Skip to content

Can the West Stop Iran from Building the Nuclear Bomb?

Daniel Dombey in the Financial Times: "The full text of an internal European Union document on Iran reveals that officials from the bloc are pessimistic about the chances of stopping Iran from getting enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb. The reflection paper, written by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, circulated to the EU’s 27 governments last week, concedes that Iran will probably acquire sufficient capacity to enrich uranium for a weapons programme “at some stage”, adding that the programme has been held back by Tehran’s own technical shortcomings, rather than international pressure."

• Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group: "It's not too Late to Stop Iran"
While it may well be too late to stop Iran acquiring its own fissile material, it is certainly not too late to halt Iran from having the bomb. To achieve this goal will require a different diplomatic strategy from the one presently supported by the European Union and the United States. It means abandoning the "zero enrichment" goal in favor of a "delayed limited enrichment" plan.  (...) Tehran would be disciplined by knowing that if Iran made any move toward building a nuclear weapon through the production of weapons-grade fissile material, or any hardware in which to put it, all hell would break loose. A full range of economic sanctions would take immediate effect, and military options would be on the table. One advantage of this approach, if the United States and the European Union could swallow their reservations, is that it would allow time for a more moderate political dynamic to take hold in Iran. But this plan's greatest benefit is that it would win genuine universal support, not only from "any peaceful use" enthusiasts, but also Russia and China, which are likely to continue being extremely reluctant Security Council enforcers of the present "zero enrichment" strategy.
• Steven R. Weisman in the International Herald Tribune: "European negotiators, yielding to pressure from the United States, have agreed to widen a ban on financial transactions with Iran and on the export of materials and technology that Iran could use to develop nuclear weapons."

What conclusions can be drawn from the US-North Korea Deal?
• Kim Murphy in The LA Times: "The debate in Iran now appears to focus on how hard Tehran should press for favorable terms. 'The hard-liners, perhaps impressed by North Korea's achievement, are now inclined to be more resilient and more uncompromising,' said Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of politics at Tehran University. 'They say if North Korea could do it, why shouldn't we? Why should we let the United States dictate to us rather than negotiate with us?'"

• Fred Kaplan in Slate: "A constant mantra for the past dozen years --- chanted by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on several occasions --- is that the Agreed Framework, which the Clinton administration signed with North Korea in 1994, was a naive and disastrous failure. And yet the deal that Bush's diplomats just negotiated is very similar to Clinton's accord in substance --- and nearly identical in its approach to arms control."

• Harvard professor Graham Allison in the Asia Times: "This is a significant step for the Bush administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that's the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs' worth of plutonium, and one nuclear test after the Bush administration departed from this point that it had inherited essentially from the Clinton administration."

Related post in the Atlantic Review: Why direct negotiations with North Korea, but not with Iran?

ENDNOTE: What about bombing Iran? United Press International:
At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. "I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers," said Soroush, "and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized." "I know," President Bush answered. "But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush. President Bush chuckled and walked away.

Trackbacks

No Trackbacks

Comments

Display comments as Linear | Threaded

2020 on :

No, we can't stop Iran, at least not without setting the whole of the middle east on fire. Iran has hardly the capabilities for a sufficient defense, if attacked by a superiour power like the U.S, Iran will try to face the enemy with guerrilla tactics - and try to drag his neighbors into war. An Iranian attack on oilfields and refineries in Saudi-Arabia and Kuwait would be very likely then and that is the last thing Uncle Sam would need. Iran's neighbor has been invaded by two nuclear powers in an illegal war of aggression. You don't have to be a radical islamist to realize that conventional capabilities and 'negotiations' or the UN-Charta are no guaranties for your territorial integrity. That's the lesson Uncle Sam taught the world.

Don S on :

"Can We Stop Iran from Building the Nuclear Bomb?" Do 'we' want to? Or do 'we' merely wish to fail and blame Bush?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I have changed the "we" into "the West." It is a declared goal of both the US and Europe to prevent Iranian nukes. Chirac is the only one who went wobbly on this and suggested that an Iranian bomb would not be such a big problem for Israel. The EU-3 is negotiating with Iran. They are trying. What is the US doing to prevent Iran from building a bomb except for tough rhetoric and having sanctions which so far did not stop Iran? The US has given Iran two "excuses" for nukes, which make it so damn difficult to convince them to give up their programs. The Iraq war and the success of North Korea told Iran that it needs nukes in order to prevent an attack from the US (or US allies like Iraq) and to improve diplomatic relations. Apparently that is the lesson Iran learned. Very unfortunate. As I said before, I am in favor of full EU sanctions against Iran, if mixed with direct US-Iran negotiations.

