In my latest entry, I discussed the deal between P5+1 and Iran, known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Matter of fact, I am not bandwagoning with those who see the deal as a good thing in general. There are two main reasons why I think so. First of all, the deal is not a deal just and only about nuclear issue. The deal with its implementation and side effects is much more than that. It does not just legitimate Iran as a threshold nuclear power, it empowers Iran by making it more resourceful and confident, all of which, at the end of the day, tilt the balance of power in the region, all of which means more conflicts in a already conflictual place. I discussed these in my latest entry in a broader perspective. What I dwell more on here today is that the second causality behind my interpretation of a bad deal. That is the technical part of the deal is not that much potent either. Lets look at some of the factual analysis.
Does the Deal close off every paths for Iran getting the Bomb? No, it doesn’t. First of all, lets speak of some hard core science without plunging into details. A country, who would like to develop nuclear weapons, has two paths: Uranium path or Plutonium path. Theoretically, U-235 is the isotope that can be used to fuel reactors and make bombs. You can either separate the U-235 from the rest of the uranium through centrifuges, which is a process called enrichment, or irradiate uranium in a nuclear reactor to produce, Pu-239, known as plutonium, that can be used to make a bomb. Both ways are effective paths to the bomb. (see it here) The uranium bomb used at Hiroshima and plutonium bomb used at Nagasaki. Thus, they are pretty much similar when it comes to destructive power. Yet, more than 95 percent of the existing nuclear warheads are plutonium bomb, not just because it is much more easier and cheaper to produce, but also because it is much more easier to hide it since you use reactors, where you also produce civilian nuclear energy. Building nuclear reactors are not as nasty as uranium enrichment program in crude terms. When it comes to Iran deal, it is revolved almost exclusively around uranium enrichment. In this sense, the deal may close off all the uranium paths to bomb for Iran, yet does little for the paths to bomb through plutonium. (see it here) And remember, North Korea just did that. It took plutonium path to bomb, and it sneaked away easily with in a decades.
Does the Deal offer a good scheme of verifications? No it doesn’t. Obama has called the deal as the most advance and implicit verification mechanism ever achieved in nonproliferation area. It may sounds good, but the problem with such complex verification schemes is that it assumes everyone acts with good will. But historical record, especially if you look at the nuclear proliferation as a field of history, does not offer that much optimisim. First of all, once Obama is out of the picture, with new president at the White House, there is no guarantee that the new administration will prioritize the deal verification mechanism as much as Obama did. Not from today to tomorrow, but in the long run, as the deal time table works, there will be breaks, disincentives, fraud. Furthermore, as it is always the case, there will be many more other issues to deal with for the US, and Iran will find the ways for cheating, especially on plutonium path, just as North Korea did. Second, who is going to pay for the mechanism. IAEA has already asked for better budget, and sooner or later it will be harder to sustain this level of money resources, then what? it is simple, the verification mechanism that allegedly ever achieved in the nuclear proliferation area, will be vague in slow motion, and Iran will find easier to cheat, as just North Korea did. And Iran will cheat no matter what, even just for curiosity, to check the verification capacity.
To understand the pessimism behind the logic I present above, we need to look at the North Korean nuclearization, which has great deal of similarities to the Iran nuclear program. One of the decisive similarities between Iran and North Korean nuclear programs is that both countries nuclear efforts began many decades ago and even though there were occasional reliefs or sometimes static sometime frozen periods, for both countries long-standing drive to obtain nuclear weapons has been stabile. This is the fact everyone must accept. Very similar to today’s Iran deal, there was a deal with North Korea on nuclear issue, named “Agreed Framework” in 1994, when Clinton administration on duty. In late 2002, after 8 years later, during which North Korea resumed its production of plutonium secretly, announced its withdrawal from the NPT. By the way, it is stunning note that “Agreed Framework” was thought as a good deal to block plutonium path to bomb for North Korea at the time, akin to today’s Iran deal. Yet, after Clinton administration’s time passed, North Korea found ways to sneak out with new administration in Washington turned its attention to the Middle East. Where we are today almost 20 years later after the deal with North Korea is the fact that North Korea possess usable nuclear weapons as well as missiles to deliver it. Even, North Korea was kept under heavy sanctions over last few decades. That is, even though it was not granted a bit sanction relief on the contrary to Iran, it has achieved its long standing drive to obtain nuclear weapons.
Now, think about Iran after 20 years from now once again. Iran for sure will get its nuclear capability, which is already legitimized and declared as a threshold nuclear country by the deal. That’s why it is hyped to assume that the deal is good. No the deal is bad in terms of any standards. Bad, because it leads more conflictual Middle East prone to nuclear cascade, it is bad because technically it leave open all path, but plutonium path, to bomb for Iran.