Iran’s Non-Compliance: Okay, What Then? (Updated)


Presumably in anticipation of the announcement by the United States, France, the United Kingdom, or Israel of the existence of their previously-undisclosed uranium enrichment plant, the Iranian government has admitted that they have a second, secret plant:

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 25 — President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain on Friday blasted Iran’s construction of a previously unknown uranium enrichment facility and demanded that Tehran immediately fulfill its obligations under international law or risk the imposition of harsh new sanctions.

“Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow,” Obama said, detailing how the facility at Qom had been under construction for years without being disclosed, as required, to the International Atomic Energy Association. “International law is not an empty promise.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused Iran of “serial deception” that he said “will shock and anger the whole international community, and it will harden our resolve.”

“We will not let this matter rest,” Brown said. ” . . . Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear programs.”

One of the criticisms that has long been laid at the feet of the process that the international community has been going through with respect to Iran is that pretty much by definition the IAEA’s certification efforts are limited to the facilities that Iran has disclosed. How can we be confident about what is or isn’t going on in facilities the Iranians have refused to disclose? This latest revelation can’t help but cast more doubt on the Iranians’ continued protestations that their nuclear development is strictly for peaceful purposes under the principle of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. If their intent was peaceful, why not disclose this second plant before events forced them to?

Following the revelation there will, no doubt, be heightened calls for tighter enforcement of existing economic sanctions, new economic sanctions, even military action. I think there’s no prospect whatever that the United Nations Security Council will vote for military action against Iran, indeed, I’d be very surprised if even with this disclosure the Council voted to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.

As NATO members debate whether they should remove their forces from Afghanistan and, considering the close relationship between Germany, in particular, and Iran I would be very surprised if military action against Iran would be contemplated as a NATO mission.

Frankly, I think that there are no additional punitive actions, military or otherwise, that will be imposed on Iran.

Geoffrey Forden of Arms Control Wonk urges that we seize this opportunity to impose additional, more stringent inspection regimes:

This revelation of a covert facility might be just the bargaining chip the West needs to force the measures necessary to build up confidence Iran is not establishing other secret plants. We need assurances about the people who Iran needs to establish a new plant. That level of confidence can only be achieved by the most intrusive inspections imaginable: working side-by-side with the Iranian scientists and engineers involved in enrichment. Under an agreement for a multinational enrichment center, Westerns would start working in the existing Iranian facilities the day after an agreement is signed. Of course, it is vital that we not give Iran any more time to establish other covert plants while we are not watching their people. It is time to realize that a multinational enrichment facility is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a bomb and, in fact, to roll back their indigenous enrichment capabilities.

I’m afraid this is overly sanguine about the world’s willingness to speak with a single voice in opposition to Iran’s project, whatever it may be.


Andrea Mitchell helpfully provides some evidentiary support for my skepticism about the likelihood of additional sanctions against Iran in the form of a quote from Russian President Medvedev:

I do not believe sanctions are the best way to achieve results. Sanctions were used on a number of occasions against Iran but we have doubts about the results. Nevertheless when all instruments have been used and failed, one can use international legal sanctions. That is common…I think we should continue to promote positive incentives for Iran and at the same time push it to make all its programs transparent and open. Should we fail in that case, we’ll consider other options.

By that time we’d no doubt be dealing with a fait accompli. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia’s veto will render additional sanctions impossible and as long as Russia’s veto is assured the Chinese can abstain, confident that no new sanctions will be imposed.

FILED UNDER: World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Maybe if Barack appears on Iranian television every day for 6 months, they will be amiable to the idea of nuclear disarming. Unilaterally of course.

  2. odograph says:

    I’d expect somebody to bomb them at this point. It’s just a question of who.

  3. M1EK says:

    If we hadn’t invaded Iraq under false pretenses, perhaps we’d have a bit more credibility now.

  4. Dave Schuler says:


    I have long opposed bombing Iran and I don’t see anything in this revelation to change that. I’ve covered this in substantial detail over at my place. We can’t accomplish what we’d like with limited bombing.

    The choices are inducing the Russians and Chinese to support sanctions that can be made to stick, bombing the Iranians to extinction, learning to tolerate a nuclear Iran, or some other solution I can’t imagine. I think we’re going to tolerate the intolerable.

  5. Drew says:

    “The choices are inducing the Russians and Chinese to support sanctions that can be made to stick,”

    I have it on good authority that President Obama is going to “condemn” this in the most strident of terms. In fact, he may even call Iran’s President a “poopie.”

    Meanwhile, the President has to deal with his arm-in-arm buddy Chavez, who sees things differently. And as we all know, we dare not break bond with the “global view,” lest we be viewed as imperialist pigs.

    And of course, he has just thrown roses to Putin……………..who no doubtedly has observed that President Obama does not yet realize he is not in Kansas anymore….

    Maybe Toto has more animal sense……….

