The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a comprehensive report on Tuesday outlining its findings on Tehran’s nuclear program. “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” the UN’s nuclear watchdog stated. Now it is clear the Iranians have the expertise and capability to build an implosion device with a uranium core.
It appears that the “atomic ayatollahs” have not yet built their first atomic weapon. So what should the United States do? “The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest,” said then Defense Secretary Robert Gates last November.
Short of invasion and occupation, he is correct. Yet through American inattention, we now have to decide whether we can live with the Iranian bomb and, if we cannot, what we will do.
A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the United States. Its leaders on many occasions have said they want to destroy America, and they may even have the will to back up such claims. As Hassan Abassi, a senior member of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, said around 2004, “We have a strategy drawn up for the destruction of Anglo-Saxon civilization.”
Bellicose Iran does not possess a missile that can reach our homeland, but it essentially has a joint development program with North Korea. In January, Secretary Gates said that Kim Jong-il’s regime will have such a missile within five years, and so we have to assume the Iranians will have one soon too.
Even if Tehran does not have a missile, defense planners have to assume the Iranians will have the means to smuggle and detonate a device in an American city. If the Iranians purchased uranium—as some analysts believe they did from North Korea in 2004—they could conceivably kill Americans in the tens of thousands within a year. If they have not bought such fissile material, Iran will be able to enrich enough of it for this purpose within, say, two.
“Some U.S. arms-control groups have cautioned against what they fear could be an overreaction to the report, saying there is still time to persuade Iran to change its behavior,” the Washington Post reports. Anything is possible, but it’s hard to see how President Obama will succeed when both the Clinton and Bush administrations—as well as much of the international community—failed.
It would also be nice to think that multilateralism will work, but both Moscow and Beijing have made it clear they will not vote for a fifth round of Security Council sanctions. Europe has also appeared reluctant to back effective economic measures. Indeed, the Russians and the Chinese have actively helped Tehran with technical and diplomatic assistance, as well as with commercial support.
No one wants war, but Washington’s repeated failure to take effective steps after the disclosure in 2002 of then secret Iranian nuclear facilities—an underground centrifuge hall in Natanz and a heavy water plant in Arak—means we have to make a decision now. Either we think we can contain Tehran for decades or we must use force at this time.
There are no other choices. And there is no more time to make a decision.