch, or pretty much anywhere. I seriously doubt anyone crazy enough to do that will view an offical statement as game-changing.

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  25. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Coming late to this, but some things are important. Sanger and Broad have always been alarmist on this subject, and their main source for this article is David Albright, who now works with the hate-Iran organization, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). FDD has been advocating a strike on Iran long before the JCPOA even.

    As to a nuclear Iran being inevitable, Iran had an actual nuclear weapons program up until 2003, which it gave up. As noted above, it’s not that hard to reproduce 1940s technology today. If Iran wanted a weapon, they would have had one fifteen years or so ago. They might have changed their minds, and there is a faction within Iran that would like nuclear weapons, but so far they have not prevailed. The leadership understands that there are big downsides to being a nuclear weapons power.

    The actions they have taken so far are measured, explicit, and mostly reversible. They have taken them explicitly in response to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA.

    The drum Sanger and Broad are beating is Albright’s “breakout time” measurement. I was one of the many who objected to that metric back when it was adopted, but yes, negotiatiors find such metrics useful.

    For the eleventy-ninth time: “Breakout time” is the time until Iran has enough enriched uranium to make ONE bomb. ONE bomb. That’s not an assembled bomb, just an amount of uranium. It does not imply anything about Iran’s motives, although the descriptor does. Which is why Albright and the FDD like it and use it to churn up people like Sanger and Broad.

    I haven’t looked closely enough at the numbers to know whether they are talking about the 60% uranium that Iran has been enriching, which theoretically could be made into a bomb, but it would be a very large bomb indeed, and a more challenging design than for the 90+% enrichment generally regarded as bomb-grade. Or whether they are talking about the quantity of U-235 in that 60% enriched stuff that could make a bomb if it were enriched to 90%, which, admittedly, is not as onerous as enriching to 60%.

    One way or another, even having BREAKOUT WITH EERIE MUSIC is far from an arsenal. Iran could build the accessory items to finish a bomb, and if they were serious would be building them now. What does one do with a single bomb, though? It would deter the United States, and perhaps Israel, from attacking, but there is little likelihood the US would attack anyway. And, of course, if we piss them off enough, it could be the first of many.

    Assume that any article that uses David Albright or anyone at the FDD as a source is not worth reading.

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  26. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    “Umbrella” has long been the term used for an guarantee of nuclear retaliation for a nuclear attack.
    On the basis that the deterrent effect will protect the party guaranteed.
    (Albeit at varying levels of potential peril for the guarantor.)

    States are very wary of “informal” guarantees.
    For instance, NATO itself has never had such a guarantee fully formalised; on reason why both the UK and France decided on an maintaining their own nuclear forces, at considerable cost, as a backstop, and in effect, a trigger.

    Though it is usually assumed the presence of US forces puts an effective guarantee in place of a counter-strike, in Europe, Japan, and Korea.

    “A weapon …can be delivered by what appears to be an airliner”

    Which is why in a war situation in those circumstances, all airliners would be treated as potential bomb carriers.
    Though for a state to use an actual airliner would be improbable: too slow, to liable to interception, too much chance of things going wrong, and no upside. It would certainly not avert retaliation, and Israel at least has what’s termed moderately secure second strike capability.

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  27. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:

    The Iranians might want to bargain, but it’s really not in their best interest.

    I’d still argue it is.
    Being a nuclear state has a massive downside; if your opponents, or their allies, themselves have nuclear weapons, you have a potentially highly unstable and “hair trigger” military situation.
    An enemy is highly tempted to pre-empt, or at least to deliver an overwhelming strike as soon as any hostilities commence.
    And for what gain?

    The likelihood of a US attack, absent a nuclear weapons program, is not high.
    Hasn’t happened since 1978; absent extreme provocation, very unlikely to happen.
    And arguably there is even less upside for the Israeli’s. (So long as Hizbollah are not too active)

    A nuclear program places Iran in far more peril than it averts.
    Which is why it increases paranoia in the region, among those who speculate on what it may want a deterrent effect to cover re. other activity.
    And why the “realists” in Tehran are inclined to bargain a stand-still.

    For those reasons, there is still probably still a diplomatic bargain to be had, depending on the balance of politics in Iran, and on the incentives and prices each side has in mind.

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  28. Andy says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Cheryl said just about everything I would have except I’m not so harsh on Albright.

    I would just add that many wrongly assume that Iran wants (or might want) nukes because of Israel. But Iran’s nuclear weapons program ending in 2003 was not a coincidence since Iran’s program was a actually strategic response to Iraq – not Israel. The combination of Iran’s greatest strategic threat getting overthrown by America combined with multiple discoveries of Iranian deception and lies regarding its declared nuclear activities pretty much eliminated the strategic rationale for their weapons program.

