The Magazine

Scare Tehran, Please

Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In other words, the final comprehensive deal that Washington should accept, so the nonproliferation left will likely argue, will contain: no dismantling of centrifuges (the new preferred terms appear to be “disabling” and “decommissioning”); no explicit ban on the future production of centrifuges; no reduction in the low-enriched uranium stockpile, allowing Tehran sufficient LEU to refine further into a half-dozen bombs; no closure of the bomb-resistant underground enrichment plant at Fordow; no dismantling of the heavy-water plant at Arak or even its conversion to a light-water reactor that can’t produce bomb-grade plutonium; no meaningful, verifiable restrictions on centrifuge research; no linkage between the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the nuclear program; no serious debriefings of Iranian nuclear personnel with their paperwork in hand; and certainly no acknowledgment by Tehran of its past efforts at nuclear weaponization (the nonproliferation cognoscenti call this the “possible military dimensions” of the program or PMD). 

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Khamenei finally authorize an inspection of the Parchin Revolutionary Guard facility, where IAEA inspectors and Western intelligence services strongly suspect that the regime’s scientists once experimented with implosion devices and nuclear triggers. The IAEA was allowed a cursory visit in 2005; the suspect buildings have since been destroyed and paved over. Despite the uselessness of inspectors’ examining a cleansed site, Khamenei’s acquiescence would likely be greeted with great relief in many quarters and be seen as further proof of the Islamic Republic’s turn toward moderation. 

If a private poll were held, it would most likely show that the vast majority of liberal nonproliferation experts    would strongly prefer a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic to  preventive military strikes unleashed by Barack Obama. This nonproliferation establishment will probably wrap itself ever more tightly in the technicalities of nuclear deal-making, as if all parties to the negotiations operated from the assumption that a nuclear weapon is no longer in the interests of the Islamic Republic, never mind the countervailing evidence of an arduous, expensive 30-year effort. The determined and deceitful nature of the regime will take a back seat, as one French official has put it, to the “right logarithm that will solve the strategic problem.”

Too-eager American diplomats and their expert assistants will attempt to find a technocratic answer to a problem that probably has no technocratic solution. The West could get utterly lost in measuring the ultimate nonproliferation desideratum: Iranian SWUs (“separative work units”—the amount of uranium separation done by an enrichment process). The surreality of this whole discussion is best seen in the “formula for success” seriously put forth by Joseph Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, the preeminent left-wing funder of nonproliferation studies. Here is his answer to the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guards:

C = f (Qc + Cc + Lc + QLEU + Pu + R&D + V + HPMD + D + PW)

where Confidence (C) is a function (f) of  

Qc = Quantity of centrifuges

Cc = Capability of centrifuges

Lc = Locations of centrifuges

QLEU = Quantity of low-enriched uranium

Pu = Plutonium production capabilities

R&D = Research and development

V = Verification of all of Iran’s activities

HPMD = History of programs with possible military dimension

D = Duration of the deal

PW = Political willingness to enforce the deal. 

So let’s consider one pivotal component of the equation, PW. This is best translated as President Obama’s willingness to bomb the ball bearings out of the Iranian regime’s nuclear facilities. At this point, most liberal nonproliferation discussions get even weirder. In January, to stop Democratic senators from passing legislation that would have mandated new sanctions against Tehran if it failed to conclude a verifiable termination of its nuclear-weapons program through the Joint Plan of Action, or if Tehran engaged in a terrorist act at any time, the administration let loose the animadversion most feared among liberals, to be labeled a warmonger. The tactic worked brilliantly: Democratic senators caved en masse. 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers