Joshua PollackIran Week

Yes, yes, it is shameless, but I can’t resist pointing out that NPR is running a boatload of analytical, talking-head-driven pieces on Iran this week.

(At least in this instance, NPR is not the Congressionally mandated bureaucratic process, but the nationwide radio network backstopped by the french fry purchases of your childhood.)

Monday morning’s piece was Iran And The Bomb: U.S. Keeps Options Open. In the afternoon, we heard Uncertainty Surrounds Iran’s Nuclear Capability, which may shed some additional light on the issues explored earlier here.

Tuesday morning brings us Could Deterrence Counter A Nuclear Iran?. You may notice that no fewer than two ACW’ers are featured therein. Yep, shameless.

Just one additional observation: this segment concerns a hypothetical situation. It’s one that, with luck and good sense, can still be avoided.

Update. Wednesday’s morning’s segment concerns extended deterrence, AKA the “nuclear umbrella.”

The series goes all week. Here’s the overview.


  1. MarkoB

    Perhaps the real question, not explored at the linked discussion towards the end of the post, is rather; can Iran deter a nuclear America? Don’t forget that during the Clinton administration US Strategic Command, in Essential of Post Cold War Deterrence, stated that the US must appear “irrational and out control” if its “vital interests” (oh, like Mid East oil) are threatened. Iran was on the 2001-2002 NPR hit list, not to mention the “axis of evil”.

    We might well have a nuclear proliferation problem with Iran because of the dilemmas of deterrence. However, those dilemmas are faced by Tehran not Washington.

  2. FSB

    Did anyone listen to the incoming head of the IAEA?

    VIENNA (Reuters Fri Jul 3, 2009 ) – The incoming head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms.

    “I don’t see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this,” Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran’s atomic program since his election, when asked whether he believed Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons capability.


    Besides, a Nuclear armed Iran can (and likely will) be deterred, according to a NDU study:
    “[W]e judge, and nearly all experts consulted agree, that Iran would not, as a matter of state policy, give up its control of such weapons to terrorist organizations and risk direct U.S. or Israeli retribution.” And it said the “United States has options short of war that it could employ to deter a nuclear-armed Iran and dissuade further proliferation.”

    Here is the study:


    Or, how about listening to our colleagues, William Luers, Thomas R. Pickering, and Jim Walsh who know a thing or two:

    “Setting aside recent, misleading reports that Iran already has enough nuclear fuel to build a weapon, the reality is that Tehran now has five thousand centrifuges for enriching uranium and is steadily moving toward achieving the capability to build nuclear bombs.2 Having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon is not the same thing as having one, and having a large stock of low-enriched uranium is not the same as having the highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb….”


    “…News reports and some commentators have recently claimed that Iran has enough material for a nuclear weapon. These reports referred to Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium. This is a misleading claim. To begin with, one cannot make a nuclear weapon with low-enriched uranium. A nuclear weapon requires highly enriched uranium or plutonium, and Iran possesses neither. In theory, Iran could take its stock of low-enriched uranium and enrich it to a grade required for making bombs, but its low-enriched uranium is currently under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Diverting this material for military purposes would be discovered by the IAEA. (Detection of diversion is the IAEA’s technological strong suit.) Iran’s choices, therefore, are to cheat and get caught or to kick out the inspectors. Either action would represent an extreme departure from Iranian strategy to date and in any case would likely precipitate military action by Israel.”

    NPR should stop the needless fear-mongering.

  3. curious in kentucky

    Is NPR going to do a week-long series on the Israeli nuclear weapons programme which may have been the trigger for a possible future Iranian programme?

    btw, I’m not waiting impatiently.

  4. Josh (History)


    I don’t think it hurts to consider multiple perspectives on a complicated topic with many uncertainties. Excessive certitude can be dangerous.

    So far in this series, NPR has done a fine job in representing the debates on these subjects. Or so I would judge. But of course, I’m biased.


    It sounds like you are tiptoeing around an argument in the alternative. Either Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, or their nuclear weapons program is merely an understandable response to another regional nuclear-armed state. A difficult straddle.

    From a security perspective, the U.S. poses a much greater challenge to Iran than Israel does. That’s America with all those air bases and naval assets in the Gulf and tactical nuclear weapons right next door in Turkey, to say nothing of forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor is Iran a party to the Arab-Israeli conflict, except to the extent that its leaders desire. So let’s keep the Israeli angle in perspective.

  5. magisterdale (History)

    @ FSB

    “needless fearmongering”

    amazing that one can come up with that phrase when a country that sits atop one of the world’s largest proven oil & gas reserves is plowing so much of its capital into “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”. no way will the US use or support IDF to take out Iranian nuclear facilities so deterence is the only option.

  6. Andy (History)

    I’ve been listening to the NPR pieces and agree they are pretty good. As Paul Kerr might say, they contain a lot of “hot wonk action.”

    Those who point to Israel as a justification for Iran’s program should keep in mind history prior to 2003 when Iraq was Iran’s biggest strategic threat. It was Israel that facilitated weapons shipments to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war when Iran began to clandestinely build it’s enrichment program. One might therefore conclude that any military aspect of Iran’s program was not a response to Israel’s weapons.