Don S on :

"The US has given Iran two "excuses" for nukes, which make it so damn difficult to convince them to give up their programs. The Iraq war and the success of North Korea told Iran that it needs nukes" Two excuses, Joerg? In what respect is the 'success' of North Korea the doing of the US? North Korea went ahead after making an agreement with the US and other countries not to. As for the other excuse, which came first - the chicken or the egg? The Iranian nuke program or the Iraq War?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Don "In what respect is the 'success' of North Korea the doing of the US?" The US is making a deal with North Korea. Iran wants that as well. "As for the other excuse, which came first - the chicken or the egg? The Iranian nuke program or the Iraq War?" First came US support the shah, the CIA coup etc. Then came the hostage crisis. Then came US talk about regime change. Then came the nuke program. Then the Iraq war. The Iraq war makes it harder (or impossible) to persuade Iran that it does not need nukes for its security. Don't you agree with that assessment?

Don S on :

"The US is making a deal with North Korea. Iran wants that as well." And who is it that has been urging that course all along, Joerg? Many of the voices had french and germanic accents as I recall. But I agree; the US should have responded more appropriately, possibly by nuking Pyoyang?

Zyme on :

As long as european countries keep up their honest attitude towards Iran, this country won´t be more dangerous than Pakistan or India. Since Americans and Israelis are in a totally different position, they can´t expect our full support of their nervous behaviour. This nervous and aggressive stance has increased the iranian efforts to gain nuclear weaponry a lot. We can´t be expected to further reward such a dangerous policy.

Don S on :

I don't know, Zyme. Are India or Pakistan publically threatening to obliberate another country? Or is that closer to the kind of thing we see out of North Korea?

2020 on :

Don, I think Iran is just playing a side show with Israel, to motivate the populations of its sunni-arab rivals in its favor. Same as Saddam did. I don't believe Iran is able to destroy Israel's counter-strike capabilities with precise 'surgical' strikes and I don't believe that any Iranian leader, be it in government or the Pasdaran, will accept any possibility of Israel's likely massive response.

2020 on :

Correction: ...Israel's likely massive [i]retaliation[/i]

Don S on :

2020 - that is nice of you. Would you feel the same way if it were the USSR threatening Hamburg? Comments like your's remind me of the old joke about a ham & egg breakfast: The chicken has an interest but the pig is committed. In this case Israel is the pig and europe is the chicken...

2020 on :

Don, I've been living under this threat a long time, but I never believed it to become true because the Soviets knew we would retaliate. He who strikes first dies second. I think the Iranians know that, too.

Fuchur on :

It's not so easy. First of all, it's not at all clear whether Israel really has the capability for a massive retaliation. Officially, they don't even have nukes. A realistic guess would be that they have about 10 nuclear warheads. But I also think there is a realistic chance that some of these would be destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike. So, that leaves a realistic potential of 5-6 nukes for your "massive" retaliation. Are you absolutely sure that's enough to deter some fanatic Islamist? I am not. Of course one could argue that an Iranian strike on Israel would result in nuclear retaliation from the US or Europe (i.e. France or Britain). But then again, I'm not aware that there exist any official treaties (am I correct here?). So, one suggestion has been to make Israel a member of Nato. I would agree that in that case, there would be some meaningful deterrence. However, there is also a second scenario, which I find much more troubling: So far, we've only been talking about an open Iranian attack on Israel. But what if some day a nuclear bomb goes off in, say, Tel Aviv? 1. Would it even be possible to find out who manufactured the bomb? I think you can do so looking at the "signature" of the Uranium used - but I'm not 100% sure. 2. What reaction would you suggest? "Retaliate" and possibly kill a few million Iranians? Well, in that case I don't see why it should be out of line to bomb the Iranian facilities now, resulting in far less casualties.

2020 on :

Fuchur, we could go on and on and find one dangerous threat after the other. I say, even radical islamists wouldn't drop the bomb, you find the islamist more radical to do that. And while we concentrate on would-be this and could-be that in Iran we all ignore the fact that there are certainly more dangerous islamists in Pakistan, America's dear ally notorious for its proliferation scandals, which already has the atomic bomb. Does anybody care? No.

