Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Iran: Edging Ever Closer To a Bomb

by Elliott Abrams
January 19, 2012


Some recent claims that we should all relax about the Iranian nuclear program because Iran has not made a decision to build a weapon are themselves blown up in a short, devastating comment from ISIS, the Institute for Science and International Security.

The statement describes “Iran’s strategy of ‘nuclear hedging,’ or developing the capability to rapidly build nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program….”

And it explains why a lack of urgency is a great error.

In the discussion regarding the nature of the Iranian nuclear program, some have sought to downplay Iran’s nuclear progress by emphasizing that Iran has not yet “made the decision to build a nuclear weapon.” While it is true and important that there are no indications that Iran has made a decision to actually construct a nuclear weapon, such a statement does not accurately portray the real concern about Iran’s nuclear program and progress. In fact, Iran has already made a series of important decisions that would give it the ability to quickly make nuclear weapons. In doing so, it has pursued a strategy of nuclear hedging: it has put together a gas centrifuge program to provide the necessary fuel for a weapon, worked on developing a nuclear weaponization capability, and developed a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, all under ostensibly civilian purposes or great secrecy. The international community should not take ease in the absence of this final decision since Iran has already overcome many obstacles on the path to finally acquiring nuclear weapons.

The ISIS analysis is an important reminder that Iran continues, very steadily, to move closer and closer to the ability to build a usable nuclear weapon.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by EthanP

    We have a president who may give our ABM tech to the Soviets/ I mean Russians. Why should we be surprised that this regime sees no threat from Iran even as it issues threats to Iran over Homuz. Think their affraid. I think not. Further, I think they or their minions will make a move before we get a mensch in the White House.

  • Posted by Will

    A while back i came across the following on menapress.org:

    Nous, d’ajouter, que les 3000 centrifugeuses que peut contenir, au maximum, le site de Fodow n’auront jamais une production suffisante pour fournir le carburant nécessaire à un réacteur nucléaire. En revanche, leur rendement est parfait pour la fabrication de bombes.

    The maximum of 3,000 centrifuges that Fodow can contain will never produce enough to supply the fuel needed for a nuclear reactor.However, their performance is perfect for making nuclear bombs.

    This should be already the red flag to move.

  • Posted by Jacques

    I just don’t see the threat? The Soviet Union in my opinion lost because it did not have the delivery capabilities that the US had and still has. So even if Iran managed to build one what could they do with it? Ask israel if they think their nuclear site is at risk from an iranian attack and I bet that with all honesty they will say no. On the other hand I am sure that Iran knows that if attacked they could loose their civilian reactor. So what’s it all about? To me it looks like a struggle where a group of civilian strategists with an agenda are trying force the pentagon to action. But I do not see any action till the oil embargo, which is so 1953 fails to actuate regime change and the civilians get mad.

  • Posted by Nabi Sonboli

    Iranian Nuclear Issue: Regional Security Mechanism is the Answer

    Nabi Sonboli from Iran

    In recent months some politicians and think tanks are raising the necessity of launching a preemptive war against Iran. The threat is imminent and it is urgent to act. This is exactly the literature that neoconservatives used in 2003 to convince the people in the West to support the war against Iraq. At that time they succeeded in UK and the US but failed in Berlin and Paris. Those who supported invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to bring a better and more peaceful world for the US and EU and the people in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. However, those wars led to loss of life by hundreds of thousands of people in the US, Iraq, Afghanistan … and imposed billions of dollars on the US and EU economy. But the real concern is not Iranian Nuclear issue but the US hegemony and Israeli regional supremacy.

