It’s the Deterrence, Stupid
Michael Mandelbaum argues that the best alternative to the nuclear deal is one that was never fully utilized during the negotiations -- present a credible threat to use force.
Sanctions have put Iran's economy on life support and forced them to the negotiating table. Giving up these valuable tools now for the current deal would be a mistake when the P5+1 partners could use them instead to compel Iran to adopt other needed measures including restrictions on their development of ballistic missiles, funding for terrorist proxies, and their ability to enrich uranium.
Second, the November 2013 accord abandoned a four-decade-long American and international policy of prohibiting the spread of enrichment technology even to friendly, democratic countries. In fact, since the 1970s the global non-proliferation regime—the agreements, understandings, organizations, and policies designed to restrict the spread of nuclear armaments—has had three main pillars: the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, which prohibits signatory countries that do not already have them from getting nuclear weapons; the even more important series of American security guarantees that have successfully persuaded countries capable of getting the bomb, such as Germany and Japan, that they do not need it because the American nuclear arsenal adequately protects them; and the various measures designed to limit the distribution of the technology for enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium (another route to the bomb). Without public or Congressional debate, and as the result of the secret negotiations that yielded the November 2013 framework, the Obama Administration abandoned the third pillar. As a result, it will henceforth be extremely difficult to prevent other countries, at first in the Middle East but ultimately elsewhere, particularly in East Asia, from equipping themselves with the capacity for enrichment.
The third dire consequence of permitting Iran to have a full-scale enrichment infrastructure is that this places an impossible burden on the program of international inspections to ensure compliance with the terms of the Vienna agreement. Inspections can work as confidence-building measures, when the country being inspected has no enrichment facilities, does not intend to build them, and is eager for the rest of the world to know this. When, as in the case of Iran, none of these conditions obtains, when inspection is an adversarial rather than a cooperative exercise, it becomes a game of hide and seek in which the hiders have an overwhelming advantage. They control the country in question and the inspectors’ access to it. For this reason much of the debate about the details of the July 14 accord is, in a sense, beside the point. Whatever the agreement says, the Iranian regime will decide what international inspectors will see and when they will see it; and “the regime” in this case means not the English speakers with advanced degrees from Western universities with whom the American and European negotiators have spent long hours in luxury hotels in Europe but rather the mullahs, terrorists, and thugs whose chief contact with the United States has been devising ways to kill American soldiers in Iraq. Having achieved the capacity to enrich uranium, Iran now enjoys, to borrow a metaphor from the world of sports, an overwhelming home-field advantage.Having achieved the capacity to enrich uranium, Iran now enjoys, to borrow a metaphor from the world of sports, an overwhelming home-field advantage.
If military capacity were all that mattered, Iran would never have dared to build the full-scale uranium enrichment capacity that it now possesses. Intentions matter as well, however, and here the Iranian leaders have calculated—correctly—that the American government would not use its military trump card to halt Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons. As President, Barack Obama repeatedly asserted that, where that program was concerned “all options”—including, by inference, the use of force—were on the table, but the mullahs rightly surmised that this was a bluff and, by continuing to build the enrichment program that Obama had vowed not to tolerate, they called it. This is the sense in which the Obama Administration’s description of the deal as the best one available is correct. Given that it was negotiating from a position of self-imposed weakness, it is difficult to see how it could have obtained more favorable terms than the ones embedded in the July 14 agreement.