    Israel, by contrast, isn’t any kind of serious threat to Iran, and is only marginally capable of a few airstrikes. Iran is only a threat to Israel via support for proxies. The strategic rationale for Iranian nukes simply does not exist.

    Where Albright is partially correct is that Iran does want some kind of breakout capability. Where Albright has been wrong for close to two decades is that breakout timelines don’t really matter, especially if the inspections program can detect the breakout.

    Iran doesn’t need nukes now, but they might in the future and they want the pieces in place to be able to exercise that option. And that’s what we can’t really stop. The IAEA is not really designed to prevent countries from going nuclear – the purpose of the inspection regime is to detect attempts to go nuclear, mainly by trying to catch the diversion of fissile material.

    In any strategic crisis, countries will do what they must. Iran is no different in this regard. Japan, even given its history of being the only country to suffer a nuclear attack, has the capacity to build weapons and would do so if its leadership believed its existence was at stake. Japan doesn’t have to because they are allied with us and because an existential threat does not exist. Israel developed nukes when it was under an existential threat. Pakistan and India did so in the context of a cold war. North Korea did because the conventional force advantage it had for many decades is gone, they have no friends and so nukes are the only guarantee of regime security.

    So the key with Iran is not to back them into a corner and to maintain the inspections regime as best as possible. Trump ditching the JPCOA was extremely dumb, but it is not the end of the world. Rather than try to resurrect that deal, we ought to try to ensure that Iran maintains compliance with the NPT and Additional Protocol.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: I would go into my argument for what is the solution to fears about Iran having “the bomb,” but the last guy (a US Army officer stationed in Korea) who heard it replied (and I quote) “my god, you really are a crazy fuck aren’t you?”

    I didn’t think is was really any crazier than the land invasion of Iran that I was hearing about from military people I’d met in Korea, and I will admit the JCPOA was a better solution overall (and possibly the best one available, given the worldviews of some of the participants), but as always, YMMV.

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  30. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Agree with Andy except on Albright.

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  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: @Cheryl Rofer:

    Thank you.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    The likelihood of a US attack, absent a nuclear weapons program, is not high.

    How many countries have thought that over the past few decades, just to discover that the US was invading?

    Was Gaddafi being smart when he dismantled his atomic weapons program in exchange for US non-involvement before US airstrikes were a decisive factor in the toppling of his regime and he was sodomized with a bayonet?

    Would Kim Jong-Un be quite so free to be a total shithead if he didn’t have enough nuclear weapons to make any military attempt to take care of him very painful?

    Would Noriega have been arrested after a US invasion if he had nuclear weapons?

    Would Saddam Hussein have faced the wrath of the US for being vaguely near Afghanistan if he had continued his nuclear program?

    I will say this: it is far better to spring forth and announce nuclear weapons than to merely have a nuclear weapons program though.

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  33. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Andy: Pretty much this. The Iranians aren’t stupid–its a 5000 year culture that will continue to endure.

    The only way to stop them–if it were prudent to even do something so ridiculous– is to invade the country, locate all the underground sites–and shoot the physicists working in them in the face.

    Nukes are homeland invasion insurance–they have very little value outside of that anymore. As long as there is no threat of invasion–the have no use for a nuclear weapon. No one does.

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  34. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    And how many countries have not been invaded or subject to airstrikes, despite all the hype:
    Cuba (condidering Bay of Pigs was aborted), Venezuela, Iran, North Korea (even before it had nuclear weapons), etc.
    All very much un-invaded and non-bombed.
    Arguably the contemporary US has usually a moderately high threshold for military interventions, by historic standards of Great Powers.

    Syria is a borderline case: US did intervene there against IS, but has not mounted a full-on assault on the government.
    As for Libya, that was largely driven by the determination to intervene of the UK and France, who had long standing reasons for disliking Gaddafi, and viewed the prospect of his suppressing revolt by massacre as unacceptable.

    The thing is, it is easy to imagine that any performative autocracy would be safe if it possessed nuclear weapons, because that has been the case up to now.
    However, that is a perilous assumption.
    Particularly if it lacks a secure “second strike” capability, it means that if a nuclear armed state ever passes the threshold for triggering attack, the response would be one of massive violence.

    And might even involve the use of nuclear weapons, if that was determined to be the only viable route to rapid destruction of the capability of a nuclear response.

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  35. Dan says:

    @Gustopher: and from and Iranian or even the rest of Security Council point of view that applies as much to US as to Iran.

    Obama does a deal, Senate has no intention of ratifying it so he try’s to commit to it via UN, Trump pulls out of deal. Biden may want to make deal but starts with a 50:50 senate and a system of elections every 2 years. US is on a knife edge between sanity and Trump supporters who tried to stage a coup in January.

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