    The US Hegemony
    Supporters of war mention that the US interests and Western hegemony in the ME and the Persian Gulf has been weekend in recent years. It is true. Though, it has not been undermined by Iran but by long term support for corrupted and inefficient dictatorships and launching to long-term war in there. Arab Spring is a consequence of the US and EU failed strategy in imposing and supporting undemocratic systems. Their failure in the wars that were launched by the Neocons is the root cause of loss of their credibility and influence.
    The limitation of Western freedom of action, that European and American Neocons are concerned about, results from the US and EU economic weaknesses, lack of confidence toward the West among the people in the Middle East because of double standard behaviors, and loss of dictators as a consequence of ongoing Arab Spring. It has nothing to do with Iranian nuclear program. The US and Israel with all their military and nuclear powers, do not have freedom of action. Iran also will not be able to expand its influence in the region with nuclear weapons.
    Military power brings freedom of destruction not freedom of action. As the East Asian experience demonstrates very well, regional strong powers limit US freedom of destruction. But to limit the US influence, Iran does not need nuclear weapons. The resistance movements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain do not have nuclear deterrence capability. Hezbollah did not have nuclear weapon or was not benefiting from the support of a nuclear state during 2006 war with Israel. If Iranian regional power limits US and European interventions and bring more rationality in those countries, it must be appreciated by the world. Because, the US and NATO irrational involvement in the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to shift of power from West to the East and they lost their credibility and influence at global level.
    Power vacuum in the MENA stems from shift of power from West to the East and the US failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iranian regional power is more evident because more changes have happened in its neighborhoods. Economically it is Asian countries that have benefited from the power vacuum in the MENA. Such a development is also happening in the southern parts of Europe. War with Iran will not strengthen the US and EU position in these areas.
    MENA is more diverse than Europe. Societies are mosaic of different ethnic, linguistic, religious groups and no single regional power can have hegemony there and any attempt to have hegemony will face sever resistance at local, regional and global level. Those who are thinking about reestablishing hegemony in this region are just imposing more costs on themselves.
    In 2000 and 2001Nocons in the US wanted to prolong the unipolar moment. They were criticizing the Clinton administration that he has not used the opportunity. They used the Sep.11th opportunity and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. However, when they were leaving the White House, the US was much weaker. The Main winner in those wars were China, Russia, South Korea, India etc, The countries that had least participation in the wars.
    Iranian position improved as consequences of the wars, however, as sanctions and insecurity in its neighborhood, have prevented Iran from increasing its power comprehensively. High unemployment, socio- economic problems, backward industrial infrastructures etc are not manifestation of hegemony. Iran has mainly followed a resistance strategy. This strategy is more defensive than ambitious and hegemonic. Iran has been able to increase its autarky and independence in self-defense and some economic and industrial fields. Comparing Iranian military budgets with its rival’s does not show any hegemonic position. Iranian power mainly stems from its geopolitics position and young population that are not new.

    Regional Proliferation and Israel Security
    Proliferation and the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Israel is one of the main reasons that supporters of war use to convince their audiences. They call Iran an anti-Semitic country that looks for annihilation of the Jews. Jews are among the religious groups that have the longest history of living in Iran. During the history they have had much less problem in comparison to those who have been living in Europe and other parts of the world. Even now in Islamic Republic, twenty thousands Jews have one MP in the parliament while almost every 200000 Muslims have just one MP. It means that the voting power Jews is at least 10 times more than the Muslims. We cannot call such a system anti-Semitic that look for annihilation of the Jewish people.
    Furthermore, it is self evident that no Islamic country or movement can target Israel with nuclear weapons even if they acquire and want to do so. Israel is a tinny state that includes more than one and a half million Arabs and a few more million Muslim and Christian people are also living nearby. The opponents of Israel are living so close to that country which using nuclear weapon against Israel is a suicide for them. In case of any nuclear confrontation, the Muslims and Arabs will suffer even more than Israelis. In, addition, the importance of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine should not be ignored. Any nuclear attack will lead to destruction of many holly places and Mosques that highly cherished by Muslims and other believers. No Islamic group or government can justify such an action.
    Israel is also not able to attack Iran. Now it is much more vulnerable against the ongoing developments in its surroundings. Furthermore, it has had many unresolved long term threats and problems with its neighbors. Decision makers are wise enough not to create more long term threats by striking Iran. They know that they cannot count on the West for ever and finally they have to think about how to live in peace with the region. Turning to war makes achieving peace more difficult for them.
    We always hear that other countries in the region are reacting to Iranian nuclear program by developing their own plans. Western intelligence services have the background of regional countries nuclear efforts and they know very well that other regional countries have started even sooner than Iran. Washington knows the non-peaceful activities of its allies and friends in the past. It has nothing to do with Iranian nuclear program.
    Balance of power is another failed strategy of the past. Washington and London have always tried to create a balance of power in the region by military presence and buildups. Berlin and Paris have joined them more recently. Based on this strategy they supported Saddam Hussein during 1980s. It led to invasion of Kuwait by Saddam. During 1990s the US supported Taliban against Iran. The result was Sep. 11. After Sep 11 both EU and the US tried to wage war and increase their own presences in Iranian neighborhoods, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars imposed three trillion dollar costs on EU and the US economies and not only undermined their regional influence but also weakened there global position. They also tried to sell more and more weapons to their regional dictators to create a balance against Iran. These military sales and interventions finally weakened the dictators in the region and led to Arab Spring and fall of dictators. These are the results of balancing militarily against Iran.
    We are living in an instable and insecure region and nuclear weapons and military buildups will not bring more security. In addition, imposing another war on the region may convince more and more people about the necessity of having a deterrence capacity. To prevent such tendencies, formation of regional security mechanisms is the best solution. The US no longer is able to unilaterally provide security for others. Instead of extending nuclear umbrella and reestablishing domination, Washington, Berlin and Brussels should support regional inclusive security and economic mechanisms.

