Michael KreponMonitoring Iran

ACW is at the forefront, where it belongs, of a debate over the particulars of a worthwhile deal with Iran. Three underlying assumptions need to be met for these particulars to come into play: (1) maximalist conditions are set aside; (2) Tehran is willing to agree to export much of its enriched stocks of fissile material, accept stockpile constraints commensurate with peaceful uses, and intrusive monitoring that provides confidence in commitments reached; and (3) US congressional majorities will not sabotage a deal within these parameters, if one is available, by blocking the relief on Iranian sanctions.

Scott Kemp, with help from Steve Fetter, has provided a helpful framework to assess technicalities. This framework allows readers to design a deal based on how much warning time of an Iranian sprint towards a bomb is believed necessary. Time will be needed for diplomatic intervention or military preparations prior to punishing strikes. Timelines are a useful device to think about a prospective deal.

Now let’s muddy these waters a bit. If a diplomatic settlement can somehow be reached, technical monitoring devices will help provide warning time. In addition, technical monitoring devices can help clarify the pace at which Tehran is walking away from the deal. That pace can be slow and incremental, or faster. If Iran sprints towards a bomb, in situ technical monitoring devices will probably be unplugged, so to speak.

If the deal becomes completely undone, it will not be for trivial reasons. And if the circumstances under which an agreement breaks down are quite severe, prospects for successful diplomatic intervention are likely to be remote. Put another way, the timeline for diplomacy is likely to be longer than the timeline to generate highly enriched uranium.

In the event that Tehran is willing to accept serious constraints on its bomb-making capabilities, prepare for a reprise of debates that were staples during the Cold War: Are we being lulled into a false sense of security? Is an untrustworthy state intent on reaching an agreement in order to violate it, sooner or later?

These questions were very much in play during the in Kennedy administration’s negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally agreed to a small number of on-site inspections and limited monitoring arrangements. The Kennedy administration and treaty skeptics demanded more, deeming these arrangements insufficient to prevent cheating and breakout scenarios. Splitting the difference between the proposed numbers – two/three vs. seven – seemed hard but reasonable. The efforts of Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin to bridge this gap were rebuffed by Khrushchev. Dobrynin’s memoir, discussed in an earlier post, has this evocative passage:

‘So you want us unilaterally to open entire regions of our country to foreign intelligence?’ Khrushchev replied. ‘Even after the Soviet government had agreed to two or three inspections, the Western powers made an effort to include all but half of the country into the area covered by this inspection. We will not agree to this. I am already displeased with myself for agreeing to these two or three inspections on the Soviet territory. Now I see that we should take this proposal back. To provide all necessary monitoring it’s enough to establish two or three automated seismic stations. And thanks to you I made a fool of myself, because as soon as we made our proposal we were answered with a demand to agree to eight to ten, and now seven inspections a year, which the Soviet Union can’t accept. All further concessions would not be to Kennedy, but to Goldwater and other hawks.’

Intrusive and remote monitoring arrangements provide assurance that the terms of a deal are being respected, along with early warning of militarily significant breaches. Assurance is a political and not a technical construct. Politics and national security trump technicalities. And sometimes technicalities get in the way of deal making. It took 33 more years to negotiate the CTBT.

Comments

  1. SQ (History)

    Export, which is part of condition #2, above, may be hard to get. The Zombie Fuel Swap broke down over these sensitivities. But it can be finessed. There should be other ways to get the same end result, from an assurance perspective.

    When you think about it, too, is it so wise to insist on setting the precedent of exporting Iranian SWU? Better that they make fuel and put it under seal.

    Condition #3 might be elaborated upon a little. This is important. Remember how Congress inserted itself into the Agreed Framework.

  2. amir (History)

    How can anyone get any sort of assurance? If Iran really want to cheat, can’t they just build another undeclared facility for enrichment? How can you be sure that Iran will not do that. My point is that technical assurance is impossible to achieve.

    • FlamesInTheDesert (History)

      And how could iran be assured that there would be no osirak style sneak attacks on its nuclear infrastructure if it agrees to limit its enrichment to only one or two vulnerable sites,as for building other covert enrichment sites this would not be an easy thing to do,certainly you could not build fordow type facilities without being spotted,in addition I imagine there would be limits put on the numbers and types of centrifuges and monitoring of their production facilities.The idea that you could just churn out thousands of centrifuges and then hide them in a mountain somewhere is really not credible.The way to verify compliance is with inspections and monitoring.Now what gaurentees does iran have that the us has given up any mad dreams of “regime change”

    • amir (History)

      I don’t mean that Iran should abandon its program. I mean west should learn to live with Iran as a virtual nuclear power. There is no insurance

    • John Schilling (History)

      If Iran genuinely doesn’t intend for its enrichment program to provide a breakout capability, why do they care whether there are any Osirak-style sneak attacks?

      If the US or Israel bomb Iran’s power reactors, they lose some fraction of their power-generating capability, which could be annoying or catastrophic depending on how committed they are to nuclear power. But that’s the case whether they have One Big Vulnerable Enrichment Facility or a million centrifuges in a thousand caves. No reactors, no power.

      If the US or Israel bomb all of Iran’t enrichment facilities, then they still have the fuel in the reactors. That gives them years to find an alternative source of electric power, which shouldn’t be a problem for a nation with copious oil reserves. It also gives them the sympathy of the entire world, enormous diplomatic leverage against the US and Israel, an end to domestic political dissent, and greatly enhanced credibility throughout the Islamic world. And all it costs them is the ability to make A-bombs that Allah allegedly forbids in the first place.

  3. Anon2 (History)

    ” If Iran sprints towards a bomb, in situ technical monitoring devices will probably be unplugged, so to speak.”

    At least we are beyond the days of a guard monitoring a surveillance cam signal that can be spoofed. A modern surveillance system would use cryptographic means to validate that the video cams monitoring the site, the individual centrifuges, and the accumulation tanks have not been taken off monitoring and then replaced with another spoofed signal. Cryptography can securely prevent spoofing.

  4. SteveL (History)

    I hope a deal doesn’t really depend on congress being willing to support an Obama-administration deal. If so, it ain’t gonna happen. Can’t we all stipulate to that? Also, I presume the issue is not affirmative action by congress to thwart Obama — which might be hard to muster — but rather the inability to carry out affirmative action to provide Obama with desired sanctions relief, which would be much easier.

    I figure we had better count on only being able to provide relief of sanctions that require other countries’ participation, or those in which the executive branch has discretion, at least until we have a Republican in the white house.

  5. Nick (History)

    Iranian main negotiator has said item (2) is a non-starter and considered a red line. It is possible that using a tight monitoring regime it can be resolved under the IAEA control on the Iranian soil.

    Kemp’s figures are much easier for policy makers to digest, as compared to Albright’s seminal paper that came out on the same subject and discussed the notion of “critical capability” months earlier.

    SQ HEU number is a necessary condition but not sufficient for break out period analysis. All the steps that are necessary to trigger an implosion may be known theoretically in Iran but making it work is a different story. Therefore, the actual numbers maybe: break-out-time + trigger-design-time. The second parameter could be weeks.

    This should give ample time for policy makers to make decisions. Focusing on SQ HEU may be too restrictive and not provide enough flexibility for the negotiators

  6. pak (History)

    Some questions:

    – Has the IAEA confirmed that is not able to achieve the stipulated objective in Safeguards Agreement with Iran (Article 28): “the objective of safeguards is the timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activities to the manufacture of nuclear weapons or of other nuclear explosive devices or for purposes unknown, and deterrence of such diversion by the risk of early detection”?

    – Does the IAEA define the “timely detection”, regarding Iran, by different limits/criteria?

    – Are the Iran’s nuclear activities so sophisticated that the IAEA requires new tools or arrangements, additional to the normal Safeguards measures implemented in other States?

    – What is the role of IAEA in negotiations to define and agree on technical arrangements that may be consistent with or additional (as confidence building measures) to the Safeguards Agreement with Iran?

    • Hass (History)

      The IAEA is not in charge of the NPT. These are entirely different entities/organizations. The IAEA does not determine what it can or can’t do with respect to the NPT on its own. The IAEA’s role in safeguards is a very limited role, as an accountant of declared materials. That’s all.

    • Ian (History)

      While Hass’s point is correct in abstract, I think it somewhat misses the point of Pak’s question. The IAEA does have an ability to agree certain measures directly with Iran through negotiations on Iran’s various subsidiary/facility/ safeguards agreements. This could include specifying intervals for inspecting each facility (as they already do).

  7. JadedRationalist (History)

    So I wonder whether anyone has considered the possibility of offering Iran alternative nuclear power generation tech. The key problem with a uranium fuel cycle is that the centrifuges are inherently dual use. What about a thorium fuel cycle? What about those cool travelling wave reactors that are intended to be sealed units that operate for decades with no-one opening touching them?

    Another angle on this is to ask why Iran are asking for a domestic enrichment program. Are they frightened that the USA would try to starve their peaceful nuclear power program if they didn’t have a domestic capability? Or is it a “national pride” issue?

