Can the Iranian Nuclear Program Still be Stopped?

Can the Iranian Nuclear Program Still be Stopped?

February 4, 2008
By Ralf Fücks

Shortly after the National Intelligence Council released their report, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities” last December, a sigh of relief passed over Europe: with the appraisal that the country had frozen its nuclear weapons program at the end of 2003, the option of a United States military strike against Iran during the remainder of President Bush’s term in office seemed no longer an issue. One can read the report as a sort of preemptive strike against the hawks in the Bush administration, one which would deny them any form of legitimization for a renewed political and military adventure– revenge for their instrumental role in the run-up to the Iraqi war.

So far, so good. It would, however, be a mistake to now sit back and relax. Becoming a nuclear power requires three elements: nuclear material, a carrier system with which to transport the deadly cargo, and the capability to build nuclear warheads. If the United States National Intelligence Council calculated correctly, Iran has only put the latter on ice — and namely in reaction to the triumphant advance of the American army in Iraq. As for the other two elements—uranium enrichment and the construction of mid-range missiles — Iran hascontinued to pursue them with diligence. In the meantime, power relations in the gulf have dramatically been transformed in favor of Iran. The US is up to its neck in the quagmire of Iraq while Tehran is taking on the role as the dominant regional power.  China bought itself into Iranian oil production with multi-billion dollar investments and delivers, as does Russia, modern military technology. A mutual assistance pact has likewise bound Syria and the long arm of Tehran reaches far into Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan.  Skyrocketing oil prices added the rest of what was needed for the Mullahs to consolidate their power.

Previously levied sanctions from the United Nations had not been taken with sustainably impressing the power holders in Tehran. As long as they manage to pit China and Russia against the United States and conduct business vigorously with European countries such as Germany and Italy, they will be able to advance their nuclear program without hindrance. Then, it is only a matter of time and determination before they actually build the bomb.

That, however, would have dramatic consequences far beyond the region itself. Already now it is clear that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not come to terms with the nuclear-backed dominance of Iran. The same goes for Turkey. There, the following rhetoric can be heard: If Iran becomes armed with nuclear weapons, Turkey will either join the European Union or become a nuclear power itself. A nuclear arms race in this unstable and conflict-laden region equates to playing with fire. Last but not least, an atomic bomb in the hands of an extremist regime, which propagates the obliteration of the Jewish state, would prove an incalculable risk for Israel.

The American National Intelligence Council assumes that a cost-benefit calculation drives nuclear policy in Tehran rather than an unconditional reach for the bomb, “in disregard of political, economic and military costs.” He who wishes to avoid the fatal alternative: “to bomb or to accept”, must therefore focus on a combination of overtures and pressure when dealing with Iran. Until now, both have only been pursued half-heartedly. In order for a chance to exist at a diplomatic solution, the Untied States must look beyond her shadow and offer Tehran direct negotiations for a political arrangement. This includes strict international control of the Iranian nuclear program as well as relinquishing production of weapons-grade material, a mutual rejection of force and an offer of security-political and energy cooperation. In the course of such negotiations, Iran’s actual motives and goals will become apparent. The support of the international community for hard sanctions against Iran can only be won along this path, in the case that the regime ultimately withdraws itself from a diplomatic agreement.


Ralf Fücks is the Head of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung which is affiliated with the German Green Party

Übersetzung: Cortnie Shupe