Fuchur on :

Are you saying that, because there are so many dangerous threats in this world, we shouldn't address the dangerous threat from Iran? What kind of logic is that? It's not as if Iran would somehow soak up all our "problem-solving resources". You sound as if you're worried that someone might drop the ring into mount doom while we're busy staring at Iran ;-). We're very well capable of dealing with Iran, and keeping an eye on the other evils in this world at the same time. Yeah, maybe Iranian radicals won't use the bomb. Maybe they will. One thing is for sure: They can't drop the bomb if they don't have it. The question is: How much are we/should we be willing to pay for this certainty?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I don't think that the current Iranian regime is sufficiently crazy to start nuking Israel. The regime is nationalistic and wants to increase Iranian influence. An [i]open[/i] war with Israel would only do harm. I am more concerned that some rogue elements could get hold of the Iranian bomb and pursue their own agenda or sell nukes. Or a regime change takes place and some crazies take power. Besides, nukes would embolden the current regime in Iran. They might increase their support for Hezbollah and Hamas. So far, the threat of Israeli retaliation might have put a limit to Tehran's support for Hamas and Hezbollah. If Tehran has nukes, then they might feel pretty invincible, i.e. they will not worry about Israeli retaliation. They will think that their nuke is sufficient deterrence. They will give more support to Hamas, Hezbollah and anti-US terrorist groups. Another reason why we have to stop Tehran from getting nukes is that an Iranian nuke would escelerate a nuclear arms race in the region. I have underestimated the size of [b]Germany's export guarantees for trade with Iran. [/b] The WsJ has a good piece on this matter: [url]http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009689[/url] The WSJ, however, does not mention that last year trade with Iran declined. I am in favor of full sanctions, even if it costs billions of Euros and 10,000 German jobs as the chamber of commerce estimates according to the WSJ.

Zyme on :

"I am in favor of full sanctions, even if it costs billions of Euros and 10,000 German jobs as the chamber of commerce estimates according to the WSJ." Well Jorg, then your ideas are disqualified for influencing the discussion from a german perspective. Such unpatriotic ideas are something our country has gotten over with - luckily. You are german right? Shame on you traitor.

Don S on :

Ummm, one slight correction, 2020. The USSR ws afraid of GERMAN retaliation - presumably from the German nuclear forces. Ummmm, right. Retaliation might have come from France, Britain, or another soon to be ex NATO ally - I forget it's name. But the German a-bomb?

2020 on :

You know that I was talking about NATO, Don.

Fuchur on :

I'm still convinced that, technically, bombing would be very efficient. Sure, this wouldn't destroy everything, but it would do a lot of damage. And this is high-tech equipment that Iran couldn't replace so easily. But morally, this would destroy almost everything we've been working for since the end of WWII. Then we'd basically be back to "the stronger one can do whatever he likes". American right-wing commenter Hugh Hewitt has suggested that the US should start to murder and assassinate Iranian officials and scientists (Hewitt considers himself a Christian, btw). I think his rationale was that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Iran is equipping and training Iraqi insurgents - so in his opinion, that's a casus belli. I don't know - sounds pretty lame to me. I mean, you can always find a reason if you want war. Even poor Nazi Germany was only defending itself against those evil Polish aggressions... Well, some people say that we live in a time where we can't afford morals, and that we can't win "this" if we continue to play "by the rules". I don't think we're that far yet (and yes, I'm aware that this whole comment is a pretty long way of saying: Hell, what do I know?).

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Fuchur, I appreciate your comments and insight. Would you be interested to contribute to the new feature "Tips from our Readers" in the sidebar? Whenever you come across something interesting and relevant, please let us know. That would be very casual. No pressure. More info here: [url]http://atlanticreview.org/archives/595-Trusted-Readers.html[/url] Re Hewitt and blaming Iran for attacks on the US in Iraq: The Sunnis in Iraq kill more Americans than the Shiites do. The Sunnis are supported by Saudi Arabia. Why does not Hewitt and others recommend declaring war against Saudi Arabia?

