The National Intelligence Estimate on
I don’t question the assumptions or analysis in the NIE, or for that matter, its main conclusion. I accept that the Iranians suspended their covert nuclear weapons program in 2003. But I am afraid that misses the point. Weaponizing is not the issue, developing fissionable materials is. Because compared with producing fissionable material, which makes up the core of nuclear bombs, weaponizing it is neither particularly difficult nor expensive.
In other words, the hard part of becoming a nuclear power is enriching uranium or separating out plutonium. And guess what?
Perhaps that’s why, in 2005, former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani told a visiting group of American experts, including George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, that
Maybe, as Rafsanjani was suggesting, the Iranians will be satisfied only to foster the appearance of having nuclear weapons without actually producing them; for Rafsanjani, so long as
The point is that even the image of Iran as a nuclear power carries with it very dangerous consequences, including that the Middle East might become a nuclear-armed region. It is not an accident that the British, the French, and the Germans have sought to get the Iranians to stop their nuclear program. Similarly, it is not an accident that two U.N. Security Council resolutions have imposed limited sanctions on
Consider the irony that the sanctions resolutions adopted by the Security Council were not about
While nothing theoretically has changed, the NIE has created a new story line. It framed the issue differently and shifted the attention away from enrichment to the weapons program. Well, if the weapons program has been halted, can’t we relax? Certainly, that is the conclusion that the Chinese are drawing, given their mercantilist approach to
If nothing else, this means that it will be far harder to get an additional sanctions resolution in the UN any time soon. We could always seek to go outside the Security Council for sanctions. The
Once again, one sees irony. The subtext of the NIE is that the Iranian leadership makes its decisions on a “cost-benefit approach”--and that the nuclear weapons program “probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure.” But the way the NIE has framed the issue, it will now be harder to apply the very pressure it concludes worked in 2003.
One can criticize the intelligence community for framing the NIE around the wrong issue, but the intelligence community was not responsible for the public roll-out of its estimate. President Bush and those around him made the decision to publicize it--after all, NIEs are not typically publicized. No doubt, the president and his advisors understood that once the NIE was briefed to the congressional oversight committees on the Hill that its findings would leak, and they wanted to get out in front of the leaks.
Fair enough. Unfortunately, their presentation was not only poor in terms of framing, but also because it blindsided our allies. The British, French, and Germans have led the diplomatic efforts at the U.N. and in the E.U. on
Dennis Ross is counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World.
By Dennis Ross