Iran’s Less-is-More Nuclear Policy

The recent US intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons program reduces the risk that America will attempt military intervention. But, with Iran having already mastered the hardest part of building a bomb while suspending only the final, easy steps, the Bush administration's aggressive proclivities have been headed off at the cost of leaving a gaping policy vacuum.

NEW YORK – The recent United States National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which reports that Iran once had a “nuclear weapons program” but suspended it in 2003, means that there will probably be no American attack on Iran during the Bush administration. How could America’s president explain to the world why he was bombing nuclear weapon facilities that his own intelligence services have said do not exist?

So, in all likelihood, the world has been spared a policy that would be as futile as it would be destructive. Indeed, the one act most likely to guarantee that Iran obtains nuclear weapons would be to attack it. (Nine years after Israel’s bombing raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, Saddam Hussein was nevertheless within a year of having an atomic bomb.)

Yet the NIE arrived at its result by a strange route. Every technically competent person knows that the paths to civilian nuclear power and to nuclear weapons are the same, except for a few last, comparatively simple steps. The hard part is obtaining the fissionable materials – plutonium or highly enriched uranium. Once that’s done, any nation – or even a sophisticated terrorist group – can do the rest.

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