Options on Iran III

Quite a few people seem to be all a-twitter about Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker about Mr. Bush’s plans to use nuclear weapons to end Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. I was going to to a complete round-up of my own but I see that it’s been ably done for me by Rick Moran and Joe Gandelman.

Like Marc Danziger, I’d be disappointed if there weren’t contingency plans of this sort and presume that what we’re hearing right now is gamesmanship. Are they more than contingency plans? Beats me.

Just for the record I oppose either invading Iran or bombing it. I do think that reminding the Iranian government that if an Iranian nuclear weapon is used against America, Americans, or American interests either here or overseas (fissibles have detectable signatures; if it’s an Iranian bomb we’ll know) that we will respond in kind with disproportionate force is long overdue. That’s been our policy for more than a half century.

We also need to take this matter very, very seriously without dilly-dallying. I don’t know of a single government (other than the Iranian government) that denies that Iran has a nuclear weapons development program. The evidence, which I’ve gone into before, is pretty dispositive. I don’t deny that it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for Iran to (in fact, I’ve argued in favor of the Iran regime’s rationality) but I also don’t much care: it’s perfectly rational of us as well to do what we can to prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons.

If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, everybody in the region will want some (notably the KSA). We shouldn’t be in the business of propping up regimes we despise to keep the nuclear weapons they possess out of the hands of thugs who are even worse. Pakistan is bad enough.

The optimistic view (which many held as recently as a couple of months ago) of Iran’s program was that Iran’s production of nuclear weapons was something like 5 to 8 years out. Recent revelations about the state of their centrifuge program has thrown the optimistic scenario into a cocked hat: a more reasonable projection at this point seems to be 3 to 5 years. Three years is just too soon for the more benign options e.g. peaceful revolution by internal liberalizers to take effect. Russia and China continue to be playing their own game and bid likely to block any serious sanctions (and anything but completely solid sanctions will take too long to have any effect).

As best as I can tell here’s the consensus view:

  • Iran is developing nuclear weapons
  • the horizon for production is something like 3 to 5 years
  • Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is troubling for any number of reasons
  • none of the available options are very appealing

The available alternatives aren’t getting any better. Blockade is still a possibility. And I believe that disrupting Iran’s oil production capability just as the terrorists in Iraq are disrupting Iraq’s is completely within our capability. Two can play at that game.

Here are some of my previous thoughts on Iran:

Point of information: Iran
Why the Iranians aren’t deterred
Harm and pain
Discussion of Iran at European Tribune
Eye on the ball

That last post contains links to my prior posts on the subject.

10 comments… add one
  • Tom Holsinger Link


    You assume that the mullahs haven’t purchased pre-enriched uranium, or ready to use plutonium from North Korea. We know they have purchased -pre-enriched uranium, so the time required for them to manufacture their first gun-type U-235 warheads is only about 6-9 months away. Those are inefficient, but they’ll fit on a SCUD.

    Do not mirror-image Iranian nuclear weapons programs. Their needs are different than ours.

  • I’m not discounting that possibility, Tom, but I’m distinguishing between possession on the one hand and sustained production on the other. Simple possession of nuclear weapons by the mullahs is certainly a threat but, as I see it, sustained production of nuclear weapons by the mullahs is a threat of a higher magnitude. Possession positions them for an attack; production positions them as a resource.

    Presumably, you’re convinced that as soon as they have one or two nuclear devices they’ll use them. That might well be true but I think it would be most imprudent. It would be better (fo them, I mean) once they had a stockpile and the ability to continue production on their own.

    I don’t believe that any idea that a handful of Iranian nuclear weapons would serve as a deterrent has much credibility. I’ve written that any number of times. I think it would make them into a target.

  • kreiz Link

    There is no reason not to implement incremental sanctions immediately, although the US has already sanctioned Iran. Presumably that means EU sanctions, but with their Iranian oil dependency, one wonders if this is likelihood. Embargo is another option, although it’s quasi military in nature (not a problem). We’ve got a window- let’s use it before a military solution is the only plausible option.