Fuchur on :

I'm very much honored :-). I'll look into it...

pen Name on :

All: You guys are missing the point. In international arena legitimacy and power go together. Thus words such "regime change", "current regime" etc. are indicative of an infantile ignorance of the power of the Iranian state. Secondarily, because of that power, the Iranian nuclear program cannot be undone - current EU, US approach will not work since the conditions on the ground have changed: 1. Iraq as a political project is finished. 2. Afghanistan is marginally stable and Iran can destroy that stability at will. 3. Iran can and will destroy the oil infrastructure of the Persian Gulf oil producing states if she is attacked severely by US - you cannot protect Al Aqqaqiyah and Ra'as Al Tanur, for example. 4. The nuclear knowledge in Iran has gone native; you cannot make Iranians un-learn that. 5. Using natural uranium fuel (which Iran has) and a zero-output heavy water (which Iran knows who to produce) reactor, Iran can produce plutonium for bombs in a suburban apartment block-sized building with no possibility of detection from the air. 6. My recommendation to EU & US is to climb down from their colonialist mentality and reach a deal with Iran along the ideas that Perkovich, Rohani, Ahmadinejad, Takeyh, and Larijani have proposed. Iran is too populous and too well situated for US & EU to try to isolate or sanction; Words to the Wise. You cannot frighten them into committing suicide. And please spare me all that stuff about Israel - they are big boys and they know how to take care of themselves.

Anonymous on :

You exaggerate Iran's power and underestimate Iran's weakness: Iran’s Economic House of Cards Marc Schulman [url]http://americanfuture.net/?p=2597[/url]

Pat Patterson on :

"Colonialist mentality", I am assuming meant primarily for the one country leaving soon, Great Britain, and the other that wants to leave later, the United States. The only colonialists I see is the attempt, actually not going very well, for Iran to establish a protectorate in Iraq. The US doesn't need to bomb, but the very possibility keeps Iran wary and the Left exorcised. Nations that claim that they will adopt guerilla warfare in the face of a foreign invasion have already told its citizens that the government cannot protect them. Essentially everyman for himself. The US and the EU will be much more successful in continuing to strangle Iran's economy. High prices for oil will not make up for an inability to access world capital markets or the high cost of subsidizing consumer goods. Agreed, that the US and EU cannot frighten Iran into suicide but since it is a democracy then the current leadership better produce a stronger economy. You can't eat nuclear weapons or live inside bunkers.

pen Name on :

Pat Patterson: About asymmetrical warfare etc. signaling that the country cannot defend itself etc. can UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain defend themselves against US? I think not - so Iran is in good company. Last I looked Christian States have been invading Muslim states and not vice versa: Russia in Afghanistan, US, UK, and others in Iraq and not us. And about the Shia of Iraq - we are defending them against their enemies. And to be blunt about it, the anti-Shia forces who kill US, UK, soldiers as well as Shia are supported by your supposed Arab friends in UAE (large celebration after 9/11 in every single city there – do not believe me? Ask Australians who taught there at that time), Saudi Arabia (birthplace o f Al Qaeda), Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait. "Strangulation of the Iranian economy" as you suggest was attempted under Clinton in 1990s. Be my guest; at that time oil price was much lower than it is now and Iran was still recovering from teh war with Iraq. It will be even less effective now than it was then. Anonymous - #6.1 Iran has a weak economy and major issues there - doubt about that. That does not mean that she cannot fight and inflict pain. Pray to GW to attack Iran and we shall see how much harm Iran can inflict - I think you will be surprised. I do not think you appreciate that just like politics, power is also local. As I said before- take the Iranian offer of Nuclear Fuel Consortium and then move onto cooperation with her to get her gas to EU so that you are not so dependent on Russia. All you guys are doing now is advancing the political aims of Russia and China. Words to the wise.

Pat Patterson on :

How legitimate is any government that when faced with invasion immediately yells, "Head for the hills." If the US mounted a convential invasion or even a limited objective, say seizing the Shatt al-Arab Iran must maintain moral authority among its citizens and couterattack using its convential forces, which would be destroyed in place by the US. Iran's mullahs very well could adopt assymetrical warfare but it will be missing three essential ingredients; no safe areas to refit, retrain or rest, no outside sources of capital to maintain the resistence and the lack of moral authority from a good chunk of the populace that will probably seek some type of accomodation with the US. Iran's GDP has been stagnant for three years which means that the extra cash from oil is actually masking a shrinking economy. Iranian emigration is appraoaching levels not seen since the Shah was deposed. Its air force consists of ancient US and Soviet aircraft(including that seized from Saddam) without access, due to lack of capital, to parts or jet fuel(which Iran does not have the capability to refine). Air wings claimed as operational have not flown at all in months and in some cases the aircraft are sitting on flat tires. In the Mouse That Roared the Duchy of Fenwick at first tried to surrender to the US but failed. Then they seized a scientist and his doomsday bomb and eventually forced the Soviets and the Americans to give up oodles of cash. I'm wondering how many times the mullahs have watched this film?

