Iranian nukes

A friend sent along this piece from Slate.com on the IAEA's allegations about the Iranian nuclear project:
Besides the NYT, none of the other papers give much play to the IAEA report and emphasize the agency said it has no evidence that Iran's military has gotten involved in the country's nuclear program. For its part, the NYT specifies that 18 documents were included in the report that claim "Iranians have ventured into explosives, uranium processing and a missile warhead design," which could suggest that nuclear weapons are being developed. The nuclear watchdog agency also says Iran has failed to disclose advancements in its nuclear program and suggests the country could be producing enriched uranium. David Albright, a former weapons inspector who is the go-to guy for these kinds of stories, tells the NYT that the "Iranians are being confronted with some pretty strong evidence of a nuclear weapons program" and the report "is very damning." But Albright also tells the LAT there are some key components missing from the report that one would expect to find in a weapons program. Iran insists the documents are fakes but has failed to release evidence and provide access to international inspectors that could verify Tehran's claims.
Iran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA could indicate that they are hiding a nuclear weapons program, or could be a matter of national pride (like how the US rejects UN elections inspectors), or could be designed to foster uncertainty about their intentions and capabilities. Here are the likely possibilities that I see:
  • Iran has a weapons program and is hiding it very well
  • Iran doesn't have a weapons program currently but plan to have one in the future and so maintains some of the components today
  • Iran's political decision-making mechanisms are so convoluted that some people are setting up weapons program components while others aren't, and nobody knows what is going on, including the Iranians themselves
  • Iran doesn't have the expertise to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to be weaponized on their crappy missiles, but wants to create uncertainty about their capabilities in order to paralyze US and European decision making and/or extract concessions
However I don't know too much about nuclear weapons programs. Comments?

5 comments:

Arjun said...

I know very little about nuclear energy or about the process of enriching uranium to be used in either reactors or weapons. However, I wonder how much of Iran's energy needs are provided by nuclear energy. In reading the LAT article, it seems that Iran has consistently responded late to requests and yet consistently provided just enough information to maintain a dialogue and to prevent sanctions.

This could be through incompetence or for other strategic goals, but i dont think Occam's Razor always applies to countries, and the simplest explanations here are that they are making nukes, or that they are building reactors for energy... neither seems, by itself, to be correct. However, some combination of the possibilities youve suggested seems likely.

A note: the article mentions the idea of "a possible establishment of an international nuclear enrichment consortium in Iran, an idea Tehran has floated before as a way for world powers to gain assurances that Iran wasn't diverting nuclear material to a weapons program." Ive never heard this idea, and on the face it makes me nervous. Why is it proposed as a reassuring idea?

Adrian said...

Right now 0% of Iran's energy is provided by nuclear power because it has no operational nuclear reactors. Iran lacks oil refining capacity, so despite its oil reserves it still has to import most of its gasoline and fuel. A nuclear power station would make Iran less dependent on its single oil refinery and gasoline imports.

The international consortium would be reassuring because Western powers would monitor Iran's enrichment of nuclear fuel and (theoretically) be able to verify that no fuel is diverted for weapons. Kerry proposed this in 2004.

Chirol said...

Iran could be aiming for "strategic ambiguity" as Israel did for years and as Iraq did recently.

After all, it would be a major coup for the West to stake its reputation on Iran's having a program only to find out they didnt (though maintained the ability and intention) like Saddam did.

Mike said...

A couple of good sources for nuke and missile info are Arms Control Wonk and Steeljaw Scribe. ACW is pretty straight forward, but at SJS you may have to do a search or find a tag to get to the missile and/or nuke stuff. Rest assured that there is good stuff at both sites though.

Adrian said...

Well, strategic ambiguity failed for Iraq and was backed up by conventional superiority for Israel. I guess Iran's backup plan would be 150,000 American targets in Iraq...

I know Arms Control Wonk, haven't seen Steeljaw Scribe before, thanks for the link Mike.