Sanctions and the threat of military action may dissuade Iran from building a bombby Mark Fitzpatrick / March 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
A surface-to-surface missile is launched during a test in Iran, 20th August 2010
It is not inevitable that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons. Nor is a military strike by Israel or the United States the only alternative. Such worst-case assumptions could lead to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time possibly lasting a decade or more.
This is not to downplay Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities. It has developed more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium—material that can power a reactor or produce an explosion. It has increased production of enriched uranium at a level that is close to the quality needed for a weapon. It has also begun carrying out enrichment at the deeply buried facility at Fordow (see map p28), beyond reach of Israeli conventional air strikes. Those steps all move Iran closer to the point of being able to produce a weapon.
Iran has also pursued the technology of making nuclear bombs, a further technical hurdle, and the ballistic missiles which could deliver them. But sanctions by the United Nations, the US and the European Union have impeded this progress. Any attempt by Iran to make a dash for nuclear weapons would be detected by international inspectors and western intelligence agencies at an early stage. Containment and deterrence policies can therefore prevent Iran from crossing the line to weapons production.
In seeking to dissuade Israel from launching a pre-emptive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the Obama Administration argues that an airstrike would delay Iran’s programme by no more than three years. The White House also stresses that an attack would be destabilising to the global economy and to the region, setting back the struggle against global jihadism. It also argues that it is unnecessary because Iran is not on the verge of producing weapons, and sanctions are beginning to bite. Iran is feeling economic pain and has agreed to resume talks with the EU-led E3+3 (France, Germany, Britain and China, Russia and US). “There is still time and space to pursue diplomacy,” Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, said on 28th February.