    • Matt (History)

      Trying to consider this from an Iranian perspective: what would it take to get the United States to renounce domestic enrichment facilities? There’s little risk that the US would be embargoed on fuel imports yet I don’t think this is something the US would accept, both because it would be seen as an affront to sovereignty and because the US wants to maintain the industrial/commercial benefits of domestic production over imports. The same arguments in favor of domestic capability apply to Iran, though in the latter case there is a also a large disincentive from sanctions.

      I don’t think a thorium fuel cycle offers enough in the way of proliferation resistance to satisfy the parties currently promoting sanctions. It would be harder to weaponize but I doubt it’s hard enough that the US or Israel would be sanguine if Iranian centrifuges were replaced by Iranian thorium breeders. I don’t know about the travelling wave reactor; as I understand it is just a paper design so far.

    • JadedRationalist (History)

      @Matt: “it would be seen as an affront to sovereignty”

      – but it is clearly also an affront to sovereignty to dictate that a country isn’t allowed nukes, so because we don’t want to affront Iran’s sovereignty we should just let them have the nukes. Reductio ad absurdum.

      It seems silly to allow countries who are not nuclear powers to enrich uranium. Once you can enrich enough for civilian purposes, you are very close to having nukes. Why cut it so fine?

      Also, the most retarded thing about nonnuclear countries doing domestic enrichment is that for civilian nuclear power, the fuel is ~1-5% of the cost, so the current nuclear powers could easily afford to give it for free, indefinitely.

    • Matt (History)

      @JR: “It seems silly to allow countries who are not nuclear powers to enrich uranium. Once you can enrich enough for civilian purposes, you are very close to having nukes. Why cut it so fine?”

      If the NPT is supposed to enable civilian nuclear use and contain and (eventually, really, someday) eliminate nuclear weapons, it seems silly that it should grant special civilian nuclear technology rights to those nations with the least demonstrated commitment to eliminating weapons, i.e. those countries with weapons stockpiles. Maybe we can try to get the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Argentina, and Brazil to permanently renounce uranium enrichment along with Iran and instead buy fuel from nuclear weapons states. Maybe the NPT should have been written to better control dual use technologies like enrichment, but it wasn’t, and until the text is amended and other countries sign on to it (not just Iran), I will think sanctioning Iran for actions *not* forbidden by the NPT is needlessly antagonistic. I want to see Iran’s nuclear program properly safeguarded, not eliminated, and relations between Iran and the rest of the world normalized. Escalating demands beyond the text of NPT compliance seems likely to me to stall the process to no good end.

    • Fred (History)

      Matt gets it exactly right in my opinion.

      There are no limits on enrichment either in the NPT or the Safeguards agreement.

      So if limits are being negotiated then implicitly Iran is being held to a higher standard than that required by law. If so, Iran should either be asked to leave the NPT or leave the NPT of its own volition.

    • JadedRationalist (History)

      “There are no limits on enrichment either in the NPT or the Safeguards agreement.”

      – I would argue that there should be, though I realize that changing the nuclear NPT is a bit of a pipe dream, at least in the near term.

      Still, it seems logical that enrichment technology is such a huge proliferation risk that it should be controlled almost as tightly as weapons themselves, and only given to non-nuclear states as an absolute last resort. In the case of civilian nuclear power, there is are several obvious alternative ways to allow a country to generate reliable electricity without giving them enrichment tech.

      The lowest hanging fruit is to give them the LEU via an international treaty, for free, in perpetuity, subject to monitoring to make sure they are not stockpiling it.

      The next lowest hanging fruit is to give them an alternative fuel cycle like thorium or the travelling wave reactor which is less conducive to building nukes.

    • Fred (History)

      Yes, agreed, there should be.

      There should also be no nuclear bombs. And world peace.

      Also there shouldn’t be wars over non-existent WMDs.

    • JadedRationalist (History)

      @Fred: “There should also be no nuclear bombs. And world peace.

      I disagree; world peace is too ambitious a goal to take seriously, and no nukes is an unstable situation which incentivizes countries to quickly build nukes engage in nuclear war/blackmail.

      A better goal is a world which is mostly peaceful, where the conflicts that do happen are local rather than regional, and are resolved on the timescale of a few years rather than becoming deep seated grudge-matches that last for generations. And of course, a world in which there are a few large nuclear powers (USA, China, EU) who are so economically entwined and reaping such rewards from peace that they wouldn’t use their deterrent unless the sky was literally falling.

      I think that such a world is achievable in my lifetime.

    • Matt (History)

      I disagree; world peace is too ambitious a goal to take seriously, and no nukes is an unstable situation which incentivizes countries to quickly build nukes engage in nuclear war/blackmail.

