Military option would not resolve Iranian nuclear issue
Even if Iran's nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase; bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine programme free of international inspection and control.
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If Iran's nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash programme to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase; bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine programme free of international inspection and control.In the aftermath of an attack, following a political decision to change the nature of the nuclear programme to construct a bomb as quickly as possible, Iran could:
- Used stored, fresh nuclear fuel to produce HEU in a small centrifuge facility to fabricate a weapon.
- Chemically remove plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel elements - from the Bushehr or Arak reactors, if either were operational - and use it to fabricate a nuclear weapon.
- Assemble new centrifuges and produce highly enriched uranium (HEU). Some centrifuges might survive a military attack, but it is conceivable that Iran has stored additional centrifuges in secure locations.
This process would be hastened if Iran had a secret supply of uranium hexafluoride or if it had constructed a small primitive reactor, fuelled with natural uranium, to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. It is also possible that, post-attack, Iran could purchase additional needed materials from sympathetic states or on the black-market.
Almost no one believes that airstrikes can either permanently destroy the nuclear capacity of the Islamic Republic, or bring the Tehran regime down. Arguments in favor of a strike sometimes touch on the possibility of undermining the government, but these amount to flourishes, beats that an author has to hit on his or her way to making the core argument. And the core argument is this: the United States should regard itself on more or less permanent war footing with the Islamic Republic, and should expect to regularly use air and sea power in order to curtail Tehran’s ambitions.
If the United States launches a major strike on Iran, it can expect to launch another strike in a few years, and another strike a few years later. Each time, Iran will improve the security of its nuclear facilities, and each time, it will build sympathy within the international community. Washington will earn a reputation for bellicosity that will make Beijing and Moscow look like rank amateurs.
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It has been estimated by some that military strikes could set back Iran's nuclear programme by two or three years or, optimistically, destroy it altogether.37 There are several reasons to dispute this. As discussed above, a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could kill a number of nuclear scientists and engineers, and may be designed partly to do just that, but it is very unlikely to destroy Iran's nuclear knowledge base completely. In time, surviving scientists would be able to repair damage done to nuclear facilities, or rebuild them completely, and resume the nuclear programme.Furthermore, it is to be expected that the Iranian population, including the scientific community, would unite around the current government and support any subsequent moves to attain a nuclear weapon for deterrent purposes. If Iran stood by threats to withdraw from the NPT, putting an end to IAEA inspections, there would be little prospect of international or domestic containment. Added to this, Iran is in the strong position of having the raw materials needed to resume a nuclear weapons programme.It is conceivable that, if the Iranian regime took the political decision to change the nature of its nuclear programme and embark on a crash nuclear programme, i.e. committing itself fully to building a nuclear weapon in the aftermath of an attack - using all available assets, including damaged nuclear equipment and materials, and purchasing additional supplies on the black-market - it could achieve this in less than two or three years.
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In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time: some months rather than years. The argument that military strikes would buy time is flawed. It does not take into account the time already available to pursue diplomacy; it inflates the likelihood of military success and underplays the possibility of hardened Iranian determination leading to a crash nuclear programme. Post military attacks, it is possible that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon and would then wield one in an environment of incalculably greater hostility. It is a mistake to believe that Iran can be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities, and presumably continuing to do so should Iran then reconstitute its programme.
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Harden, or place deep underground, as much of the nuclear research and production equipment, as possible. Much of the technology needed to separate plutonium or to enrich uranium (e.g., centrifuge enrichment cascades) is complex and sensitive, and requires a fair amount of space and special handling capabilities. If this equipment can be placed in hardened or underground facilities, it will be much more difficult for the United States or other nations to hold it at risk. Similarly, if the program is dispersed to multiple sites around the country and undertaken at remote, nondescript facilities that are protected by a layered air-defense system, it greatly complicates the intelligence problem of identifying where fissile material or weapons are being produced and stored. It also reduces the likelihood of an attack - or at least, a successful attack - such as the one that the Israelis conducted in June 1981 against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. There is strong, tangible evidence that Iran has been pursuing these tactics, including a report from the IAEA indicating that parts of the Iranian nuclear R&D program were being undertaken in hardened, underground facilities, and in other facilities that had been kept entirely secret from IAEA inspectors - in some cases for as long as 18 years.
"Responding to a Nuclear Iran: A Defense Policy Perspective
." Syracuse Law Review
. Vol. 57. (2007): 457-. [ More (2 quotes) ]
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As if this accumulated evidence of the difficulty of destroying an enemy's nuclear weapons were not discouraging enough, the performance of the U.S. intelligence community prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 showed that things have not improved significantly. After 12 years of closely monitoring WMD-related activities in Iraq, most of which included having teams of UN inspectors on the ground there, U.S. intelligence spectacularly overestimated Iraq's holdings of WMD prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. And North Korea, with its penchant for building important military facilities underground, its ruthlessly repressive regime, and its nearly complete isolation from the rest of the world, must be considered to be a "harder" target for outside intelligence than Iraq ever was.In short, pending some dramatic breakthroughs in intelligence collection techniques, no U.S. decisionmaker should be confident that U.S. and allied forces will be able to neutralize an enemy's arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery means prior to their being launched. Nuclear weapons and the missiles that deliver them are prized strategic assets, and enemy regimes can be expected to exploit a wide range of techniques to protect them, including hardening, dispersal, decoys, camouflage, and concealment. Even nuclear weapons would have only limited effectiveness against targets that are deeply buried or dispersed over a wide area.