    Military Strike
    For the following reasons, military strike that Kroning and Read and the writers of ISIS comment proposes, is the worst option not only for the region but also for the west. Kroning and other supporters of war mention that the US can escalate the tension, strike Iran and decrease the tensions. They assumes that the problem is only between Iran and the US and after the strike, they rationally calculate and reach to the conclusion that it is in their benefit to decrease the tensions. His arguments and others who support the war against Iran are based on many incorrect assumptions. First, they assume that the US and EU are not much vulnerable. The US and EU vulnerability in the region may be even more than Iran; Iran has expanded radar-evading technology to different fields from flying boats to missiles and drones. It is not so easy for the US and its allies to limit their damages.
    Second, Kroning and others regard war as a rational behavior, while war happens when rationality ends. Rationality has no deadlock and reason is always problem-solver. Current deadlock between Iran and the West shows that EU and the US behaviors toward Iran are more ideological than rational. If they had accepted Iranian rights according to NPT, the problem had been solved years ago. They ask Iran to submit to Western domination and Iran says no. Asking a country to submit is an emotional demands not a reasonable one. Furthermore, when a war happens the emotions are far more important than reasons. Emotional behaviors are not predictable and it is difficult to analyze them rationally. The US made all rational calculations to justify and ideological and emotional behavior before going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we cannot call it rationality; it is justification and mainly is self-deceiving.
    Third, there are many players with different interests and views both inside Iran and the US. Both countries have been involved in wars in recent decades and they know how difficult it is to create a consensus to manage and end a war. Consensus building process for escalation takes time and it increases the costs of the ongoing war.
    Forth, they just see Iran and the US as the main players while there are many other players in the region and at global level with different interests. Some of them for sure will benefit from the war between Iran and the US and Washington and Berlin will not be able to prevent their interventions. Continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate how difficult it is to bring together different players and create a consensus among them to support peace.
    Fifth, they add that the US regional allies have urged the US to attack Iran. It means that the war will not be limited to Iran and the US and other players will involve. Those players that have such a request from Washington have their own weaknesses and are fragile. Consequently, expansion of the war, even for a short period of time, increases the vulnerabilities and flaws of these governments and they may even not to be able to remain Western ally during or after the war. As an example, there are extremist forces that are waiting to see least weak point in Saudi Kingdom. They are not Iranian allies but they have their own visions for future that are not compatible with Berlin or Washington views.
    Sixth, the main threat for the US allies in the ME comes from the people not from Iran. To suppress the people and divert their attention, dictatorships in the ME may be interested in launching another war. But, military attack will prolong instability and war in the region. For sure the winner of such a war will not be the US or those who advise Washington to attack Iran. The main threat stems from unemployment, instability, frustration. War will not make any contribution to their resolution. The solution is preparing a peaceful environment for promotion of democracy and prosperity.
    Seventh, turning into war will destabilize the EU neighborhood further. It will increase the challenges that EU already face like illegal immigration, narcotics, extremism and terrorism.
    Eighth, most of the oil producing facilities are in the war zone. A regional war that is most probable will cause destruction of many oil facilities that sharply decrease their oil production capacity. Even if the war ends within a few months, these countries will not be able to increase their oil capacities to the prewar level soon. It will damage the world economy and lead to further proliferation of nuclear technology. Because many countries around the world will try to decrease their dependence on Persian Gulf oil and nuclear power plant is still an important option.
    Ninth, some politicians in the west may think that a new war will shift the attention of the people for some times at home, provide more benefits for military-industrial complexes, lead to flight of capitals from Persian Gulf and the Middle East to EU and US financial markets and improve the economic situation. All of them may happen, however, finally the EU and US may achieve a Middle East that they do not want: An instable region, armed with latest Western military equipments and dominated by extremist forces. EU and the US may not remain strong enough to face that.
    Tenth, the current debate about striking Iran may have other explanations; The scenario that has repeatedly been followed during the past 6 years: Propagating war, selling weapons, preparing new resolutions, beginning negotiations, leading negotiations to failure, putting the responsibility of the failure on Iranian side and ratifying the sanctions till the next round. This is another scenario that has been followed by Neocons in EU and the US. Even if we consider current debate as a psychological war, it is very shortsighted that leads to loss of Iran for ever by the West.
    These are some of the reasons that demonstrate turning to force and advocating war with Iran is the worst option for the region and the West. The hot Chocolate that Kroning and Co tries to prepare and sell to the people in the US and the EU is too hot to be drunk.

