The Ban on the Bomb -- and Bombing: Iran, the U.S., and the International Law of Self Defense
[ Page 514-5 ]
According to David Albright and Corey Hinderstein of the Institute for Science and International Security, "recent comments by U.S. officials about Iran's timeline to develop nuclear weapons differ from official, community-wide U.S. intelligence assessments." In his February 2006, testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, stated that "Iran is judged as probably having neither a nuclear weapon nor the necessary fissile material for a weapon." According to the "worst-case" scenarios outlined by Albright and Hinderstein, moreover, "Iran appears to need at least three years before it could have enough [highly enriched uranium] to make a nuclear weapon. Given the technical difficulty of the task, it could take Iran much longer." A June 2006 Center for Nonproliferation Studies report, corroborating the technical difficulties that Iran may encounter developing nuclear technology, concludes that "impediments facing Iran's mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle demonstrate that the threat of Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons capability remains long-term and at this point does not warrant excessive alarm or military action." Authors Salama and Salch maintain "that Tehran may still face substantial hurdles to the construction of a nuclear explosive device" because of limited uranium mining, ineffective "conver[sion of] yellowcake (concentrated uranium oxide) to uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6)" to feed centrifuges, and a budding nuclear program not yet technically equipped to accurately and efficiently produce large quantities of enriched uranium required to create WMDs. According to Seymour Hersh: The Administration's planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall  by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
[ Page 515-6 ]
The principle of proportionality then requires assessment of the means to accomplish the legitimate objective. Will the cost of achieving that objective in terms of civilian lives lost and destruction of civilian property and the natural environment exceed the value of the objective? As discussed above, bombing will have little value slowing the nuclear research program. Thus, any attack would disproportionately injure the nation's civilian population. Iran's nuclear research centers around seven geographic locations: Tehran, Lashkar Ab'ad, Natanz, Arak, Isfahan, Saghand in the Yazd Province, and Bushehr. Several of these locations are situated in densely populated areas. The "heart" of a potential nuclear arms program apparently involves several sites. Arak, a site "believed to be for the production of heavy water" located about "150 miles southwest of Tehran;" Bushehr, a complex on the Persian Gulf Coast whose first reactor is "nearing completion," and Natanz, "located 100 miles southeast of Tehran," which "will utilize hundreds of gas centrifuges to enrich uranium." Tehran, the capital city, is home to 8,601,473 of the country's 68,688,433 residents. Given the proximity of two of these key sites to this major city, it is difficult to see how even a conventional air attack would not result in significant casualties.
[ Page 516 ]
There is also no guarantee that a potential attack would rely on "conventional" weapons, as in the case of the Osirak. Rather, because Iran is building facilities underground, n107 the use of more powerful weapons could wreak greater devastation on the civilian population. For example, if nuclear arms were used, John Burroughs of the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy references a Physicians for Social Responsibility [model of] an attack on the underground Isfahan nuclear material storage facility in Iran with a 1.2 megaton (1200 kilotons) B83 bomb modified for earth penetration ... [that] found that over three million people would die within 48 hours ... . While the yield of the bomb used in the PSR study is far bigger than that of a bomb likely to be actually used, it still illustrates that casualties could be very large, as when an attack is in or near an urban center. A nuclear strike now would likely use the existing penetrator bomb, the B-61-11, a modification deployed by the Clinton administration in 1997 with little public debate. It is believed to have a dial-a-yield capability from 300 tons to 300 kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb was around 12 kilotons.