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US National Security Policy On Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

Updated on December 30, 2014

Overview

The development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program has become a crucial U.S. national security interest. Iranian production of a nuclear weapon threatens regional and international stability as well as the potential for nuclear-armed terrorism and possible Israeli genocide.[1] A nuclear Iran severely burdens the global environment and will cause perilous outcomes across the globe, however, this research will focus on Iran’s nuclear intentions to destroy Israel and the US’s future diplomatic solutions, to include a military option, to inhibit Israeli genocide. The international community concludes that Iran must halt its nuclear weapons program from developing extremely enriched uranium, a capable warhead, and launch system that could result in a dangerous nuclear weapon.[2] A nuclear Iran poses a daunting threat to US national security and regional and global stability. As Iran continues to develop its nuclear arsenal and threaten genocide against Israel, the US will have to decide to alter its national security strategy or uphold its security commitments to defend Israel with a potential preemptive military strike. The purpose of this paper is to closely examine Iran’s nuclear weapons program, its capabilities, and intentions for employing a nuclear weapon and how this program will impact the global environment, specifically Israel, and the direction of U.S. national security policy. President Obama declared that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable” and “will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests,” he stated further, “I do not bluff.”[3] The current US stance foreshadows that Iran’s nuclear ambitions will inevitably result in the US enforcing severe sanctions, causing Iran economic instability, and implementing national security policies to form a forceful, preemptive posture to defend Israel from future nuclear genocide. The Obama administration outlined in the 21st century defense plan (2012), that the US will prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear status and will continually stand up to protect Israel, leaving all options on the table to include a military solution.[4]

Iran
Iran | Source
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Background

Upon ratification of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, Iran agreed to the nonproliferation of its nuclear weapons program and to the IAEA inspections.[1] Iranian development of a “gas centrifuge-based uranium enrichment facility” is a growing concern throughout the international community. [2] The gas centrifuges are used to spin uranium at high speeds for the production of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and highly enriched uranium (HEU), the LEU can be used for nuclear power reactors and the HEU can be used in nuclear weapons or to fuel nuclear reactors. Furthermore, Iranian creation of a heavy water reactor produces spent fuel, which creates plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. Spent fuel and plutonium must be separated to achieve a nuclear weapon, which is known as reprocessing. Originally, Iran expressed they were only producing LEU for medical isotopes and were not participating in reprocessing. [3] By 2007, the IAEA and Iran developed a course of action to resolve unanswered questions regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, however, Iran refused to fully cooperate. In 2008, the IAEA grew concerned about Iran’s military involvement in its nuclear program, demanding answers to Iran’s nuclear intentions.[4] Thus, Iran articulated concern about divulging sensitive information to the IAEA inspectors regarding its military capabilities and continued to leave such questions unanswered.[5] According to Mark Fitzpatrick (2006), Senior Fellow for Non-proliferation highlights “ten indicators of military involvement” in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The IAEA noticed in 2001 that a newly founded uranium-processing factory had been established and grew curious due to the optimum levels output in such a brief period of time. The processing company, Kimia Madan, was a front company for Iran’s military assets in an effort to achieve an autonomous uranium source.[6] Furthermore, Iran was conducting polonium-210 experiments to enhance the battery life of satellites in space for military purposes and polonium-210 can be used in nuclear weapons.[7]

Another indicator suggests that Iran’s centrifuge plants are controlled by its military and are under supervision by the Defence Industries Organisation (DIO), which can be problematic for IAEA officials.[8] For example, Iran claimed that the “carbon composite rotors for P-2 centrifuges” were built by a private organization; however, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later recanted and stated the P-2 centrifuges were controlled by Iranian military and assembled at an Iranian DIO location.[9] Further research suggests the IAEA intercepted a uranium document that involves manufacturing nuclear weapon parts and hinted at Iranian and Pakistani nuclear collaboration.[10] The IAEA also reviewed drawings and documents that were controlled by the Iranian military pertaining to Shahab-3 ballistic missiles and its redesign to possibly hold a nuclear weapon.[11]

In 2011, IAEA reports disclosed that Iran has produced a significant amount of uranium to possibly build two nuclear weapons. Reports suggest uranium enrichment has advanced from five percent to twenty percent, indicating Iran is capable of further enrichment.[12] Between 2007 and 2012, the UN Security Council passed numerous resolutions demanding Iran to comply with the IAEA’s inspections of its nuclear activities, and halt its uranium enrichment initiatives as well as its development of a heavy water reactor. According to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano’s 2012 report, Iran continues to disregard the IAEA’s demands by advancing its uranium enrichment program, heavy water reactor, and its ballistic missile system.[13] According to US officials, Iran continues to develop its nuclear program in order to achieve regional dominance, protect itself from international interference, and ensure that the US military hesitates against a nuclear Iran.[14] According to Katzman (2011), Iranian officials publicly state they are developing a nuclear program specifically for peaceful purposes; however, Iran also believes obtaining a nuclear weapon would provide regional and global security to fend off potential invasions and would be recognized as a legitimate nation.[15] Iran’s nuclear intentions are met with profound suspicion among the international community. Common views among the international arena portray Iran with intentions to coerce its neighbors, dominate the region, transfer nuclear capabilities to terrorists, or destroy Israel with a nuclear attack.[16] The international coalition known as the P5+1 including the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain, and France along with the United Nations Security Council concluded that Iran’s military program is heavily involved in designing a nuclear weapon capability.[17] The diplomatic consensus is that an Iranian nuclear weapon will result in a dangerous, unstable environment across the globe and needs to be thwarted before it’s too late.

