Matthew Bunn reviews the deal reached in Lausanne and argues that on balance, it is "better for United States and world security than the available alternatives. It represents our last best chance to stop an Iranian bomb."
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.
Of course, the deal is a compromise. Iran would be left with a substantial nuclear capability, and inspections would not by any means be “anytime, anywhere.” The limits on Iran’s uranium stocks and enrichment capacity would eventually expire, allowing Iran to increase its capabilities in the future. In essence, the deal buys time – time that should be used to enmesh Iran’s nuclear activities in a web of cooperation, giving the world deeper insight into its nuclear activities and plans and ensuring that any move toward the bomb would be quickly detected.
What are the plausible alternatives? One option would be to reject the deal and try to strengthen sanctions in the hope of pressuring Iran to accept still tighter restraints. Such an approach might work – but the risks are high. Without a deal, Iran would be able to build more centrifuges, fully test its more advanced machines (giving it a faster and easier-to-hide enrichment option), and build up its stock of low-enriched uranium. If the world saw that it was the United States that had walked away from a reasonable deal, it would be very difficult to keep key parts of the sanctions regime from unraveling. We could end up with more dangerous Iranian nuclear capabilities and weaker sanctions tools to push them back. In the end, that might lead to only two options – living with Iran within weeks of producing the material for a bomb, or launching military strikes.