Monday, January 24, 2011

The Iranian nuclear threat: how to put the genie back in the bottle

Last summer, Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained the world’s biggest strategic dilemma in two pithy sentences: “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome.”

The inelegantly named P5+1 group – the United Kingdom, the United States, China, France, Russia and Germany – is meeting with Iran at the magnificent Ciragan Palace Hotel in Istanbul, hoping to avoid the bleak outcomes Admiral Mullen outlined. In the best-case scenario, Iran may surrender its enriched uranium stockpile, the basic building block of a bomb, for peaceful nuclear technology and fuel – though that is months, and perhaps years, away.

But the bad news is that a fuel-swap deal won’t end the Iranian nuclear threat. If the terms of Iran’s dysfunctional relationship with the West aren’t fundamentally rewritten, crisis will periodically erupt – and inexorably push it to resume its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has most of the knowledge it needs to build a bomb; there’s no way to take it away.

The big diplomatic challenge, therefore, is to put the genie back the bottle. That will need a grand bargain with Tehran: a deal which would address Iran’s economic and security concerns in return for its ending support for terrorism and renouncing nuclear weapons.

Iran has long sought nuclear weapons, for the same reasons as other Islamic states: to attack powerful adversaries. Its regime fears that the United States intends to do it harm – and wants the capability to be able to threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia to avoid an existential threat.

Experts concur, though, that the project is some years from fruition. The US army’s General James Cartwright said in 2010 that it would take between three and five years for Iran to “actually create a detonation.” Meir Dagan, until recently Israel’s spy chief, suggested a 2015 timeline. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that an Iranian inter-continental ballistic missile, needed to deliver a nuclear warhead to targets in Europe and the US, is “more than a decade away.”

These estimates aren’t reasons to be sanguine: it’s facile to argue, as former IAEA Chief Mohammad El-Baradei did, that the Iranian threat is just “hype.” Bruno Tertrais, a leading nuclear theorist has pointed out that just two countries that acquired the capabilities to make nuclear weapons didn’t eventually assemble one. The uranium enrichment and missile capabilities Iran is acquiring bring it ever closer to having a deliverable nuclear weapon. But the fact is there is time to try and avert the apparently inevitable.

Ever since the revolution of 1979, Iran’s relationship with the West has been bitter. The fallout from 9/11, though, saw a window of opportunity open. Iran saw two states around it – Iraq and Afghanistan – crumble in the face of US power. It suspended its secret uranium enrichment programme. Later, in 2003, Iranian leaders attempted secret peace proposals through Switzerland’s ambassador to Tehran. In return for civilian atomic technology and an end to sanctions, the Iranians offered to stop supporting terrorist groups and to make their nuclear program transparent.
Iranian Nuclear Progress

But President George Bush’s administration believed a bigger prize was within its grasp: regime change. Mr. Bush cast Iran as part of the “axis of evil” and spurned its overtures. Later, though, the US became too mired in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Iranians to feel vulnerable – and Tehran’s nuclear pursuit resumed.

To what end? Few experts believe Iran, despite the millenarian fervor of some of its leaders, intends to use nuclear weapons to obliterate its adversaries. “Iranians,” the Israeli expert Avner Cohen wrote in a must-read essay, “are aware of the catastrophic consequences of such an act.” Even the most crazed regimes seek to survive – and Iran’s leaders know a nuclear first strike will mean their own annihilation. Iranian foreign policy has in fact been remarkably pragmatic – or cynical, if one wishes: witness its support for Christian Armenia against the fellow Shi’a Muslims of Azerbaijan.

But Dr Cohen also flagged a more realistic risk: “under the shadow of its bomb, Iran could become a source of political and military adventurism.” Iran, he argued, could aggressively pursue regional hegemony, hoping its nuclear weapons would shield it from retaliation. Michael Krepon has lucidly explained what nuclear theorists call the stability-instability paradox: though nuclear weapons deter aggression, and thus prevent large-scale wars, they provide cover for less-powerful states to fight wars against bigger ones. Put simply, Iran could unleash havoc, just as North Korea is doing – and the world couldn’t do a lot about it.

The one instrument the P5+1 has to avert this nightmarish outcome, though, isn’t working well enough. Sanctions have hurt Iranians, but Mr. Ahmadinejad’s regime hasn’t been shaken. It pushed through a harsh economic reform program last month, which was a sign of confidence. In Moscow and Beijing, there is little stomach for more sanctions. Moreover, if sanctions couldn’t stop cash-strapped North Korea from building a bomb, they’re unlikely to hold back Iran.

Irans Nuclear Facility Locations
 The assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists, and the recent Israeli-led Stuxnet computer-virus attack, have deferred, but not solved, the problem. As Mr. Dagan has made clear – and he knows better than most – the covert campaign has only delayed the inevitable.

Even assuming all Iranian nuclear facilities can be identified and obliterated in air assaults, the costs of such a confrontation would be huge. Iran possesses the military capacities to disrupt global oil supplies and inflict crippling costs on the world economy. It has also trained forces to unleash terror. There might come a time when there is no choice but to pay this price – but it isn’t just yet.

Enough points of convergence exist between Iran’s interests and those of the US to justify pragmatic engagement. Both states are, for example, hostile to Islamists in Afghanistan. Iran’s Chabahar port could provide NATO a cost-effective and secure logistical route into Afghanistan. Iran’s energy infrastructure needs Western investment – and the world needs its oil.


