Dina Esfandiary is a Research Analyst and Project Coordinator in the non-Proliferation and Disarmament programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
There has been a lot of noise about Iran and its nuclear program in the news of late. Some of the commentary has been useful, some not, and some just plain wrong. So I have picked out a few recent articles to provide a bit of purchase on the issue.
Matthew Kroenig, Time to Attack Iran, Foreign Affairs (Jan/Feb 2012)
The now infamous article that sparked the most recent debate on whether Iran should be bombed because of its alleged nuclear weapons programme. Kroenig, a Stanton Nuclear Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, wrongly claims that a nuclear Iran would have devastating consequences for the Middle East, and more importantly for US interests in the region. He also outlines how deterring Iran would ‘come at a heavy price’, because the ‘the United States would need to deploy naval and ground units and potentially nuclear weapons across the Middle East, keeping a large force in the area for decades to come’. For this reason, Kroenig advocates ‘carefully managed’ military strikes on Iran’s known nuclear facilities in order to destroy their programme. He also states that the US would not need to target the heavily fortified, underground Fordow enrichment plant, because it is ‘not yet operational and still contains little nuclear equipment’.
But for my money there are flaws in the article. For example, Fordow is already an important facility, currently with 700 centrifuges enriching to twenty percent. There is a broader point here as well. A military strike on Iran will achieve precious little but give the Islamic regime the impetus and excuse it needs to justify a decision to go nuclear. Limited airstrikes are unlikely to be able to destroy hardened facilities like Fordow, and Iran has enough experience and knowledge to rebuild any damage done to its programme within a few years. None the less, the article is important because of the effect it has had in re-igniting the debate.
David Albright and Paul Brannan, The New National Intelligence Estimate on Iran: A Step in the Right Direction, ISIS (22 March 2012)
In the latest report by ISIS, Albright and Brannan outline the important differences between the 2007 US NIE, which stated that Iran’s 2003 halt on some weaponisation activities was evidence that it had given up its nuclear weapons programme, and the newer, still classified NIE on Iran. Despite the slightly Proustian approach to prose, the report explains that the new NIE does not differentiate between Iran’s declared and undeclared facilities and activities, and therefore gives the intelligence community a more accurate picture of the regime’s intentions. It also outlines exactly how much time it would take for Iran to go from being nuclear weapons capable (ie: having enough low-enriched uranium, that once enriched would be enough for a bomb), which it is now, to having a nuclear weapon.
Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, The Only Option on Iran, The New York Times (20 March 2012)
In this op-ed, the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland express their concerns over the ‘loose talk’ of military strikes on Iran. They rightly outline that strikes would be counterproductive, compelling Iran to go nuclear instead. They call for renewed efforts at diplomacy, including accepting Iran’s right to enrich, provided it can prove the peacefulness of its programme.
Iran Talks: What should be on the table? Council on Foreign Relations (23 March 2012)
In this short post, CFR brings together the views of some of the hot shots in non-proliferation, to discuss what is needed for talks with Iran to resume. All the contributors agree that certain confidence-building measures are key, including Iran’s unnecessary enrichment to twenty percent. The ISIS proposes a five-stage framework agreement with Iran, which would begin by addressing immediate concerns. My colleague Mark Fitzpatrick from the IISS, suggests providing Iran with HEU fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, making it more efficient for producing medical isotopes, in exchange for Iran abandoning twenty percent enrichment. There is also a necessity to establish and maintain long-term dialogue, to ensure that future issues are addressed wholly and rapidly.
Editor’s Note: last but not least, Dina also had a piece in The Atlantic the other day, in which she examines the possibility that a rift may be growing between Iranian people and the government in Tehran over the subject of the nuclear program. A particularly important point given that we tend to assume the Islamic regime has strong support from the people on this issue a least.