  7. Pirouz (History)

    Andy, there’s a problem with your reasoning. Iran’s nuclear program began during the reign of the Shah, and goals of enrichment were subsequently disclosed, publicly, albeit with little fanfare. That the work proceeded quietly is not in itself unusual, as its a generally accepted practice for many countries, especially the US, to perform sensitive research projects and industrialization in relative secrecy. Israel’s nuclear program (and weaponization) is an extreme example of this kind of thing.

    There exists no evidence of the actual militarization of Iran’s nuclear program being realized in any substantial way.

    While it may be that there were isolated episodes of limited Israeli arms deliveries to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, that does not have an overall bearing on the region’s strategic balance of power, then or now, nor does it validate any speculative motives behind the history and purpose of Iran’s nuclear program.

  8. Ataune (History)


    This is playing a little bit loosely with historical facts.

    Research on Iran-Irak war hasn’t concluded (and most likely won’t conclude) that Iranian leadership was aware at that time of the behind the scene presence of Israeli arm dealers in the closing deal that was going on between US and them. FYI, Kimtchi, the Israeli businnessman, was a friend of Ghorbanifar, the exiled Iranian arms dealer, and it was Ghorbanifar who had the influential contacts inside Iran.

    Besides, Israel was pushing at the same time, and it appears with a lot of successes, the US administration, its patron, to encourage European and other allies to sell chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein.

    Your conclusion, therefore need to be false for your statement to remain true. i.e. even if we accept your hidden assumption that Iran’s program has a military nature, we can not conclude that the program is or is not a response to Israel’s nuclear weapons.

    IMO, Iran’s nulear threshold program is most likely meant to deter the US by keeping its client states in the region in check rather than anything else. In this sense Israel’s weapons are partly responsible for Iranian national capacity, but not entirely.

  9. Josh (History)


    Actually, the Israelis sold all sorts of weapons and spare parts to revolutionary Iran, apart from the Iran-contra affair.

    There was a longstanding relationship from pre-revolutionary days. It didn’t go away all at once. And the Israelis — unlike the Americans — had an interest in keeping Iran in the fight during the early years of the war with Iraq, when Iran was on the defensive.

  10. FSB

    The Iranian nuclear weapons program was suspended in 2003 according to the NIE.

    IF it resumes, it will not be because of Iraq, rather, it will be because of Israel.

  11. Andy (History)


    I would like to see some evidence that Israel facilitated Iraq’s chemical weapons program.

    As for Iran, from the revolution until 2003, Iran’s primary strategic threat was always Iraq. Any military dimension to Iran’s program (and I think there was a military dimension) was focused on that threat. That does not mean that other considerations (ie. Israel, USA, prestige, whatever) played a role, but I think it’s important to understand the centrality of Iraq in Iran’s national security planning, particularly in 1980’s.

    After the 1991 Gulf War Iran began expand it’s horizons, so to speak. One example of this was Iran’s focus during the 1990’s on rebuilding its naval capabilities. Then, in 2003, Iran’s strategic position changed dramatically and six years later Iraq is now a quasi-client of Iran and will pose no threat for the foreseeable future. As a result, Iran is going through a national security transformation and reorganization since it no longer has to worry about Iraq and it’s security goals are now much different. It remains to be seen exactly what those goals are, though there is obviously a lot of speculation. Israel will become more important – that much is obvious – but I think too many are overly focused on Israel and make ahistorical assumptions that Israeli nukes have always been at the root of any Iranian nuclear program.

  12. Josh (History)


    Sorry for the late approve — sometimes comments get lost in the shuffle.

    Your account doesn’t square with the actual requirements of an IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. Many things can be done “quietly,” but failing to declare imported nuclear materials, building nuclear facilities without declaring them, and introducing nuclear materials into facilities without notifying the IAEA are something else again.

    These are basically the reasons that Iran was found to be in violation of its safeguards requirements. For all the grisly details, go read the Director-General’s many, many reports.

  13. Josh (History)

    It occurs to me to mention that there was an NPR segment back in March that dealt directly with the question of the purposes of Iran’s nuclear program. It may be more to the liking of some commenters than the reports they’ve taken issue with here.

    It also features two ACW’ers…

  14. hass (History)

    Josh As you are perfectly well aware, the IAEA has said since 2003 that Iran’s undeclared activities had no relation to a weapons program.
    IRan announced on national radio that it had found uranium and would develop the fuel cycle as early as 1983, in cooperation with the IAEA. Iran invited IAEA Inspectors to visit its uranium mines in 1996. Iran told the IAEA that it would build a uranium conversion facility, and declared it to the IAEA in 2002. This is a “hidden nuclear program”? Really?

    Josh replies: There is an old saying about many possible opinions but only one set of facts. Those of us who make a habit of reading the Director-General’s reports — including the one that appeared today — are accustomed to reading entire sections titled “Potential Military Dimensions.” Go and read.

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