  1. There has to be responsibility of everyone in the preservation of peace. And in this issue deal with the Iranian nuclear program, not with threats, bluster instigation, and with lies, much less that will address the issue. For some fools who want to ignite the conflict issue, to establish reasons for claiming fictitious apparent reason, and disguise the real reason to take advantage of the situation - and it's not - the thing must be done in a balanced way to reach a common consensus and always use common sense, not with brute force as some crazy arsonist thinking to solve everything at the base of the armed struggle.
    It would be very irresponsible dare frenzied attack of some kind against Iran, which could cause an international catastrophe of unforeseeable consequences.
    And unfounded accusations and without consistency against Iran is not the way to peace and, likewise, will not succeed for the cessation of hostilities. The IAEA is a United Nations bodies, should also have their share of responsibility, and should always be at the service of preserving peace in the world.
    However, when it comes to Israel who seems unwilling to engage in peace, and has no morals, because Israel has nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and, moreover, this state does not meet even the resolutions of the United Nations, much less consider the International Community and the free world. And when it comes to Israel are not made sanctions or restrictive measures; settlements that Israel is illegal and provocative measures in Palestinian territory, contrary to the International Community.

  2. I don`t think that we need to use nuclear weapons on iran anyway. Because Russia is the one who started helping them to get nuclear weapons because Russia wants to start a second cold war with the U.S. and the world too.

  3. If Israel and Iran go to war. My money's on Isreal !

    1. I agree with you that Israel will destory Iran

  4. Enough! Iran cannot be trusted, period. They murder their own people and they Threaten to annihilate an entire country, all in the name of god. They have the audacity use God for their perverted desires. They are evil, and the world should just accept that fact. They are but pawns of Satan.Currently Iran is the rabid dog in the middle east and the world,not the U.S., not Israel, but the whole world needs to put it to sleep. No muzzle. Permanent sleep.

    1. And don't forget, they wait for the mahdi who's suppose to come out of a well,, sounds like Satan to me

  5. People don't truly understand the horror of nuclear weapons, until is too late, let's just say, aside from the blast, starting with: burns, skin cancer, general organ failure and the most horrifying way to end anyone's life, it's just immoral, unethical and the most vile evil act man has knowledge of, just to point out, a nuclear warhead, not only will annihilate anything on a 50 mile radius, depending on strength and target, it will kill woman, kids, old folks, animals, flora, contaminate water, pollute the air, cause acid rain, and many more things that I cannon name of because of the grossness of such act.
    Now they thinking going to nuclear war for religious reasons? I would just say stop being so darn STUPID, think this way, the bible, was a book written for a man or woman, right? no one knows for sure but they said it was inspired by the Almighty but using common sense as your foundation, would anyone on his right sense kill it's own children? your own flesh and bones? of course no, would you kill your brothers and sisters? a plain simple no comes forth, why? because is the right answer and the right thing to do, respect and love life above all materialistic things, we all were brought to this world with love as basis for the catalytic to work out its beautiful result, you, me, the people from all over the world, takes two persons to make love and bring life forth.
    And again, the religious crap, I kindly ask you to open your mind for a minute and understand this, God is there, because is way too powerful for a lesser being like you and even me to understand his magnificence or glory, God does see everything and I truly meant everything, don't you forget the fact that also he is everywhere, from the very moment when you were brought to this beautiful world to when you're making love with a woman or man, which if you didn't knew by now, is not a sin, read Genesis for future reference, there is no heaven nor hell, anything you do, you will pay it here, good or evil, there is no afterlife, only the very present, and the answer you would like to ask me if there would be an end of days, answer is no, like I said, which parent would kill it's own children? But is only a "thing" self nature to destroy others, no one has the right to take life away, not the government, not anyone, not even the almighty destroyed completely mankind on the great flood, because you haven't see it doesn't mean it did not happen, matter of fact it did, take a look outside your window after a rain and you will see the pact the almighty made with us, that beautiful rainbow is the very symbol of our actual existence.
    Wisdom comes with ages, takes time, patience, love, understanding and caring to develop it, as much as I love everyone, it hurts me when you're hurting each other for no reason, remember, those books you call it holy, were written by a man or woman, is it wise? yes indeed, use it as a guidance book and common sense with them the develop the values of true love, if you truly understand love, you would understand all life is sacred, and you would refrain from making this hideous monsters of war to destroy each other.
    Instead of trying to kill each other, here is an idea, openness, welcome your brother, neighbor, father, mother inside your own house, forget any difference you may had in the past and forgive yourself and forgive others and free yourself from that prison you place inside for no reason, forget religion, forget frontiers, forget nations and governments, forget skin color, forget hate, then arrange your house with the best stuff, fix your table for a fest, have the biggest meal you could ever made, tell your beloved guess you love 'em with all your heart and soul, have a party, and have the best time of your life.
    If you like this, practice it and just share it, is contagious ♥♥♥

    Love is the very end of death.

    1. That was beautifally said, and I know the horror of nuclear weapons, I use to fly on my aircraft when I was in the Navy, I know what they'll do and how long the radiation last,a couple of thousand years

  6. If Isreal bombs Iran over US objection, I hope the US government has sense enough not to become involved in ant way including parking aircraft carriers to aid Isreal. We certainly do not need another war at this time. Unless Iran directly attacks the US, the US military should to not be involved in any way. Let diplomacy take its course. Let the Iranian people force changes in Iranian foreign policy -- not the murder of Iranian citizens by outide forces.

  7. Speaking of WAR...lets find out whose country will always be on top and for all of you "AXIS OF EVIL" you can combined your NUKES maximum power all TOGETHER AGAINST to U.S & Great Brittain super warhead.
    If i were you need to stop or surrender your warhead before it becomes too late for your country. Do you think it is good to have a 3rd world war. You all "AXIS of EVIL" doesn't know what you guys were planning for you better know how to start to finish this worldwide NUKES issues.

  8. I agree with the comment above. Isreal and Iran need to handle their own without any involvement from the USA. Maybe the two leaders can put on boxing gloves and go 10 rounds instead.