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Analysis & Findings

A nuclear Iran will cause grave outcomes across the international community, resulting in possible Israeli genocide or nuclear-armed terrorism against US national security interests at home and abroad as well as the onset for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, disrupting the current world order.[1] A nuclear Iran would fuel a nuclear arms race throughout the Muslim world similar to the Cold War, since regional nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Turkey would contemplate obtaining nuclear weapons to balance against an Iranian nuclear threat.[2] A nuclear Iran would also provide political top cover for its proxy militant groups to conduct bombings with impunity or possibly get their hands on an Iranian nuclear weapon. There are numerous consequences for Iran achieving a nuclear weapon, but Iran’s nuclear ambitions “do not affect all nations equally.”[3] A nuclear Iran poses the greatest threat to the United States and its national security interests as well as Iran’s neighboring countries, but primarily Israel.

Iranian officials have publicly indicated attacking Israel with a nuclear weapon. An article published by Alireza Forghani, a prominent figure in Iran, promoted the Iranian regime’s comments stating the Israeli people must be annihilated and plans to target the Jewish population in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa with Shahab ballistic missiles.[4] Further statements made by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s “supreme leader,” declared Israel as a “cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut.”[5] Protracted hatred toward the country of Israel and its Jewish population accentuate Tehran’s dedication to destroying Israel while quietly enhancing its nuclear program, alluding to nuclear genocide against Israel. Thus, Israel is at risk for direct annihilation and will be politically restrained under an “Iranian nuclear umbrella” created throughout the Middle East.[6] Furthermore, Israel could be subjected to elevated levels of violence from Hezbollah while Iran uses its nuclear persuasion to incite fear into Israeli officials. Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon poses as an existential threat to Israel and its Jewish population.

Due to Tehran’s prolonged hatred for the Jewish population, Israel has a vested interest in preventing the ascent of a nuclear Iran and is contemplating decisive, strategic action to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Israeli and American officials both agree and support preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state.[7] As Iran’s nuclear program continues to progress, Israel grows worrisome to protect its country from another holocaust and may launch a pre-emptive military strike to defuse and delay Iran’s nuclear capabilities with or without US assistance. [8] According to US national security officials, an Israeli preemptive military strike would strategically draw on its long-range missile capabilities while employing naval cruise missiles as well as the Jericho missile.[9] Israel’s aerial attack would be comprised of “F-15I and F-16I long-range fighter-bombers” carrying 2,000 to 5,000 pounds of explosives.[10] Israel could also use its unmanned aerial vehicles for support and would likely launch an attack across Jordanian and Iraqi territory to sustain its element of surprise. Unilateral Israeli action would cause severe damage to Natanz, other nuclear facilities in Esfahan and Tehran, and destroy a sizeable amount of Iran’s 3.5% enriched uranium supply. Israel’s aerial strike would most likely last for a day or two, due to its limited capabilities of an extensive military campaign comparable to the US. Israel remains uncertain of its ability to destroy the underground Fordow facility and its supply of twenty percent enriched uranium, which would be a key target for Israeli success.[11] Although Israel is capable of causing damage to Iranian nuclear facilities, Israel may face grave consequences for attacking Iran unilaterally. US officials suggest an Israeli attack would prove to be counterproductive and would only delay Iran’s nuclear capabilities by a few months or years.[12] According to Morton (2012), an Israeli preemptive strike would not be able to match previous attacks against reactors in Iran and Syria due to the sizeable amount and dispersion of the nuclear sites throughout Iran.[13] Additionally, an Israeli attack would provide a justifiable excuse for Iranian retaliation against Israel with possible “chemical and biological weapons,” catalyzing the Middle East into a detrimental war as well as the mobilization of Iranian-aligned proxy groups putting the United States and its allies in danger. [14] Due to US commitment to Israeli defense, the United States would be obligated to deploy military and financial aide to Israel in the fight against a nuclear Iran.

