Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 11, 2015

Some reasonable thoughts on the Iranian nuclear negotiations

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,WMD — by Arnold Bogis on March 11, 2015

Reason has recently been a topic of discussion here at HLSWatch.  I lack the philosophical chops to get involved, so instead will go in an entirely unrelated direction and point to what I consider some well reasoned thoughts on the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran. This is generally considered a national and not homeland security issue, however the consequences of a nuclear armed Iran or military strikes intended to delay its nuclear program will surely be felt here in the U.S.

First up is Graham Allison, predicting in a Foreign Policy op-ed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would present a “false dichotomy” in his speech to Congress last week (and he was right):

In nuclear negotiations with Iran, he will argue that the United States faces a choice between a “good deal” and a “bad deal.” He will urge Congress to stop President Barack Obama from accepting the latter which, he will say, “endangers the existence of the state of Israel.”

Buyer beware. Every serious analyst of this issue — including the prime minister — knows that this is a false dichotomy. In negotiations, a bad deal is by definition unacceptable. The same is true for one’s opponent: in an either-or world, a good deal for one would have to be a bad deal for the other. Thus, negotiated agreements require compromises, in which neither party achieves all of its demands.

In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu will caricature any compromise as capitulation. To the untutored, his arguments may sound persuasive. No nation, he will say, would tolerate its archenemy acquiring nuclear weapons. Therefore, Israel has to demand that any agreement eliminate every aspect of Iran’s capability to ever produce nuclear weapons. Anything short of this, according to Netanyahu’s construction, is a “bad deal.”

Yet, this argument ignores what has happened on the ground over the past decade as successive U.S. and Israeli administrations have held to this view. By insisting on maximalist demands and rejecting potential agreements, the first of which would have limited Iran to 164 centrifuges, we have seen Iran advance from 10 years away from producing a bomb to only months.

He goes on to speak uncomfortable truths:

The consequences of this failed strategy are two ugly but irreversible facts. First, Iran has advanced to the point that we now have to consider something called “breakout time,” the number of months it would take to produce a bomb’s-worth of enriched uranium. The second, even uglier, truth is that Iran has developed the capability to produce a nuclear weapon, and this capability cannot be erased.

The critical tipping point on this path occurred in 2008 when Iran mastered the technical know-how to build centrifuges and operate them to enrich uranium to levels required for the core of a nuclear bomb. As I wrote at that time, “Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: it has lost its nuclear virginity.”

Going one more level down:

There is no way to erase from the minds of thousands of Iranian scientists and engineers the knowledge and skills to produce weapons-grade uranium. There is no way to eliminate Iran’s indigenous capacity to mine uranium, manufacture centrifuges, or operate them. Thus, there is no conceivable end to this story in which Iran will not retain the capability to build nuclear weapons.

This is a truth that many in Congress simply refuse to accept, since like the prime minister they have repeatedly declared this would never be allowed to happen.

Fareed Zakaria, in his most recent weekly Washington Post column, thinks Netanyahu is the boy who never grew up:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was eloquent, moving and intelligent in identifying the problems with the potential nuclear deal with Iran. But when describing the alternative to it, Netanyahu entered never-never land, painting a scenario utterly divorced from reality. Congress joined him on his fantasy ride, rapturously applauding as he spun out one unattainable demand after another.

Netanyahu declared that Washington should reject the current deal, demand that Tehran dismantle almost its entire nuclear program and commit never to restart it. In the world according to Bibi, the Chinese, Russians and Europeans will cheer, tighten sanctions, and increase pressure — which would then lead Iran to capitulate. “Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough,” said Peter Pan.

He also points out some inconvenient facts to those in what I guess we can now call the “Club of 47:”

The theory that Iran would buckle under continued pressure ignores certain basic facts. Iran is a proud, nationalistic country. It has survived 36 years of Western sanctions through low oil prices and high oil prices. It endured an eight-year war with Iraq in which it lost an estimated half a million fighters. The nuclear program is popular, even with leaders of the pro-democratic Green Movement.

Michael Cohen echos much of these same concerns in a Boston Globe piece:

SOMETIME IN the next three weeks, the United States and its allies in the international community could sign a nuclear agreement with Iran. If they do, the deal will be unsatisfying. Iran will still likely be able to maintain its nuclear infrastructure; a sunset clause of 10 to 15 years would make it possible for Iran to reignite its nuclear ambitions; the lever of international sanctions would be lifted; and the success of the agreement would depend on adherence to it by a country that has been caught lying about its nuclear aspirations in the past.

Welcome to the fun-filled world of international diplomacy, where the choices facing policy makers are almost never between the best or worst possible deal, but rather a set of least worst options. That’s the choice facing President Obama, and it’s a lesson that critics of his approach to Iran have consistently missed.

