Jeffrey LewisGary Samore Today At New America

I am hosting Gary Samore today for a talk at 3:00pm, on what to do if diplomacy fails to persuade Iran to suspend enrichment.

Should be a heck of a show.

Countering a Nuclear-Armed Iran

Thursday, September 27, 2007
3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW, 7th Floor
Washington, DC

Featured Speakers
Gary Samore
Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations

Jeffrey Lewis
Director, Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative
New America Foundation

Iran is still several years away from developing a nuclear weapons option, but the Western diplomatic strategy of threatening sanctions and offering multilateral negotiations to force Iran to suspend its enrichment program does not appear to be effective. Unless significantly greater sanctions are applied, Iran is likely to continue to work on overcoming technical problems and installing greater enrichment capacity under international inspections. If the current trajectory is not changed, we will eventually face a choice between acquiescing to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons break out option or using military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Neither option is palatable.

Gary Samore is vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is an expert on nuclear proliferation and arms control, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Before joining the Council, Dr. Samore was vice president for global security and sustainability at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where he was responsible for international grant-making. From 2001 to 2005, he was director of studies and senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Dr. Samore served at the National Security Council from 1995 to 2001. He holds a BA in sociology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an MA and PhD in government from Harvard University.

Join the New America Foundation for a discussion on Iran and nuclear weapons, followed by a Q&A session moderated by Jeffrey Lewis.

To RSVP for this event, reply to this email: with name, affiliation, and contact information.

If you have questions, call or email Liz Wu at (202) 986-2700 ×315 or

The New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., 7th Floor, Washington, DC 20009


  1. hass (History)

    The False Choice Fallacy at work: either we bomb/sanction Iran, or they will get nuclear weapons.

    Left out: accepting Iran’s compromise offers that would in fact ensure that Iran’s civilian nuclear program is not diverted to weapons use.

  2. mike (History)

    A third choice left out: could the world find a way to live with a nuclear armed Iran (officially or like Israel)? This is not to say we shouldn’t discourage Iran from this route but a nuclear armed India and Pakistan have become ‘palatable.’

  3. arnold evans

    “If the current trajectory is not changed, we will eventually face a choice between acquiescing to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons break out option or using military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Neither option is palatable.”

    I don’t know which option is palatable. Depends on the palate. I know which option is legal.

    China faced a choice between acquiescing to Taiwan obtaining a nuclear weapons break out option or using military force to destroy Taiwan’s nuclear facilities. China chose to acquiesce – at least partly because for Taiwan, like for Iran, obtaining a break out option is neither illegal, immoral nor legitimate grounds for military action.

    I guess you can say it was an unpalatable choice for China, whatever that means.

  4. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Would someone please clearly specify what a ‘break out’ option is?

    Beijing is explicit and clear in their long standing policy that if Taipei acquired nuclear weapons, it means war. That is one of the 4 conditions under which it will take military action against Taiwan.

    To the best of public knowledge, Taiwan do not have the option of acquiring a nuclear weapon on the Japanese time frame (6 months?), or anything even close to that.

    There is no enrichment or reprocessing program in Taiwan, or parallel development of dual-use technologies (with certain exceptions) and no known weaponization program unless Mr Evans know something we don’t. If you do, please tell us.

    So what does it mean that Taiwan has a ‘break out’ option? Does it mean they have to begin from scratch with reprocessing / enrichment, warhead design / test, mating it to delivery vehicle(s), and deploying it?

    Is this an option that will require 2 or 3 years, or more?

    Would the ‘break out’ option give time enough to have the US and other countries to step in with sanctions, cut off Taipei’s supply of conventional military supplies and repeal the Taiwan Relations Act? Or perhaps time for a new joint communique and a formal treaty with the People’s Republic of China formally recognizing their sovereignty over Taiwan? These are all possible outcomes to a Taiwan attempt at ‘break out’.

