Is a Nuclear Iran Inevitable?

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Iran has announced it will go ahead with its nuclear enrichment plan, drawing condemnation from the international community and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran says it plans to build 10 facilities for enriching uranium and will not send its uranium abroad for enrichment, as had been earlier agreed. The facilities would enrich uranium only enough for a medical reactor, but some fear that Iran could over time develop the capability to enrich weapons-grade uranium.

  • Will They Really Go Nuclear? The New York Times's David Sanger evaluates. "It is unclear how long it would take Iran to enrich the fuel to the levels needed for the medical reactor, or whether it has the technology to fabricate that fuel into a form that could be put into the reactor. But the declaration appeared intended to convince the West that Iran was prepared to move closer to bomb-grade quality, while stopping short of crossing that threshold. Even if Iran proceeded with a plan to build 10 enrichment plants, it is doubtful Iran could execute that plan for years, maybe decades."
  • Allow Peaceful Enrichment The India Hindu's Siddharth Varadarajan argues that the U.N. should only sanction enrichment for the creation of weapons. "Since existing sanctions -- and the impending threat of more punitive measures -- have had little impact on Iran, the U1+5 need to seriously rethink their approach. One way out of the current impasse is for the UNSC to suspend sanctions for a finite period, to begin with, during which time the Iranians once again voluntarily abide by the AP and step up cooperation with the IAEA over the alleged weaponisation studies. This mechanism would allow the agency to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran, following which U.N. sanctions could be lifted."
  • Sanctions Won't Work Posting to the Middle East Strategy blog hosted by Harvard, Raymond Tanter explains. "Unilateral steps short of blockade will have only a marginal impact," he writes. "Because of the low likelihood of success of another round of sanctions, the breakdown in nuclear talks, and the absence of a regime-change alternative focusing on the Iranian opposition, the West is moving toward having to decide between accepting an Iranian nuclear bomb or bombing Iran."
  • End of Iran's Islamic Revolution Thomas P.M. Barnett says that what began in 1979 ends now. "[O]nce Iran negotiates with the Devil, the revolution is dead. And that's when we get to start seriously messing with that place. Iran seeks regime security with nukes, and will most definitely avoid an invasive war on that basis (even as Israel is likely to strike), but Israel's loss of its regional monopoly on WMD will set in motion all manner of events and dynamics beyond Tehran's control. In the end, it will be the worst thing that ever happened to the mullahs and the Guard and the revolution."
Iran's leadership is seeking whatis sometimes called the "Japan option" or a "rapid breakout capability." Unlike North Korea, India and Pakistan, I think Tehran genuinely does not want to actually construct and detonate a nuclear device. India and Pakistan are such large and important countries that they defied the First World nuclear club successfully and so joined it. North Korea, much smaller, weaker and poorer, has made itself an international pariah in this way, and is suffering more and more severe UN sanctions. I think most senior Iranian leaders wish to avoid those heavy sanctions, having seen what they did to Iraq.

But having a rapid breakout capability-- being able to make a bomb in short order if it is felt absolutely necessary to forestall a foreign attack-- has a deterrent effect. So Iran would have the advantages of deterrence without the disadvantages of a bomb if it could get to the rapid breakout stage.

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