  • Tom Holsinger Link


    You assume that Iran’s nukes can only be produced in Iran. They can be produced in North Korea too. And are – implosion weapons using plutonium triggers designed in China. Those are being flown from North Korea to China, and then from China to Pakistan and Iran.

    If you read my articles, you would have seen that I specifically said the mullahs won’t use their nukes unless we attack them.

    If Iran having nukes makes them a target, why haven’t we attacked them already? You are moving the goal posts on the definition of Iran having nukes. Tell us now what your definition of Iran having nukes is. Must they invite you to watch a nuclear test detonation in Iran before you will admit they have nuclear weapons? Or will you say that only means they have nuclear devices?

  • kreiz:

    I’m certainly in favor of graduated response and I also believe that non-porous sanctions would be a better choice than any option requiring a commitment of military force. However, I don’t believe that a completely meaningless gesture e.g. porous sanctions without teeth would be better than an approach with modest military force e.g. blockade.

    Tom Holsinger:

    Do I? That wasn’t my intent. My intent was to distinguish among degrees of threat. A single nuclear weapon in Iranian hands produced somewhere else is less of a threat than a single Iranian-produced Iranian nuclear weapon is less of a threat than a full-blown weapons production regime.

    If Iran having nukes makes them a target, why haven’t we attacked them already?

    That’s not quite what I said (or at least what I intended to convey). What I intended to convey was that if we knew that Iran had a single nuclear weapon that would as likely be provocative as deterrent in its effect.

    I’m not trying to weasel around any definition. Any device that generates an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction (i.e. not a reactor) is a weapon as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know whether Iran currently has nuclear weapons or not and I don’t believe you do, either. Of course a nuclear test detonation would be dispositive. Multiple source human intelligence would be sufficient, as well. Unfortunately, Iranian counter-intelligence has been better than our own (IMO mostly bipartisanly incompetently handled) intelligence so we don’t get much good human intelligence from Iran.

  • kreiz Link

    I wasn’t picking up on the nonporous element of sanctions but agree with that completely. Presumably porous sactions were utilized against Iraq. The sooner we act, the more options we have. Right now, there’s no immediacy (that I know of, at least). To jump from doing nothing to nuclear preemption (nothingness) seems like a huge leap of faith. (existential references aside.)

  • Dr. Deano Link

    “I do think that reminding the Iranian government that if an Iranian nuclear weapon is used against America, Americans, or American interests either here or overseas … that we will respond in kind with disproportionate force is long overdue.”

    Dave, I respect your right to your opinion and really wish I could agree with you on this one. But the issue with Iran is that their leadership has asserted they are willing to accept millions (25 million if memory serves) of Iranian deaths (martyrs) to wipe out Israel. If you believe what he says, Iran’s leader believes with all his heart, mind, and soul that Allah wants him to destroy Israel. (And I’m sure, given the capability, since the US is Satan number 2, and they are all going to die anyway, why not nuke an American city or two for the same price?)

    The incredibly difficult dynamic that must be soberly addressed is that Iran’s leadership has rendered the warning you cite above moot by their proclamations of acceptable mass death. Radical Islam has rendered useless the concept in which we have always believed to save us all from nuclear holocaust – mutually assured destruction. Iran has already stated that they are aware of the cost and not only don’t care, all the dead Iranians will be martyrs – so it is a good thing…

    So, when Iran decides it is time, they will attack one and probably more cities with nuclear weapons, knowing full well the price they will pay and not caring. Millions of people will die. The world will forever be changed.

    And it will be our fault. We could have stopped them but we didn’t.

  • Dr. Deano, I think you may be conflating “necessary” with “sufficient”. I think it’s necessary that we re-assert our long-held policy on nuclear deterrence and that we enact a policy of regime change in Iran as we did for Iraq in 1999. For an explanation of why read my previous posts on deterrence and on Iran.

    Is that sufficient? Obviously, no. And I don’t rule out the use of military force. But I also believe that the level of force necessary to accomplish the task of eliminating Iran’s nuclear weapons program as the first and only alternative is excessive.

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