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December 2, 2014 2:29 am

Iran’s Pursuit of the Islamic Bomb Invites Copycats

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The Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor in Iran. The victory of so-called "moderate" Hassan Rohani in Iran's presidential election has renewed hope in the West of a resolution to the nuclear standoff with Iran, but the country has proceeded with its nuclear program under moderate presidents in the past. Photo: Nanking2012/Wikimedia Commons.

While the future of Iran’s nuclear program has rightly been the focus of the intense Vienna negotiations, there are other significant implications extending well beyond Tehran. Because of President Obama’s many concessions, Iran has made significant gains, particularly enhanced international legitimacy for both its regime and its extensive nuclear activities.

Now that the negotiating “deadline” has been extended until June 2015, we should consider the broader global implications of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy. Other aspiring nuclear-weapons states have carefully followed the negotiations, drawing conclusions and making plans accordingly. Very shortly, the wider ripples of the talks will manifest themselves in two ways.

First, Iran’s near neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, will almost certainly accelerate their nuclear activities, following a clear path to producing weapons. Second, North Korea, left to its own devices (and continuing progress on both weaponization and ballistic-missile development) these past six years, clearly sees a weak negotiating counterpart in Washington, and will try to achieve many of the same advantages Tehran is now harvesting.

The Middle Eastern conventional wisdom has long held that if Iran produced deliverable nuclear weapons, other states would follow inexorably. As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2009, “A nuclear-armed Iran with a deliverable weapons system is going to spark an arms race in the Middle East and the greater region.” Saudi Arabia will move first. Indeed, the Saudis may already have “options” on existing Pakistani warheads, meaning that Riyadh would not need to build its own nuclear program, but could effectively become a nuclear power overnight. Egypt and Turkey would start farther behind, but they have already made initial efforts, such as Cairo’s 2013 nuclear deal with Moscow.

Iran’s path to weaponization appears now to be merely a matter of its own timing, absent an Israeli military strike like those undertaken previously against Iraq and Syria. Accordingly, none of the potential proliferators have any incentive to wait for Iran to actually test a nuclear device to prove its existence. These regional powers will almost certainly conclude that Iran will weaponize, and that having their own deterrent capability is the only appropriate response. Indeed, with Washington accepting Iran’s “peaceful” program, these and others could move very quickly. They will definitely not rely solely on U.S. assurances. Given how meaningless Mr. Obama’s Iran assurances were, the other potential proliferators will not bother with subtlety as they proceed.

North Korea obviously stands in a very different position, having itself already detonated three nuclear devices. While the White House has (so far, at least) not chased Pyongyang for a nuclear agreement as it has Tehran, the North’s nuclear threat has nonetheless grown. Both its ballistic-missile program and the critical miniaturization of nuclear weapons into warheads mated with such missiles for long-range, even worldwide delivery, have proceeded rapidly. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, said in October, “I believe they have the capability to miniaturize the device at this point and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have.”

Pyongyang could readily conclude, based on Iran’s successes, that Mr. Obama’s remaining two years provide the most propitious period in which to make a nuclear deal with Washington. Having already twice expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, most recently in 2009, the North can go a long way simply by allowing IAEA renewed access to the known facilities at Yongbyong. Of course, since everything important in North Korea’s ongoing weapons-related program in undoubtedly well concealed far from that location, Pyongyang’s risks could be manageable. Given the gullibility of Mr. Obama’s negotiators, the omens are good for a North Korean initiative.

There are additional negative consequences. Beyond Russia’s Egypt deal, Moscow signed a significant commercial agreement with Iran in 2014 to build eight new nuclear reactors, in addition to the already-functioning Bushehr facility. Additional sales throughout the Middle East and beyond are tempting prospects. Moreover, Russia has also allowed (or encouraged) its citizens to be employed “individually” by would-be proliferators as nuclear and ballistic-missile experts. This ploy has allowed Moscow to evade either responsibility or consequences, but nonetheless forms a worldwide proliferation pattern. And while A.Q Khan’s nuclear-enrichment business was brought to a crashing halt in 2004, other entrepreneurs could logically conclude that demand for their skills will rise significantly in coming years.

Finally, much of the damage done by the Obama administration cannot be easily repaired. Once a proliferator crosses key thresholds, the work cannot be rolled back except through a strategic decision to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons. While this has happened before (such as South Africa after apartheid), it typically requires regime change for a new government to have the courage and political space to reverse course. Unfortunately, therefore, Mr. Obama’s dangerous nuclear legacy will inevitably be high on the agenda of repair work for his successor.

John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This article was originally published by The Washington Times.

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  • lleon

    John R. Bolton is a dumbass. He was not an expert in anything let alone nuclear matters. That we had such an idiot as our nuclear negotiator is most of the reason why we are where we are right now. When your thoughts are clouded with illusions you make decisions that the rest of us have to live with. After the Cold War, a conflict between Washington and Moscow wrongly perceived as a global conflict, some people in Washington come to believe in the omnipotence of America. We hear all sort of triumphalism about us winning the cold war. This bravado about winning the cold war led to a thought process that believes we are the master of other people’s live. The invasion of Iraq stems from that perception. The idea is that we so militarily powerful, we can do whatever we want even when events on the ground should have taught us otherwise (see Nassyria, Um qusayr). To begin, the NPT states clearly that nations have a right to peaceful nuclear programs. This is not a conditional statement that can be interpreted or reinterpreted by anyone actor in the world. It is not conditional on having obeying past nuclear agreements, it is a right of all nations. The problem with Mr. Bolton is that he believes that the right of other nations is conferred to them by the whims of Americans and white European Nations by virtue of them being America and Europe. The problem is that no country in the world has accepted that notion. This is why Brazil, Argentina, and others have gone their way and develop their nuclear infrastructure. President Obama did not create this reality, he accepts it. Mr Bolton and his president Bush had an opportunity convince the Iranian to not develop an enrichment capacity, but Mr. Bolton fails miserably. Mr. Bolton had the opportunity to stop the Iranian when they had only 196 centrifuges, Mr. BOLTON fails because he spent most of his time issuing hollow threats of military actions knowing full well that we never had the capacity to launch a war against a nation of more than 70 million people. If Mr. BOLTON had negotiated a JPA-like agreement with Iran, we would not be here. The audacity of this idiot to go on TV and online and present himself as some sort of expert in nonproliferation is baffling. What non-proliferation goal was achieved when Mr. BOLTON was capable of producing one? None. Obama’s nuclear legacy will be that he would have create a framework for whoever succeed him to discuss non-proliferation issues with Iran. President Obama’s mistake in dealing with nuclear Iran is that he did not accept the Turkish proposal under Ahmadinejad to the detriment of the NPT. Iran nuclear program would have been partially frozen and if we presuppose that Rouhani would have been elected anyway, then the JPA would have been much better than it is today.

  • Arthur Cohn

    The Obama-Kerry-Sherman negotiating team have been a complete failure. They have lost sight of their stipulated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining the nuclear weapon.Instead it seems that their to goal is to keep having discussions with Iran.
    The sanctions which badly hurt Iran’s economy and brought Iran to the negotiations were developed by Congress against the wishes of the Obama administration. Now that the Obama=Kerry-Sherman negotiating team have greatly weakened the sanctions,Iran wants to continue the negotiations in order to find out what additional benefits they can obtained from America.