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The American imbroglio in Iraq is likely to constitute an inhibiting factor in the administration’s considerations, because public opinion in the US, and certainly in the world as a whole, will find it difficult to accept a military entanglement in yet another country. The lessons of the difficulties in Iraq are already leading certain American parties to question to what degree a nuclear Iran actually constitutes a significant threat to American interests, and whether a military attack will solve the problem. At the same time, only an operation limited in time and scope is contemplated, not a broad ground assault comprising a lengthy invasion and an extended presence of American forces in Iran. The administration can therefore assume that the internal response to its attack would not be overly harsh, particularly if it is able to justify its action as necessary. Alternatively, if a military operation in Iran is considered after the bulk of American forces have been withdrawn from Iraq, the administration may have a freer hand to take action in Iran, and may even opt to use such an action to prove that the Iraqi affair has not affected its deterrent ability.
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The second assumption deals with the operational feasibility of an attack, a question that has received excellent scholarly treatment elsewhere.86 Although the affordability and ubiquity of precision weapons available means that targeting states are likely to hit known targets,87 a factor that offsets improvements in military technology is that potential targets have learned from previous attacks and taken appropriate defensive measures. Just as Germany learned that it needed to better defend the Norsk-Hydro facility following the first Allied attack, Iran has learned from the Osirak and Al Kibar strikes that it should not concentrate its nuclear facilities in one location. Doing so makes it vulnerable to the possibility of a one strike success whereas disseminating the facilities makes each one less vulnerable. From a probabilistic standpoint, the more targets that attackers have to hit, the lower the likelihood of net success.
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In sum, given that Iran already possesses the requisite knowledge to enrich uranium—and this knowledge cannot be taken away—the best possible outcome of military force would be delaying Tehran’s ability to build nuclear weapons by around five years. Based on our survey of the historical record, it is far from obvious that military force would yield even this modest return. Policymakers should also be aware that multiple attacks against Iran might be necessary. We now know that Iraq terminated its nuclear weapons program in the 1990s, but this happened only after three different countries (Iran, Israel, and the United States) had attacked its facilities. a factor that offsets improvements in military technology is that potential targets have learned from previous attacks and taken appropriate defensive measures. Just as Germany learned that it needed to better defend the Norsk-Hydro facility following the first Allied attack, Iran has learned from the Osirak and Al Kibar strikes that it should not concentrate its nuclear facilities in one location. Doing so makes it vulnerable to the possibility of a one strike success whereas disseminating the facilities makes each one less vulnerable. From a probabilistic standpoint, the more targets that attackers have to hit, the lower the likelihood of net success.
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A military attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure could set back the program, but probably not prevent its recovery, unless the attack were somehow to topple the Iranian government and bring a very different ruling group to power. A military strike carries significant political and military risks. If time bought by setting back the Iranian program through military strikes would be used to good effect -- that is, if in the interim other disputes in which Iran is directly or indirectly involved were solved, or if Iran became a liberal-democratic mirror image of a Western democracy, preventive attack might look attractive. But there is no reason to believe that this will be the case, and the reverse is more probable. Small or large attacks on Iran will inject energy into Persian nationalism, strengthen the regime's argument that the West is a threat, and leave Iran with a grudge that it may express by deepening or initiating relationships with other states and groups hostile to U.S. purposes. Even regional states with something to fear from a nuclear armed Iran probably would not welcome a preventive attack, simply because the region is already so roiled with violence, much of it attributed to mistaken U.S. policies.
The authors argue that a military campaign against Iran's nuclear facilities would initiate a disastarous, decades long-war irrespective of technical capacity or whether Israel or U.S. initiates it.
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Defense officials and private analysts say that a military attack against Iran would only delay Iran's effort by a few years, even assuming use of the 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
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Obama said that military action against Iran would not deter its nuclear ambitions and that he could prove that a “verifiable” agreement with Iran was the best way forward.
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Top US negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, says US wants to ensure that it will take Iran at least ten years to get the materials necessary to create one nuclear bomb.
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The author challenges the assertion of Senator Tom Cotton that a bombing campaign against Iran "could be won easily in a few days" by pointing to the actual historical precedent of the operation "Desert Fox" Cotton refers to.
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The author disputes the feasibility of the various calls to attack Iran's nuclear program, but conceeds that "the sheer terribleness of it won’t prevent it from happening."
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Nicholas Kristof argues that it is false to presume there is a debate about whether or not a military strike would resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran as the majority of military experts are strongly against such a course of action.
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Iran would likely be a far more formidable adversary than any the United States has faced in decades. The U.S. should be very wary about launching military strikes.
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The authors argue that the military case for either the U.S. or Israel to strike Iran is too weak to justify the severe consequences that such an attack would have on international security.
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