Nuclear deal would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon
Negotiators in Vienna isolated three possible ways that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon:
- The uranium processing route through the plants at NatanzNatanz
The Natanz Nuclear Facility is generally recognized as Iran's central facility for enrichment with over 19,000 centrifuges currently operational and nearly half of them being fed with uranium hexafluoride.
[ More ] and FordowFordow
The Fordow nuclear facility is an Iranian uranium enrichment site that is targeted by the nuclear deal. The facility is in a heavily fortified bunker and was long kept secret from the IAEA until it was revealed by Western satellite imagery in 2009. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran will dismantle all centrifuges operating at Fordow and convert the facility into a research center.
[ More ];
- The plutonium processing route through the plant at ArakArak
Iran is constructing a 40 MWt heavy water moderated research reactor at Arak. International investigators are concerned that this facility reflects Iran's effort to achieve nuclear weapons by enriching plutonium and that this reactor would generate enough plutonium to fuel two nuclear weapons annually. Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran has agreed to redesign its Arak heavy water reactor so that it is incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, and promised to ship all the spent fuel from the reactor abroad.
[ More ];
- and the through a covert facility not currently known to negotiators (ex. "sneakout")
The measures put in place under the nuclear deal establish verifiable limits to block each of these pathways and define measures to take if any violations are discovered. The end result is that for the term of the agreement (15 years), Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon without being discovered by the international community.
The political impact might be even more important, making the job of those in Tehran pushing to build the bomb much harder. First, the technical constraints would make it more difficult for them to make the case that Iran could build a bomb before being found out and stopped. Second, a deal with all of the world’s major powers would greatly reduce the sense of threat that is among the bomb advocates’ best arguments. Having just signed a deal, the United States would certainly not be using military force against Iran’s nuclear program unless Iran grossly violated the pact – and with all of the P5+1 behind a deal, an attack would no longer be a plausible option for Israel, either.
Third, by lifting sanctions, the deal would create a flow of very real benefits to Iran – including to some of the most powerful players in the Iranian regime – which they would not want to put at risk with clandestine bomb efforts. Fourth, the deal would make clear that compromise with the West that really does contribute to Iran’s economic development is possible, strengthening advocates of compromise in Tehran. Finally, the agreement’s 10-25 year duration means that, if successful, an entire generation of Iranians will come of age in an era of reduced tension and confrontation with the West— creating new and powerful political constituencies against returning to confrontation on the nuclear issue. With all of those factors in play, Tehran’s nuclear hawks would have an almost impossible job in arguing that now was the time to rip up the deal and go for the bomb.
[ Page 3 ]
It is also important to note that there is no other option that could ensure that for the next 15 years Iran will not have nuclear weapons, including military strikes. And 15 years is a long time in the unpredictable and unstable Middle East. In a region facing so many other problems, dramatically restricting Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years is certainly a notable achievement. If 15 years from now Iran chooses to violate the agreement or does not appear to be pursuing a credible civilian nuclear energy program, the same diplomatic, economic, and military options will be available to the United States and its partners.
My second prediction: The deal will work. By “work,” I mean it will keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon for the duration of the agreement and possibly beyond. It will not bring peace to the Middle East; it will not fix the Greek economy; it will not cure cancer; it will not get the Red Sox better pitching or put Tiger Woods back in the winner’s circle; and it will not resolve all of our disagreements with Tehran. But it will do what it is designed to do and what Obama pledged to do: It will keep Iran on this side of the nuclear threshold.
But won’t those clever Iranians cheat? No, because the deal is clearly in Iran’s interest too. And make no mistake: Iran was never — repeat, never — going to sign any agreement from which it didn’t derive tangible benefits. If you think otherwise, you are living in a dream world. Moreover, the sort of deal critics say they’d like to see — one where Iran capitulated to every single one of our demands — is precisely the sort of deal that it would be eager to escape as soon as it could, assuming that it would even sign such a deal at all. If you want a deal that both sides will abide by voluntarily, it has to provide benefits for both. That’s just Diplomacy 101.
And let’s not forget that there is no evidence Iran is dead set on having an actual nuclear weapon, and it certainly hasn’t been hellbent on getting one as soon as possible. Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded it has no nuclear weapons program today, a position they have held consistently since 2007. That isn’t all that surprising: As I’ve argued before, Iran has sound, strategic reasons for not getting the bomb, just as it has sound, strategic reasons to want the potential to acquire one should circumstances warrant it at some point in the future. But if Iran were to move in that direction under this agreement, the world would know it almost immediately, sanctions would snap back, military action would become more likely, and all the benefits Iran gains from the deal would go right out the window.
But even if Iranian leaders, after 15 years or more, believed their national interests were best served by having nuclear weapons, they would run major risks in going forward, with no guarantee of success. Even in the ‘out years,’ the JCPOA’s rigorous monitoring arrangements will remain in force. The world will have gained intimate knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program, which would give the United States prompt warning of any Iranian effort to make a dash for the bomb. Even if breakout time had declined to a few weeks, the United States would likely have sufficient time to intervene militarily to stop them. And during the preceding years, the United States will have pursued more effective intelligence means to discover, and more effective military means to thwart, any Iranian movement toward building the bomb.