pen Name on :

Mr. Patterson: Russia was never an economic power but was always a significant political and military power in Europe over the last 300 years. Your economic determinim does not encompass the entire reality of the situation. The situation that you described in your second paragraph was in fact obtained durong much of the Iran-Iraq War. Let's see if US can do better than Saddam. In case of invasion of Iran by US forces there are many things that Iran can do - attack US soldiers in Iraq, destroy oil facilities in other states to make the whole world pay for the recklessness of US, etc. As I said before, sign a deal with Iran and keep you houses warm in Winter with Iranian gas - do not pick a fight that you cannot win and you have a lot to loose. Iran, Iraq, and other places in ME are not your country - you have no legitimacy there and you cannot put in place a government that will engage the Mind and Soul and Muslim peoples.

Pat Patterson on :

I'm actually not arguing in favor of an invasion but trying to point out the weakness of the Iranian postion. The Iran-Iraq War proves my point as Iraq launched attacks across the Shatt al-Arab and the Iranian army was forced to maintain territory, civilian morale and its moral authority, to adopt WWI tactics of frontal attacks across open terrain with little air, armor or artillery support to press any tactical advatage other than killing or being killed The gas attacks that Saddam so shamefully used were effective against massed groups of conscripted teenagers. Both sides showed an ability to kill large numbers of their own citizens for essentially a decade of stalemate. Strategically and tactically a catastrophe which neither side as yet recovered from and by looking at Iran's order of battle has not learned from. The current government of Iran will be forced to confront any invader of its territory or lose any support from its educated and worldly middle class. How many of them are going to want to have their sons conscripted by a ruling elite, except Pres. Ahmadinjad who did serve honorably in combat, that will deposit itself or its sons in Paris for the duration? Since Iran has to import refined petroleum products I doubt very seriously that many homes in California will notice its absence. Nuclear power does indeed make sense for Iran as its oil industry is inefficient and under-capitalized. The US might even be more understanding if the nuclear "power" plants that are built and the newer ones actually had transmission lines. My own prediction is that Pres. Ahmadinejad will continue to lose popular and religious support and his replacement, with the backing of the mullahs and the voters, will make an offer that the EU and the US will find palatable. They will not get the same kind of deal NK got for the simple reason that the US might consider the Iranians difficult but not insane. Thus honorable and trustworthy enough that the EU and the US will hint at possible future trade and security opportunites for Iran once the weapons issue is negotiated.

pen Name on :

Mr. Patterson: The way you talk the English or the Russians should have packed their bags at the start of WWII (like the French) and gone home. That did not happen then nor will it happen now. Moreover, you and other foreigners keep talking of Mullahs as though they are some sort of alien organism that has invaded the Iranian body politic. Nothing can be further from the truth - mullahs are part and parcel of the Iranian society. The popularity or unpopularity of the Iranian President is not important when it comes to the nuclear issue. The conduct of the nuclear policy is a consensus of the regime insiders. US is aganist the Iranian power - if not nuclear issue US would create another pretext. The gas attacks that you mentioned was supported by your country UK and the precursors was given to Saddam ny German and French and Belgian companies. Italians and Americans gave him money. US gave him intelligence. Your countires, in my opinion, were co-belligerents in the Iran-Iraq War. It is difficult to trust your enemies of yester-year. And I keep on telling you - you cannot win this one. Take teh Iranian deal and move forward with gas deals.

Anonymous on :

Just in from CNN: Iranian official offers glimpse from within: A desire for U.S. ally http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/02/21/btsc.iran.amanpour/index.html "We are natural allies. Why?" he said. "Because now the major threat for both Iran and the U.S.A. is al Qaeda." He said al Qaeda had attacked the "symbol of our faith" when it struck the Golden Dome mosque -- the Al-Askariya Mosque -- in the Iraqi city of Samarra last February, setting off much of the sectarian violence that has plagued the war-torn nation over the last year. Similarly, he said, al Qaeda struck the "symbols of American power" on 9/11.

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
CAPTCHA

Form options