He identifies what many expect is the desired endgame by most of the critics of the current talks, and hints at why that might not be such a desirable outcome:

Others argue that military force should be used to destroy Iran’s program, but it’s hard to see how the unforeseen consequences of war (which may or may not be able to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure) would be better than even an imperfect deal.

To me this all seems like straightforward risk management.  The P5+1 negotiators are presumably during their best to mitigate future risk considering the facts on the ground.  This is a concept often hailed as a foundation for homeland security.  We can’t eliminate all the risk so we should try to prevent what we can, mitigate against the impact of what we can’t, properly prepare and respond to events, and recover as a nation.  Unfortunately I believe we are straying far off that path.

Once upon a time, President Bush and many in his administration could unequivocally say that despite the government’s best efforts the U.S. will be hit by terrorists again.  Obviously he was and remains correct.  And at the time, no political party or other entities made much of that common sense statement (except some fringe elements). Fast forward to this President pointing out the obvious that terrorism does not represent an existential threat to our nation and he is painted as naive.  Both men were right, yet it seems the climate has shifted to a never never land where any terrorist attack is a sign of failure, where the inability to control events on the other side of the world in countries and cultures we don’t fully understand is a sign of weakness, and where all we have to do is point and shout loud enough and the rest of the world will come to see that our national interests and priorities and norms of behavior obviously should be theirs.

Here’s hoping that a little reason, and a lot of risk management principles, returns to our public discourse.

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Comment by Zeeb

March 12, 2015 @ 1:38 am

1. Netanyahu did not present a “false dichotomy”; he talked of a better deal.
2. He clearly understands that Iran will retain the capability to build nuclear weapons; making the breakout time as long as possible is his goal. This will raise the probability of detecting the breakout. This is the better deal. He thinks that if Iran was brought to the negotiating tale it could be brought to that better deal.
3. Is Zakaria implying that the a deal should not commit Iran to never restart a military nuclear program? See Cohen’s words.
4. Iran has buckled under continued pressure: it has modified its program, and is negotiating.
5. “terrorism does not represent an existential threat to our nation”, even a nuclear bomb does not. But to Israel it does.
6. “Cultures we don’t fully understand”: so why should Israel and others in the ME rely on the P5+1???

Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 12, 2015 @ 2:10 am

1. A better deal where he/Israel got everything they wanted and Iran just folded. The analysts I quoted were trying to make the point that when anyone makes a deal, both sides necessarily do not get everything they wish.

2. Iran is at the negotiating table. What he’s asking for is a deal that obviously the P5+1 can’t get now. They could have gotten a much better deal years ago, but U.S. and Israeli pressure scuttled such possible agreements in search of maximum victory.

3. Zakaria is saying that you have to accept some ground truth, and that means that at this point no matter what Iran has the capability of reconstituting a weapons program (unless we invade and occupy the country for ____ years) if it makes the decision. The goal is to make that decision politically difficult for whatever regime is in power.

4. Allison points out that because we keep pushing them to give up everything, they keep advancing, if in fits and spurts. What is it about hundreds to tens of thousands of centrifuges that shouts “buckling?”

5. So? Seriously, I have no problem asking that question. The U.S. should concern itself first with its own national interest. Any calculation of that would take into account allies, but would not put their perceptions of existential threats ahead of our own. I see no argument that binds us to going to war with Iran over a nuclear program for Israel. We have no defense treaty obligations, unlike the case with say Turkey which is a NATO member. I am not advocating not supporting Israel. Nor discontinuing the billions in aid, including the help in developing their anti-missile program. Just that at the end of the day I want my elected officials, along with defense, intelligence, and other national security officials, to make decisions ultimately on the merits of the security of the United States of America. Besides, Israel is known to have nuclear weapons, including submarine launched second-strike capable platforms.

6. They don’t have to. Good luck and God bless if they want to handle their Iranian problem on their own. America should stand by our allies, but also not be bound to action for others’ perceived interests and not our own.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

March 12, 2015 @ 9:58 am

I guess for some it is so easy we dismiss the blood of our precious youth on the hands of these Terrorists hiding behind their vestments…These “Brutes of Tehran” are now engaged and operating in five capitals and as Christians and jews and this America and our Judeo-Christian principles and our obligation to Constitution, our way of Life and to protect Israel and Jerusalem given our majority of Christians, we should have done whatever necessary to thwart any such development and yet, this populace so ignorant voting for this WH anarchist who runs to take care of his pal up in Cambridge, however we have not heard from him at all today expressing concern for the two police officers gunned down at Ferguson brings back this eight year WH resident’s day on his soap box at Harv’d and his pals like Billy Ayers all so willing to take stand against police….

The Iranians have killed and killed Americans and their weapons are found everywhere and they continue to “fund” terrorism along with V=Barry Obama’s other pals, the Muslim Brotherhood and the likes of those who seek our demise and that of Jerusalem!