  6. Dr. Schuler, you have been consistent in your opposition to bombing Iran but you acknowledge that meaningful sanctions aren’t going to happen (their efficacy in any case would be highly suspect given the experience with sanctions in Iraq) and tolerating the intolerable.

    Is your preference to tolerating the intolerable to bombing only because the effects and aftershocks of the intolerable are more ephemeral and hard to pin down at this time? Is it not possible, or perhaps even probable, that the intolerable may be worse than the better understand bad effects and aftershocks of bombing? I’m not trying to be difficult but it does seem to be a bit of a dodge to accept the undefined intolerable over the well defined bombing, if the basis of that choice is nothing more than the inability to concretely define the intolerable. Bombing can delay the inevitable, albeit at a significant cost, but I doubt it can stop it.

    I admit to not knowing what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, but the forecasts range from bad to really bad as soon as they set off their first test. Let’s hope it is in an unpopulated area.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t get my preference. My preference was that we impose serious enforceable economic sanctions on Iran four years ago.

    Both President Bush and President Obama have characterized Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon as “unacceptable”. I can only conclude that the word has no meaning.

    While preemptive military action may be acceptable, preventive military action is not. Furthermore, as this most recent revelation clearly demonstrates, we simply do not know where Iran’s nuclear development facilities are. I think that destroying 10%, 20%, or 50% of their weapons development facilities is not only inadequate, it’s counter-productive since it provides the Iranians with justification for continuing to do just what I think they’re probably doing.

    What military action against Iran would be other than counter-productive?

  8. An Interested Party says:

    re: Drew | September 25, 2009 | 02:29 pm

    What a load of horseshit…the Secretary of Defense approved of that so-called “throwing of roses” to Putin…is Gates also not in Kansas anymore? And who knew that the president and Chavez are “buddies”? Perhaps he should apologize for not trying to overthrow Chavez…it must be a crushing blow to some people to see that the president isn’t going to pursue a foreign policy that meets with their approval…but don’t lose hope, perhaps you will have the opportunity in a few years to vote for Sarah Palin to replace him…I’m sure she would stare down Putin and Chavez to your liking…

  9. steve says:

    Everything I have read out of the Army War College suggests that bombing is not likely to be very successful. Hell, if it was really doable and likely to succeed Israel would already have done it IMHO. An invasion and occupation could stop production, but that would leave us with occupying armies in three countries and probably record oil prices for a long time. We have no direct leverage with Iran, so if we are to accomplish anything in an indirect fashion, we will need Russia, China and Europe to participate.

    We have found it more pleasurable to piss on Russia rather than work with them, so that wont work. Plan on living with Iran having the bomb.


  10. Steve, Russia is damn near a state-run criminal enterprise where jurnalists that ask questions keep ending up dead. Good luck dealing with them in good faith.

    Of course, the real problem is that some people are going to find it very hard to live with Iran having the bomb. The question becomes how will these people react when they start to die because Iran has the bomb? As to who these people are, it might not be as obvious as it seems at first blush since Israel will unquestionably respond in very harsh and brutal terms and I just don’t think the Iranians are suicidal, but do we know that all of Iran’s enemies possess the means to respond and the will to do so?

  11. Both President Bush and President Obama have characterized Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon as “unacceptable”. I can only conclude that the word has no meaning.

    No meaning? No, I think the meaning is clear — the US (the EU, the UN) will do nothing but wring its hands and issue strongly worded denunciations. Which is why I put so little faith in the UN’s, the EU’s, or the US’s efforts at diplomacy to resolve this problem.

  12. OT, but related – reading the “plans” coming out of the UN and the G20 this week, I find myself nuusually happy that these organizations are in fact as weak and ineffectual as I believe them to be. Heaven help us if they could actually do what they said they wanted to do this week.

  13. anjin-san says:

    All Obama’s fault. What a wuss. Bush & Cheney knew how to handle rouges. No one dared go nuclear on their watch.

    Oh, wait…

  14. anjin-san, ok, I’ll grant that Bush and Cheney failed in this respect as well, although they did achieve some successes (Libya gave up its program for instance). Now, aside from snark, how does that invalidate the criticism of President Obama?

  15. odograph says:

    I haven’t checked this thread in a while.

    Dave, it’s more a feeling. I sense a “Clinton sending cruise missiles” kind of moment. Maybe it’s because, in good part, that the last election sowed such lack of legitimacy for the Iranian government among its people.

    That makes it quite a bit easier to profess love the Iranian people but bomb Iranian government assets.

  16. odograph says:

    (Drew is a stopped clock. He’ll be right once in a while.)

  17. anjin-san says:

    Now, aside from snark, how does that invalidate the criticism of President Obama?

    The “criticism” is just whining. Aside from making all-out war on NK or Iran, what was/is there to be done? Are you prepared to kill a few million people because their government might do something bad?

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    The “criticism” is just whining. Aside from making all-out war on NK or Iran, what was/is there to be done? Are you prepared to kill a few million people because their government might do something bad?

    No Anjin-sin, lets wait and let them do it to us first…I want you and your friends to be happy.