The author argues that Iran accepted the nuclear deal because it concluded that "the real cost of visibly maintaining the nuclear weapon option exceeded whatever potential advantages the program could bring."
North Korea was cited again as a failed example of denuclearization efforts on Sunday as Republican opposition grew to a potential nuclear deal the President Barack Obama administration is negotiating with Iran.
Contrary to the impression held by some that sanctions have never diverted countries from nuclear proliferation, the cases of seven states in particular offer mixed results. In the 1970s, relatively modest unilateral U.S. sanctions on South Korea and Taiwan persuaded those countries to abandon nuclear proliferation. In the 1980s, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa gave up their respective pursuits of nuclear weapons for reasons of their own, with sanctions having modest if any impact. Of these states, South Africa was arguably most affected by sanctions, with growing international isolation playing into the apartheid regime’s self-dissolution. In the 1990s, Iraq stopped pursuing nuclear weapons primarily because of its military defeat, although sanctions debatably had an effect unappreciated at the time. In the 2000s, the squeezing of the Libyan economy, along with Qadhafi’s conclusion that WMD would not bring Libya much advantage, ultimately led to the surrender of the nuclear program. Though each of these cases is unique, a common thread entails the need to persuade a government that the nuclear program bringsn only higher costs and less advantage. Making that case is an achievable objective with Iran.
Critics argue that, once Iran has gotten that close to the nuclear threshold, it will have a clear path ahead to nuclear weapons and will almost surely embark on that path at a time of its choosing. But it is far from certain that Iran’s leaders—having paid the huge price of devastating sanctions and international isolation for pursuing nuclear weapons—would judge that nuclear arms are a national imperative. Much would depend on how, at the time, they viewed their regional security environment, whether they thought their national aspirations could be met without nuclear weapons, and how they perceived other nations would react to their deceit in violating their international obligations and declared religious principles.
The idea that Iran ultimately may not opt for nuclear weapons is consistent with repeated assessments by the U.S. intelligence community. Since 2007, the intelligence community has judged that, while Iran’s leaders have kept open the option to pursue nuclear weapons, they have not made the decision to do so.