4 Novel Views of Iran's Nuclear Threat

Unconventional wisdom on the Iranian program

This article is from the archive of our partner .

There are plenty of opinions out there on Iran's nuclear capabilities and how to deal with them. Since the revelation of the facility at Qom, most commentators advocate a tough stance with the regime, discussing the merits of sanctions and military action (one popular argument involves destabilizing the regime by focusing on human rights). The early October negotiations, which yielded a uranium transfer agreement, doesn't seem to have changed most pundits' minds on the matter: the Iranian government is close to having nuclear weapons, they argue, and we have to stop it.

But is that true? Here are fascinating takes that have broken with the conventional wisdom, arguing among other things that the nuclear threat is not nearly so urgent as it's made out to be.

  • The Iranians Aren't Even Close to a Bomb  David Ignatius, taking a look at Nucleonics Week, is intrigued by the argument that impurities in Iran's low-enriched uranium "'could cause centrifuges to fail' if the Iranians try to boost it to weapons grade."  That's a "potential bombshell," says Ignatius in the Washington Post, since it would mean "the Iranian nuclear program is in much worse shape than most analysts had realized. The contaminated fuel it has produced so far would be all but useless for nuclear weapons." The conclusion? "To make enough fuel for a bomb, Iran might have to start over--this time avoiding the impurities."
  • If They Were, They Might Not Be Able to Afford a Reversal  Meir Javedanfar in the Guardian points out that Iranian leaders "have already sold their 'victory' to the Iranian public." To give in to Western pressure now "would mean an embarrassing U-turn," particularly "after the recent disturbances at home."
  • Iran Deal Imminent  Time's Joe Klein is latching on to a New York Times report of one of his favored arguments: "[T]he Iranians have been seeking the capability to build a bomb, not the weapon itself." Now, "[t]hey have achieved that capability ... and have sent some clear signals in recent weeks that they are willing to play ball with the rest of the world." What signals? Klein sites "their willingness to have the Qom facility inspected and their willingness to ship low-enriched uraniam to other countries ... for enrichment to medical grade."
  • Nukes Not the Problem  A few journalists have advocated regime change, but this argument is a little different. First, it's coming from Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel laureate, opining in an interview with the Washington Post. Second, Ebadi is arguing that focusing on the nuclear issue is misguided for two reasons. First, it will merely allow Ahmadinejad to "tell his people that the West is against Iran's national interest and rally people to his cause" (focusing on human rights would mitigate this, she says). Second, "[i]magine," Ebadi asks, "if the government actually promised to stop its nuclear program tomorrow. Would you trust this government not to start another secret nuclear program somewhere else?" It is the "nature" of the Iranian regime, as the Post paraphrases Ebadi's contention, that is the problem--not its nuclear ambition"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.