There are few real surprises in the just published IAEA report that Iran is carrying out prohibited nuclear weapons programs. The question after all the dust settles and the policy makers and media commentators have their say on what this really means for our security and for the region’s, is what can now be done? Clearly the thrust of this effort poses very real dangers of a great magnitude.
The goals are to first stop Iran’s on-going weapons programs and second to get the illegal (under the NPT) weapons development capacity dismantled – if possible by peaceful means.
The first obstacle to a peaceful international effort to this end will be the possible, even likely, lack of cooperation by China, Russia, Cuba, and a host of developing nations who sit on the IAEA Executive Committee. The IAEA Board of Governors is meeting on November 17-18, and will consider a draft resolution censuring Iran for violating its non-proliferation commitments. The question is whether, without a consensus, any meaningful action will result that will sway Iran’s clear decision to move towards weapons development. The Board’s 35 members may simply condemn these activities but that will have no impact on the realities on the ground. Let’s be frank: Iran’s warhead development activities are both extensive and deliberate.
The reality is that we still have on the table a defined range of unsatisfactory and unpredictable in consequences, options in response. The first is to continue our limited sanctions (which have clearly proved ineffective), or second, to impose multilaterally or bilaterally major economic/financial and technological sanctions that would essentially constitute a virtual “blockade” and isolate the nation from the rest of the world. The third option is to bomb the nuclear weapons facilities, which is an actual act of war. We would pursue, this in the very last event, realizing the consequences, costs, and uncertainty of all-out war in the region.
I would not choose now the last kinetic option until it is clear that other avenues are having no impact. Any option is going to be difficult and will require international cooperation. We will only get that through diplomacy and tact. But half measures are unlikely to stop an already belligerent Iranian regime.
Normally, a combination of “carrots” and “sticks” is the preferred approach most likely to gain agreement. The existential question is: can we and others live with a nuclear armed Iran or not? Clearly, continued nuclear proliferation will likely result one day in the actual use of such weapons, which is NOT acceptable. We are living with a nuclear armed North Korea uncomfortably and have yet to decide how to finally deal with that reality! Better be cautious than reckless as we have been in Iraq. But this not a question we can safely avoid.
By Harry C. Blaney III.