Barry Obama and this illustrious AG are responsible for the deaths and injuries sustained by our brave police officers throughout this nation for it is they that have spewed this bias, this prejudice and this environment where all they see is color when we here on “Main Street USA” see no such color. Further, it is time for those truly concerned to talk about the real issues in the Black community and jobs and jobs, and education and the high rates of teen pregnancy and abortions and so and and so forth for the Italians, The Greeks, the Portuguese and so on have endured bias and terrible abuses towards them and they pulled themselves up and created a Life and without public assistance!

I have many Black friends and even family members and they have been educated and hold very responsible positions and participate in society just like anyone else without this chip on the shoulder and have no time to give an ear to this ongoing divisiveness of the AG, Barry Obama or their pal, good ‘ol Al or the Rev Wright who has spewed such bias himself towards America and the Jew calling them “Zionists” – I do hope NSA is listening very intently to any and every call to and from this White House for we have little confidence in this perverse and limited administration who seeks in every way to divide this nation!

Two police officers are wounded and one seriously….do we hear Barry Obama running as he did w/a 911 call here in Cambridge…no because he could give a damn!

We have a nation under attack from Tehran in every way soon to take over Iraq completely just as Barry Obama and his own agenda preferred for his apologies for America and his Muslim interests versus America, well, YOU deserve what you are now seeing and a promise from scripture that it will only get far worse unless we repent and we stand forthright with strong arsenal – not this weakened US military Barry Obama has accomplished to weaken as he has and we need real leadership for the best interest of America and Israel for biblical scripture clearly shows us just why it is our responsibility to assure that the Hebrew and Jerusalem remains for all, Muslims, Christians and anyone else peaceful and respecting of others…

God Bless these two police officers shot from a distance behind the crowd and one can bet that good ‘ol Eric will do little to find the perpetrators that opened fire on our police officers and he and this “Chicago city street slicker” and their own bias have placed every first responder at risk –

I guess Ms. Hillary and Holder and Obama and the likes are indeed above the law for it is YOU who can make a difference and shout from the rafters and can draft recall initiatives for anyone in public office!

We shall never forget the “blatant lies” at the “Benghazi Massacre” and both standing shoulder to shoulder and now again, the emails are missing and deleted and whether one likes it or not, a felony for all such emails are property of the government and the government is You and I and when YOU enable these folks to trample of good ‘ol Glory, your freedom is that much less!

God Bless America!

Tehran will use nuclear weapons and not only against Israel!

Wake up!

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 12, 2015 @ 10:15 am

Perhaps I know too much or too little in the world of nuclear affairs.

Extract from ZEEB’s comment:

“terrorism does not represent an existential threat to our nation”, even a nuclear bomb does not. But to Israel it does.”

Sorry ZEEB but a NUDET domestically might well put the final nail in the death of our CONSTITUTION and our democracy [republic] IMO.

We are unprepared and remain unprepared. Sooner or later a Boston snow storm sized event will also involve some form of contamination.

Tight integration of federal, state, and local response will be required but not just money. Time and expertise may well be in very short supply.

Here is my take on Iran and anti-proliferation efforts. Most count the nuclear weapons capable nations an numbering nine. 1. U.S.A.; 2. Russia; 3. China; 4. Great Britain; 5. France; 6. India; 7. Pakistan;; 8. North Korea; 9. Israel.

IMO Iran could certainly breakout with full possession of nuclear weapons capability [warheads plus ballistic missiles] within 3 years at the outside.

Germany, South Korea, Brazil, Taiwan [China?]; Canada within one year.

As predicted by a long deceased friend who was a CIA Branch Chief in about 1990 by 2030 probably 30 fully nuclear weapons capable nation-states.

Non-state actors possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems now or by 2030 unknown.

Yet Iran is the first time since 1952 that nuclear [previously atomic] weapons and proliferation should have been a Presidential campaign issue.

And again suggest the book IN MORTAL HANDS [2007] documenting how nuclear power reactors have led to nuclear proliferation.


Comment by Arnold Bogis

March 12, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

Bill, that is a great point about our reaction to any detonation on US soil. Consider some of our overreaction to 9/11, and one can only imagine what will be called for if the worst happens.

And you’re generally right that pretty much any industrialized nation can develop nuclear weapons. It is practically impossible to prevent proliferation on the technical side. The real issue is the political choice to incur all the issues that come with developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 13, 2015 @ 8:05 am




Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Homeland Security and the Delusion of Reason: Part 2

March 17, 2015 @ 2:33 am

[…] Arnold Bogis reasoned about Iranian nuclear negotiations. Can I believe his argument that what we’re really talking about is “straightforward risk management?” Must I believe him when he writes the political “climate has shifted to a never never land where… the inability to control events on the other side of the world… is a sign of weakness?” […]

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