    Regional Security Mechanism
    Iran will not benefit from proliferation of nuclear weapons in the ME and will not contribute to that. Middle East and Persian Gulf does not have any confidence and security building mechanism and it is urgent to create one. Instead of thinking about nuclear umbrella and expanding nuclear deterrence to the region, the US and EU should stop unilateralism and support multilateral security and economic cooperation mechanisms in the region. Iran and the regional countries can cooperate on development of a transparency mechanism as an objective guarantee for having peaceful nuclear activities and preventing proliferation in the region.
    Launching military strike against Iran will not contribute to nuclear fee zone in the ME but will convince more and more countries to think about the necessity of having deterrence capability. It will contribute to proliferation in other parts of the world, even among the US allies. They ask that for how long we can rely on the US for our security?
    The US-EU options are not between a nuclear Iran and a war, as it is wrongly presented by Neocons. It is between continuing past and present wrong approaches that has led to lack of confidence and deadlock and may even lead to more instability or changing approaches to bring peace and prosperity for the region and the world. The choice is between friendship and hostility.
    The US and EU approaches toward Iran are dominated by Neocons interests and ideas. They have proved to be contrary to the Western interests and values. Sanctions, sabotage, killing scientists and military threat do not bring democracy, peace and prosperity for the people. Ideological groups have sidelined the majority of people in the West to push forward their own illusionary plans. If the majority in the West could contain irrational tendencies and prevent hostilities toward Iran, Iran has no hostility toward the West. Iran can be the pilliar of stablity and democracy in the Persian Gulf region.
    Current deadlock will continue during the next two years. Because of elections in the US, EU and Iran, none of the players are not able to take important steps. Those who are in power may take hard positions, but everyone knows very well that they are not in a position to decide. Because of economic, social and political problems, escalation is not in the best interest of involved players. It will not strengthen their positions in election campaigns, too.
    Iran is not an ideological threat like Soviet Union, military threat like Russia, or Economic threat like rising powers. Iran is an independent rising regional power that is growing outside of Western domination. From 1979 revolution in Iran, Soviet Union and Taliban-AlQaeda were among the main enemies of the West. The US and EU benefited a lot from Iranian opposition to them. Iran is dissatisfied with the West because of the US and EU past and present policies. Continuation of these policies will not make a friend out of Iran for the West under any political system.
    Iranian independent approach stem from its historical experiences and geopolitical position. Historically, we have suffered a lot from Western polices. Why we should follow a pro-western approach and accept its dominance in the region? Geopolitically, Iran is located in a region that is important for all powers. Following an independent role is something that Iranians has been looking for at least since late 19th century. The best position for Iran is to be a regional independent balancer between different players. If Iranian position now is not balanced between EU-US, China and Russia, it is because of inappropriate policies followed by the West, especially the US. Iran has done enough to improve its relations with the US but the Washington never has thought seriously about negotiation with Iran to solve the problems. We should distinguish between opportunistic positions when the US needs Iranian help to solve its problems and real negotiations to solve the problems between the two sides. New debates in transatlantic countries about striking Iran demonstrate the revival of Neocones. While their last wars launched in 2001 and 2003 have not ended yet, they recommend a new one for 2012.
    According to an Iranian proverb, “wise enemy is better than stupid friend”. The Western enemies are not those who live near Alborz Mountains. They are unintelligent friends who encourage the US and EU societies and politicians to damage others and weaken themselves by involving in another unnecessary war. The outcomes of the past wars for our nations have been clear and the result of next war will not be better.

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