Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities
The emerging U.S. deal with Iran still risks instability in the Middle East
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Congress about one of the most pressing national security problems facing the United States. He articulated misgivings also voiced by congressmen in both parties and several of the U.S.’s Arab allies about an emerging nuclear agreement with Iran.
With the March 31 deadline to achieve a framework deal approaching, it is almost too late to ensure that Iran will halt its progress toward going nuclear. What started as a collaboration between the U.S, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K. to prohibit Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities has turned into the U.S. working single-handedly against the clock to simply “curb” Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pointed out at a national security strategy hearing on Jan. 30, the whole effort was originally multilateral, led by the European Union and supported by six U.N. Security Council resolutions. Their stated purpose was to “deny Iran the capability to develop a military nuclear option.” However, Kissinger added, “These negotiations have now become an essentially bilateral negotiation over the scope of that [nuclear] capability, not its existence.”
Iran claims that it is solely interested in nuclear facilities and capabilities for energy purposes, but the U.S. and others wish to at least guarantee that inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have the necessary access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to inspect their progress and ensure that they stick to their claim.
Iran, however, is already proving evasive. Regarding allegations of testing explosives and other measures that could be used in developing a nuclear weapon, the IAEA said, “Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures.” In another instance, a senior official of the IAEA reported that when the current President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, had served as a nuclear negotiator 10 years earlier, he bragged about his use of negotiations with the West to “buy time to advance Iran’s program.” Additionally, Iran is reported to have invested, at minimum, $1 billion in its missile programs since 2000 and is currently working on long-range missiles that could reach Israel and U.S. military bases in the Middle East. This, coupled with the fact that the U.S. has continuously accused Iran of “funding, providing equipment, weapons, training, and giving sanctuary to terrorists,” demonstrates that Iran is not a power to be underestimated. Its leaders’ superficial justifications of nuclear development cannot be taken at face value, and their motives are not reliable enough to risk nuclear capabilities.
Recently, reports have come to light that a two-phased plan is taking shape. Namely, toward the end of a ten-year span, Iran will be rewarded for “good behavior” and have restrictions loosened on uranium enrichment. Importantly, President Obama’s administration is threatening to use a veto to seal its accord with Iran without Congress’s approval. The administration claims that this is strategic and that gradually lifting sanctions is the most effective way to incentivize Iran to follow any deal. Yet many members of Congress view this as a move to leave them out of the decision and the process of checks and balances. Accordingly, a bipartisan bill was recently proposed to prevent the closing of the deal without congressional review. Additionally, it would prevent the White House from tying the hands of the legislative branch on passing sanctions for 60 days after a deal is made, perhaps indicating that Congress wishes to be prepared to react to a deal that it deems too lax.
Troublingly, allowing a country to be “a nuclear-threshold state” has proven dangerous in the past. In 1985, North Korea joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in 1992, inspections of its facilities began. In 1994, North Korea promised the U.S. in the “Agreed Framework” to halt its programs producing plutonium and to eventually dismantle its facilities in return for assistance from the U.S. on other issues. North Korea granted access to the IAEA through remote monitoring and inspections. However, in 2002 the U.S. found evidence of secret uranium enrichment. Clearly, even with IAEA inspections and monitoring, it is possible to continue developing nuclear capabilities. It would be naïve, and perhaps even arrogant, to assume that an illegal Iranian program would not similarly be able to slip by inspections as well.
Allowing Iran to hold the nuke would have massive implications for the region. As Kissinger said, “The impact … will be to transform the negotiations from preventing proliferation to managing it.” Countries across the area, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, will want to copy “threshold capabilities.” With terrorist bases thriving across the Middle East, such as in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, allowing Iran to be on the threshold may disrupt whatever stability remains. As Kissinger stated: “We will live in a proliferated world in which everybody — even if that agreement is maintained — will be very close to the trigger point.”
Overall, the current handling of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program is extremely dangerous. What has started as a multilateral plan to stop Iran from going nuclear has devolved into the Obama administration single-handedly restricting just how nuclear Iran is allowed to be. This strategy has proven naïve and unsuccessful in North Korea and could have massive ramifications for the region as a whole, causing rapid proliferation across the Middle East.
Iran has in many ways clearly stated its intentions, and we just have to open our ears and listen. Then it will come time to be honest, direct, and assertive about our own intentions, in the interest of stability and peace; Iran simply cannot be allowed to develop nuclear capabilities. As Netanyahu stated on Tuesday, “This deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.”
Suri Bandler is a member of the Class of 2017.