      A better goal is a world which is mostly peaceful, where the conflicts that do happen are local rather than regional, and are resolved on the timescale of a few years rather than becoming deep seated grudge-matches that last for generations. And of course, a world in which there are a few large nuclear powers (USA, China, EU) who are so economically entwined and reaping such rewards from peace that they wouldn’t use their deterrent unless the sky was literally falling.

      I think there’s already a deep seated grudge match going on with Iran. Some key terms: Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iranian Revolution, Hezbollah, Iran-Iraq War, Axis of Evil, NPT violation, sanctions, Stuxnet, assassination, terrorism, regime change. There is a long list of grievances by Iran against the West and by the West against Iran. The West has more power but reliance on sheer power may delay a peaceful resolution.

      Consider, as a rationalist: the US invaded 2 neighboring nations of Iran last decade, still occupies one, and runs an undeclared war in a third neighbor’s territory to the present day. It has been cool to outright hostile to Iran for more than 30 years. Iran has no hope of mustering a conventional military defense capable of stopping US forces. What would reassure a rationalist Iranian leadership that Iran will not suffer aerial attacks or foreign-sponsored civil war the next time Western leadership shifts? What would reassure rationalist leaders in other nations that are not closely aligned with great powers that it is in their own best interest to not pursue dual-use nuclear technologies and allow great powers to keep nuclear weapons forever?

      Or to turn it around a bit: what would reassure Western leadership that an Iran retaining dual use nuclear technologies will not build bombs? What lessons can we learn about rational incentives from other technically capable nations (Japan, Germany, Brazil…) that have declined to build nuclear weapons?

    • JadedRationalist (History)

      @Matt: I agree that it is probably rational for Iran to get nukes, for exactly the reasons you state. “45 minutes” “regime change” “neoconservatives” etc.

      But it is rational for the rest of the world to oppose them.

      What would reassure rationalist leaders in other nations that are not closely aligned with great powers that it is in their own best interest to not pursue dual-use nuclear technologies and allow great powers to keep nuclear weapons forever?

      Nothing, it is quite rational for a country to want nukes for itself for the added deterrence and diplomatic “clout”.

      What lessons can we learn about rational incentives from other technically capable nations (Japan, Germany, Brazil…) that have declined to build nuclear weapons?

      Contemporary Germany is economically powerful enough, and WWII is long enough ago, that it could get nukes and no-one would really be able to stop it. But it enjoys umbrella protection from the USA and France and the UK, so the benefit is probably not worth the political cost. Besides, Germany is a democracy and the electorate are very left wing. When Germany gets nukes, we know that the shit has really hit the fan, and it would probably only happen if multiple unstable states get arsenals big enough to annihilate Germany’s allies (UK, France, USA).

      Japan may well get nukes to deter the North Koreans, though it would massively flare up relations with China, and again it is a cost/benefit calculation that probably won’t swing in favor of nukes until the North Koreans have an arsenal that could reliably wipe out the USA. At that point, the Japanese will no longer be able to rely on the USA as a deterrent, because the USA would not risk it’s own annihilation to save/avenge Japan. Therefore unless Japan gets nukes at that point, it can be freely and aggressively blackmailed by the North Koreans. As far as I see it, the same analysis applies to South Korea; if the north ever get an arsenal that can kill America, then the South Koreans will *have* to have nukes of their own, or else the North will simply crush them.

      Brazil I know less about. As far as I am aware, it has no enemies that threaten it militarily and is non-aligned. It is (to my knowledge) not a target for the USA, or for Islamic militants or nations, nor is it a top enemy of Russia or China. Brazil could get nukes, but it probably isn’t worth it at the moment because the political cost is not worth the benefit, because Brazil simply doesn’t have any enemies. Apparently the last war Brazil fought against another nation was in the 1800’s.

  8. JadedRationalist (History)

    There is currently a debate going on about what kinds of civilian nuclear power to press ahead with for the next generation. A big part of that debate is “proliferation resistance”. It would be interesting to look at that question in the context of an actual proliferation incident. If you could click your fingers and magically make any nuclear technology appear in order to offer Iran, what would it be?

    • fyi (History)

      Indians wanted a phrase in their nuclear deal with US to the effect that US would supply their nuclear power reactors in perpetuity.

      US declined since that was viewed as US conceding a sovereign right to India.