It would have been preferable to have permanent or longer-term restrictions on Iran’s enrichment program to preserve a one-year breakout time well beyond 15 years. But preventing a nuclear-armed Iran is possible without longer-lasting restrictions—provided the United States and key partners maintain a strong and credible deterrent against a future Iranian decision to go for the bomb. To that end, current and future U.S. presidents, explicitly supported by Congress, should declare that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that the United States will use any necessary means, including military force, to enforce that policy.
The first step on the road to a comprehensive deal came in November 2013 with an interim agreement in Geneva, in which Teh- ran agreed to freeze and modestly roll back its nuclear program in exchange for a pause in new international sanctions and a suspension of some existing penalties. The deal represents the most meaningful move toward a denuclearized Iran in more than a decade. It neutralizes Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium and therefore modestly lengthens Iran’s “breakout” timeline—the time required to enrich uranium to weapons grade—by one or two months. A new inspections regime also means any breakout at- tempt would be detected soon enough for the international community to react, and expanded International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will make it more difficult for Iran to divert critical technology and materials to new secret sites. The terms also preclude the new plutonium reactor at Arak from becoming operational, halting the risk that Iran could soon use plutonium to build a bomb
[ Page 34 ]
[PRO] Yes, it will reduce the risk of Iran getting a bomb better than any of the realistic alternatives. Iran has agreed to physical limits on its ability to produce weapons-grade materials that will assure a break-out timeline of roughly a year for the next 10 years, as well as additional restraints and verification measures to mon- itor compliance and detect cheating. If the U.S. rejects the deal and returns to sanctions, Iran is certain to return to what it was doing before the interim agreement: installing additional cen- trifuges, enriching uranium, increasing its stockpile of enriched material, developing more advanced centrifuges, and complet- ing the Arak heavy water reactor. The agreement does not solve the problem, but it reduces the risk for now and buys substantial time to resolve the threat in the future.
[ Page 46-47 ]
[PRO] If the Supreme Leader accepts an agreement with the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 – that is endorsed by the United National Security Council - Iran will be so firmly committed that it is very likely to comply for the period of the agreement. Over time, the benefits of an agreement will build a constituency in Iran who will oppose any nuclear backsliding that would jeopardize those benefits. Finally, the agreement could help foster political reform inside Iran and a more moderate foreign policy that will undercut the arguments of those Iranian factions who advocate acquisition of nuclear weapons.
[ Page 70-71 ]
Time, however, does not in fact work to Iran’s advantage. The JPA both freezes the development of Iran’s nuclear program and provides more effective assurances against Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon than is commonly acknowledged. Under the JPA, Iran cannot increase its enrichment capacity and as eliminated its stocks of uranium enriched to 20 percent. At the same time, the safeguards and inspections regime monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities is substantial—significantly greater than what had been in place prior to the agreement, and very likely nearly as comprehensive as anything the P5+1 will ever achieve. Existing safeguards are certainly not perfect, but no verification mechanism will ever provide complete assurances. More to the point, the combination of the “limits on infrastructure” and “activities with increased safeguards” provisions in the JPA make it virtually impossible for Iran to carry out a nuclear breakout without providing the United States and its allies time to detect the attempt and to intervene. The Obama administration’s estimate of a two-month breakout time sounds scarier than it is, especially if one keeps in mind that this is the minimum amount of time, under highly ideal conditions, it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a single weapon. Even having achieved that, Iran would still lack a credible nuclear deterrent and be substantially far from acquiring one. Therefore, the current risk of an Iranian breakout attempt, let alone a successful one, has to be judged extremely low.
[ Page 3 ]
The fact that Iran possesses a basic nuclear capability, and that political will, not technical capacity, will determine the nuclear endgame suggests that any agreement will need buy in from Iran if it is to be successful. Iran knows how to build a centrifuge, and neit her sanctions nor military strikes can change that. In the long - term, the best way to insure than Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons if for Iran to embrace its non - nuclear posture.
Perhaps most importantly, the DNI has assessed that Iran has not yet m ade a decision to pursue nuclear weapons and may or may not make such a decision in the future. This would seem to imply that the moment is ripe for an agreement that would lock Iran into a political decision and a policy path that takes it down a non - nuclear road.
[ Page 3-4 ]
As contemporary scholars of nuclear studies have repeatedly pointed out, the historical record for non-proliferation is a surprising story of success. Dark predictions of nuclear spread did not come true; we do not live in a world of dozens of nuclear weapons states. In fact, the rate or pace of proliferation has steadily declined since the 1960s, with fewer and fewer countries joining the nuclear weapons club each decade. The pool of potential proliferators is the smallest is has ever been, and since the end of the Cold War, more countries have given up their weapons assets than joined the nuclear club. In short, nonproliferation is one of America’s greatest policy successes. Congress can take a major share of credit for that outcome, from the efforts of Senator McMahon and later Senator Pastore and on through the work of this committee today.
Of course, not all the news is good. North Korea and the A.Q Kahn network are reminders that there is still difficult work to be done, and that success requires continued effort. The unambiguous evidence to date suggests, however, that it is possible to prevent and even reverse proliferation.
The data also suggests that negotiated agreements are a powerful tool for achieving nonproliferation objectives. There is scholarly debate about the causes of America’s nonproliferation success, and one should assume that a variety of factors contribute, but my own research suggests that, contrary to my expectations, nonproliferation agreements can have a profound effect. From the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to the Libya nuclear agreement, negotiated agreements are among the most important tools governments have to preventing and reversing proliferation.