Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Iran Deal

The Obama administration, in concert with several European allies and Russia, has been negotiating with Iran over the future of their nuclear program, specifically whether they will ever be able to obtain nuclear weapons. The two sides claimed to have reached a preliminary agreement, but no sooner was the agreement announced than the Iranians were claiming that the United States was misrepresenting it.

In dispute, inter alia, is the American claim that sanctions won't be lifted until Iran has dismantled much of its nuclear production capability. Iran is claiming that the agreement was that sanctions would be lifted as soon as the final deal was signed. That the White House will nopt release a copy of the agreement does little to instill confidence that our interpretation is correct and theirs is wrong.

That aside, a letter in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, authored by two heavyweight former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, dissects the agreement, or at least what we know of it, and comes to the conclusion that this is a very bad deal for the world. The letter is a bit lengthy, but anyone interested in the future of the planet should read it. It begins with these lines:
The announced framework for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has the potential to generate a seminal national debate. Advocates exult over the nuclear constraints it would impose on Iran. Critics question the verifiability of these constraints and their longer-term impact on regional and world stability. The historic significance of the agreement and indeed its sustainability depend on whether these emotions, valid by themselves, can be reconciled.

Debate regarding technical details of the deal has thus far inhibited the soul-searching necessary regarding its deeper implications. For 20 years, three presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.

Mixing shrewd diplomacy with open defiance of U.N. resolutions, Iran has gradually turned the negotiation on its head. Iran’s centrifuges have multiplied from about 100 at the beginning of the negotiation to almost 20,000 today. The threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran. While Iran treated the mere fact of its willingness to negotiate as a concession, the West has felt compelled to break every deadlock with a new proposal. In the process, the Iranian program has reached a point officially described as being within two to three months of building a nuclear weapon. Under the proposed agreement, for 10 years Iran will never be further than one year from a nuclear weapon and, after a decade, will be significantly closer.
Messers Kissinger and Schultz go on to explain some of the problems with the agreement. Here are just a few highlights:
Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites. The physical magnitude of the effort is daunting. Is the International Atomic Energy Agency technically, and in terms of human resources, up to so complex and vast an assignment?

In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect. Devising theoretical models of inspection is one thing. Enforcing compliance, week after week, despite competing international crises and domestic distractions, is another. Any report of a violation is likely to prompt debate over its significance—or even calls for new talks with Tehran to explore the issue. The experience of Iran’s work on a heavy-water reactor during the “interim agreement” period—when suspect activity was identified but played down in the interest of a positive negotiating atmosphere—is not encouraging.

Compounding the difficulty is the unlikelihood that breakout will be a clear-cut event. More likely it will occur, if it does, via the gradual accumulation of ambiguous evasions.
The president assures us that if Iran is found to be cheating, a near-certainty given their track record, sanctions will be reimposed (a strange threat given that one of the justifications Mr. Obama offered for negotiating with Iran was that sanctions weren't working), but this is much easier said than done:
The agreement’s primary enforcement mechanism, the threat of renewed sanctions, emphasizes a broad-based asymmetry, which provides Iran permanent relief from sanctions in exchange for temporary restraints on Iranian conduct. Undertaking the “snap-back” of sanctions is unlikely to be as clear or as automatic as the phrase implies. Iran is in a position to violate the agreement by executive decision. Restoring the most effective sanctions will require coordinated international action. In countries that had reluctantly joined in previous rounds, the demands of public and commercial opinion will militate against automatic or even prompt “snap-back.” If the follow-on process does not unambiguously define the term, an attempt to reimpose sanctions risks primarily isolating America, not Iran.
Worse, after the ten year period of good behavior has elapsed Iran will be within a few months to a year of being capable of producing a nuclear weapon. None of the other countries in the region, many of them majority Sunni (Iran is majority Shia) will be content to sit by and see what Iran does with their bomb. They'll want a nuclear deterrent of their own, which means there'll be a nuclear arms race in the most volatile, suicidal region in the entire world.
Previous thinking on nuclear strategy also assumed the existence of stable state actors. Among the original nuclear powers, geographic distances and the relatively large size of programs combined with moral revulsion to make surprise attack all but inconceivable. How will these doctrines translate into a region where sponsorship of nonstate proxies is common, the state structure is under assault, and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?

Some have suggested the U.S. can dissuade Iran’s neighbors from developing individual deterrent capacities by extending an American nuclear umbrella to them. But how will these guarantees be defined? What factors will govern their implementation? Are the guarantees extended against the use of nuclear weapons—or against any military attack, conventional or nuclear? Is it the domination by Iran that we oppose or the method for achieving it? What if nuclear weapons are employed as psychological blackmail? And how will such guarantees be expressed, or reconciled with public opinion and constitutional practices?
If anyone thinks that a future president like Mr. Obama, or almost anyone for that matter, is going to launch a nuclear war against Iran in the event that Iran detonates a nuke over, say, Baghdad, they are incredibly naive. Moreover, if Iran alone has nuclear weapons they will be able to achieve hegemony in the Middle East without having to use them. The mere threat of their use will enable them to impose their will on surrounding Arab nations, and they will doubtless use this power to force a unified Arab assault against Israel.

Mr. Obama came to the White House boldly declaring that he would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, but he has made it much more likely than it was six years ago that within a decade they will indeed have them. And when they get them Armageddon will become a perpetual fear in the hearts of every Israeli.