  9. FlamesInTheDesert (History)

    why do they care whether there are any Osirak-style sneak attacks?
    Why does any country care?,I think its the principle of the thing,you know foreign powers committing acts of aggression against you,not to mention the destruction of facilities that had multi millions of dollars and man hours invested in them,the loss of lives and the possible environmental effects,I imagine if someone attacked the us or israels nuclear plants or enrichment sites there would be hell to pay regardless of how it effected the power grid or whether there was spare generating capacity to take up the slack.I seriously doubt that even israel or the us would be so reckless as to bomb functioning nuclear reactors as the results would be catastrophic for the region,not to mention the fact that irans bushehr and the trr have very limited proliferation potential
    It also gives them the sympathy of the entire world
    The sympathy of the entire world is over rated as iran learnt to its cost,where was the sympathy when saddam attacked iran and used chemical weapons on its soldiers and civilians or its airbus was shot down.
    Iran has decided to pursue nuclear power as is its right,it has also decided that it needs to have surety of supply for it nuclear fuel,and who can blame it thanks to us pressure iran could not even obtain the fuel for the trr

  10. hass (History)

    You write: “In the event that Tehran is willing to accept serious constraints on its bomb-making capabilities…”

    You do know that Iran had offered all of what you say would be required, plus much more, several times already, right? For example in addition to capping enrichment, limiting the amount of enriched uranium on-hand, expanding inspections, etc. they even suggested using self-destructive centrifuges that would blow up in the case of over-enrichment, and to open their nuclear program to joint participation with foreign powers.

    All of these offers were ignored or actively undermined by the US because the US was using the nuclear issue as a convenient pretext for an entirely different agenda of imposing regime change in Iran.

  11. Fred (History)

    “serious constraints on its bomb-making capabilities”

    Since nuclear technology is dual use such constraints on *capabilities* limit peaceful uses also, and are in violation of the NPT spirit and letter.

  12. Bradley Laing (History)

    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013%5C10%5C19%5Cstory_19-10-2013_pg4_9

    Pressing the drone issue, he said that the use of this weapon in the territory of another state outside the zone of conflict was contrary to international law. It was a challenge to security and sovereignty of a state, as it involved the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, including women and children, he said.

    The Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) – that would choose and fire on pre-programmed targets on their own without any human intervention – posed a challenge to the protection of civilians and the notion of affixation of responsibility, and Pakistan called for international rules to govern them.

  13. bradley laing (History)

    http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/10/18/obama_admin_wins_over_key_hawk_on_iran_nuclear_talks

    Following a round of high-stakes talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva, the Obama administration is seeking to reassure lawmakers it won’t give away the house in its negotiations with Tehran. On Friday, its chief nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman won over a key Iran hawk, Rep. Eliot Engel, during a round of calls to the Hill.

    “Under Secretary Sherman told me that the Iranians appeared serious in the recent nuclear talks in Geneva, but cautioned that the devil’s in the details, and made clear that U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Cab

    • Fred (History)

      There are no limits on enrichment either in the NPT or the Safeguards agreement.

      So if limits are being negotiated then implicitly Iran is being held to a higher standard than that required by law. If so, Iran should either be asked to leave the NPT or leave the NPT of its own volition.

    • Fred (History)

      FP quoting USG rep: ” U.S. negotiators will remain clear-eyed as they seek to negotiate a deal to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program,”

      Best wishes to the USG in ending a non-existent weapons program.

  14. Bradley Laing (History)

    NUCLEAR WEAPONS, SUBMARINES: The House passed the National Nuclear Security Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution (H.J. Res. 76), sponsored by Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. The bill would fund the National Nuclear Security Administration in fiscal 2014. Frelinghuysen said the $10.6 billion of funding would ensure that, despite the government shutdown, the agency is able to continue its mission of maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons, securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world from possible seizure by terrorists, and supporting the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. An opponent, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, criticized the bill for failing to fund the Energy Department and Army Corps of Engineers. She said: “As we continue to shortchange critical energy and infrastructure investments so vital to a strong economy, we will witness, as dusk follows dawn, the slowing of economic growth and the hindering of American competitiveness.” The vote, on Oct. 11, was 248 yeas to 176 nays.

    Votes: Walorski, yea; Visclosky, nay

    http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/23224433-418/how-they-voted.html

  15. Fred (History)
  16. krepon (History)

    For the analysis of Patrick Migliorini, David Albright, Houston Wood, and Christina Walrond of breakout times based on varied assumptions, see

    http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Breakout_Study_24October2013.pdf

    One of the report’s findings:

    “A negotiation should be guided by the need to lengthen breakout times significantly from their current values. A reasonable minimum breakout time should be six months or preferably longer. If breakout took greater than or equal to six months, the IAEA could clearly detect it long before one SQ is produced, and the international community would have time to marshal a response to stop Iran producing enough WGU for a nuclear weapon.”

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