If Iran is Not Checked, Nuclear Terror is Next: America Needs a Plan
Op-Ed, International Herald Tribune
August 9, 2004
Author: Brenda Shaffer, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 1999–2007; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Program, 2000–2005; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Project, 2005–2007
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
The keystone of any plan to prevent nuclear terrorism would be to curb the advancing programs of states that aspire to possess nuclear weapons. As was shown by the blackmarket nuclear network run by Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan, state programs provide a springboard for others who want to develop nuclear capabilities.
Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush have both committed themselves to preventing nuclear terrorism, but neither has presented a useful policy plan for dealing with such states, especially when, like Iran, they maintain strong cooperation with terrorist elements.
Bush provided four years of tough-sounding, comic book "axis of evil" rhetoric on Iran but no action to halt its nuclear program. Kerry has offered nothing beyond engagement, a policy that Europe has tried without success. In creating a plan for preventing a nuclear Iran, the next U.S. president should bear in mind the following:
First, multilateralism is important but not sufficient. Last autumn, Washington bowed to European wishes to engage Iran through cooperative measures, hoping that it would abandon its nuclear program. The British, German and French foreign ministers signed an agreement with Tehran under which they would prevent Iran from being referred to the United Nations Security Council — where it would face sanctions for its many violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — if Tehran halted uranium enrichment, adopted the treaty's Additional Protocol, and disclosed completely the extent of its nuclear program.
The result: Tehran's failure to declare all of its nuclear activities continued into this year, its Parliament failed to ratify the Additional Protocol, Iran is gearing up to resume uranium enrichment, and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency faced obstructions several times. Concerned voices in Europe realize that Tehran simply gained a year to advance its program. Some key Europeans are now seeking an effective plan that would rescue their policy of engagement. The United States should lead with concrete policy options.
The next American president should also acknowledge that the United States needs accurate intelligence on the extent and location of Iran's nuclear program, including the layout of facilities. The U.S. intelligence community has blundered several times in assessing countries' capacities for producing weapons of mass destruction — overestimation, in Iraq, underestimation in Libya and Iran. U.S. intelligence agencies must receive adequate resources if they are to determine the extent of the Iranian nuclear program and the potential opportunities for terrorists that it provides.
In addition, centralized control over fissile materials must be maintained during any potential chaos in Iran, and this issue should be addressed by a contingency plan. The Iranians have acknowledged the existence of many installations holding fissile materials — most of which are in highly populated areas. The Iranian public and foreign governments acknowledge that they really don't know just who in Iran controls these facilities.
Iran's president and the Iranian Foreign Ministry, for instance, are not among the inner circle with access to full information on the facilities or knowledge of their command and control structure. It is not clear how this inner circle would act when facing any threat to their power: Some may consider selling off nuclear materials to ensure their future or advance their agendas.
The shoes of the nuclear blackmarketeer Abdul Qadeer Khan should remain empty. The United States and its allies should focus on the personal responsibility of Iranian proliferators. Individuals who are engaged in advancing the Iranian program should be personally deterred and prevented from sharing information or materials with terrorist elements.
The United States should also continue to engage Russia and promote Moscow's positive role in limiting Iran. Because Russia has extensive nuclear cooperation with Iran and is its strategic partner in several other areas, it has considerable leverage over Tehran. Since spring 2003, Moscow has made important efforts toward checking Iran's capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Washington should support these efforts and make sure that they continue, especially upholding the caveat that Russia will not fuel the Bushehr reactor without sufficient safeguards and agreements in place to guarantee the timely return of the reactor's spent fuel to Russia.
Preventing nuclear terrorism will be the defining national security issue of the next administration, and restraining Iran is key. Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election in November must have a solid policy plan.
Brenda Shaffer is a fellow at the International Security Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
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