    Can Taipei’s ‘break out’ option be credible without a nuclear test? Or would they be satisfied with the ‘strategic ambiguity’ policy of Israel with just 1 ‘test’ in the south Atlantic?

    Even at the apex of the Taiwan nuclear weapons program, they were pretty far from the ‘red line’ set by Beijing.

    It would be fair to presume today that the ‘red line’ of both Washington and Beijing has been broadened, making it harder for a weapons program to get as far as it did last time before it is detected.

    It is reasonable to assume that if Beijing has a much lower tolerance level than before on this issue. If the US do not act once a ‘break out’ attempt is encountered, there is no doubt that Beijing will.

    If Beijing have any doubts as to their capability to defeat Taipei with conventional weapons, they will not hesitate to use their nuclear arsenal —- without a doubt should Taipei struck first with a nuclear weapon.

    The Chinese ‘no first use’ policy only apply to foreign relations. Taiwan is a domestic matter where it does not necessarily apply.

    The ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan are probably not able to do much damage to Taiwan armed with precision guided conventional warheads but with nuclear warheads it is a different story.

    Let us hope that Taipei is wise enough not to try the ‘break out’ option and test these theories of how Beijing will respond.

    China cannot be said to have sat idly by as Taiwan acquired a ‘break out’ option.

  5. arnold evans

    Lao Tao Ren:

    US policy has not explicitly defined the point of “break out capability” but it is clearly long before a test, and before all of the technology necessary to build a weapon has been assembled.

    According the the Nuclear Threat Initiative:

    “Taiwan probably possesses the technological expertise necessary to develop nuclear weapons, but U.S. pressure and the possibility of a pre-emptive strike by China have prevented a resumption of the nuclear weapons program.”

    The “technological expertise necessary to build nuclear weapons” is the line the US has set for Iran, but which Taiwan has passed without action from the US or China.

  6. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    I beg to differ that Taiwan entirely on its own has the ‘technological expertise necessary to develop nuclear weapons’ as of today.

    It is, however, a different story if they accessed proven expertise and capabilities available on the international market. If them NORKs and Pakistanis can do it….

    Without getting into a specific discussion of what pieces Taipei has and what it does not, and what it can buy on the market and what it cannot, and ‘how to’ get around the hurdles and the strings attached to the purchase, and how they might keep such a program under wraps, I really cannot debate whether or not Taiwan has ‘crossed the line’ with you.

    Personally, I would rather not ghost write the equivalent of the OJ Simpson book: ‘If I did it’ for the Taiwan nuclear weapons program!

    There is the raw, unproven technical expertise to build nuclear weapons in Taiwan in most technical areas needed. The technology roadmap is not that complicated, and the skills and resources that can be potentially deployed by Taiwan certainly can overcome the hurdles —- they have done technical mega projects of that scale and scope before in other areas. Building the bomb is a 60 year old WW2 era technology that have been mastered by many groups.

    The point is, there is no recognizable intent to build nuclear weapons indigenously from soup to nuts in Taiwan, and no program of that scale is likely to remain hidden for very long from Chinese and US spies in their system, and such eagles as Mr Mark Hibbs.

    However, that is not to say that there is no intent to acquire nuclear weapons by individuals and groups in Taiwan.

    Interested parties would be well advised to keep Taiwan under close watch and be ready to move at the first sign of trouble.

    If I were the PRC’s key decision makers, I would establish an explicit Taiwan policy that allows for preemption with tactical and, if needed, strategic nuclear strikes on Taiwan should they come even close to acquiring nuclear weapons.

    Taiwan may not be deterred by sanctions from the US or the threat of a conventional weapons attack by the PRC, but nuclear preemption will give even the most rabid leaders — there are many of them in Taiwan —- pause.

    Consider this: when the Japanese were faced with a similar ultimatum (accept US sanctions and back down in China) or war, they chose war despite the most profound and accurate advice given by their top strategist Admiral Yamamoto – six months of victories and then they will be forced back. Taiwanese thinking is in some ways, depressingly similar to Japanese thinking.