According to Robert Wexler (2012), the best strategy to thwart a nuclear Iran is for Israel to follow President Obama’s strategy of isolating Iran through diplomatic means as well as enforcing rigorous economic sanctions and a potential military option as a last resort.[15] The US has implemented a multi-faceted approach to support counter proliferation policy across the globe using a combination of “deterrence, coercive diplomacy, unilateral and multilateral financial and trade instruments, global military superiority” and preemptive military action.[16] In regards to Iran, the US has enforced severe economic sanctions targeting its nuclear facilities, the development of nuclear weapons and restricting other countries from trading with Iran.[17] The US offered other countries an ultimatum stating, “You can do business with Iran or you can do business with the United States, but you cannot do business with both.”[18] As of May 1, 2012, the Obama administration authorized an Executive Order to allow the Treasury Department to monitor and cut off trade with any foreign nations who assist Iran in circumventing sanctions issued by the U.S., United Nations, or the European Union.[19] The United States, United Nations, and European Union have united their sanctions against Iran with hopes to curb Iranian nuclear intentions. Enforcing these sanctions allows the US to deplete and isolate Iran’s economy and will force the Iranian government to comply with the IAEA by demolishing its nuclear program or continue on its path to economic collapse.[20] Iranian organizations, financial institutions and oil companies are suffering from economic turmoil as well as the Iranian public, who are being subjected to rising unemployment, elevated cost of goods and inflation. [21] The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) decided to cut off Iranian banks from completing international transactions, severely hindering Iran’s economic stability.[22] Another hindrance to Iran’s economy is the European embargo on Iranian oil, causing other countries to circumvent shipping to Iran due to the “European Union insurance” limitations.[23] Iran receives a substantial amount of revenue from its oil sales and restrictions on oil are further causing a downward spiral on Iran’s financial system. As the sanctions continue to cripple Iran’s economy, the Iranian government must decide either to accept a deal with the US and risk its legitimacy or continue developing its nuclear weapons program and risk a failing economy.

The US strategy to deter Iranian nuclear ambitions is designed to exhaust all diplomatic means before taking US and Israeli military action against Iran. If Iran continues to develop its nuclear arsenal despite US sanctions, the Obama administration has deemed military action as a viable option. The Obama administration publicly announced that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable” and are prepared for a military contingency.[24] According to Wexler (2012), a US led military strike against Iran would give Israel the proper political backing to fend off retaliatory action from Iran. A US led attack would generate a favorable, international alliance with its allies in Europe, NATO, and other support from multiple Arab communities in the Middle East.[25] Senior Israeli officials have emphasized their reliance on US military assistance in preventing a nuclear Iran and are requesting US assurance that if they do not carry out a military strike and diplomatic solutions have failed, that Obama will militarily halt Iran from becoming a nuclear state.[26] President Obama replied to Israel’s concern stating that the US does not have a strategy for containing Iran and only has a policy for preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear status.[27] According to Obama’s 21st century defense plan (2012), US national security policy remains dedicated to thwarting Iran’s proliferation of a nuclear weapon and vows to uphold its security commitments to Israel to stabilize the region and protect the current world order.[28]

Military Contingency

According to several US national security experts, once intelligence reports prove that Iran has crossed a US red line for nuclear weapons development and the enduring economic sanctions against Iran fail, the US has determined that military action is a viable option. Research suggests that once the US decides to pursue military action, it must be carried out through intensive US military strikes or in a joint effort with Israel to delay “Iran’s ability to build a bomb by up to four years.”[1] Further research suggests US military action would need to be comprised of aerial and naval strikes as well as covert operations and cyber attacks to delay Iran’s program for four years. US military action or in concert with Israel would extensively destroy Iran’s nuclear sites, however, offshore military strikes would not eliminate Iran’s nuclear ascension, but rather delay it.[2]

A US preemptive strike would produce beneficial results as well as consequences for the US and its interests. Precise military action would severely damage Iran’s dispersed and underground nuclear sites such as Natanz, Tehran, Esfahan, and Fordow as well as deteriorate Iran’s military power.[3] The US strikes would severely damage Iran’s heavy water reactor and hinder its ability for further enrichment, uranium conversion, and centrifuge development.[4] Sustained US strikes against Fordow would deplete Iran’s supply of twenty percent enriched uranium. This substantial amount of damage would create major setbacks for Iran’s nuclear program, requiring renovation and establishment of new enrichment locations. Due to crippling US economic sanctions, Iran would not be able to import certain high-end components that would be required to rebuild its centrifuges.[5] Furthermore, a US strike would destroy Iran’s military bases and institutions as well as its ability to effectively mobilize its Navy, Army, and Air Force assets to carry out defense tactics.[6]

Another benefit for preventive military action would be showing Iran as well as other non-nuclear states that the US is committed to thwarting other nations nuclear ambitions and is not afraid to take military action, ultimately bolstering US credibility while deterring other regional powers from achieving a nuclear status.[7] It is estimated that unilateral Israeli strikes would only set back Iran’s nuclear capabilities for up to two years and that would require more tactical ground attacks.[8] Although a US led military strike would delay Iran’s nuclear development and prevent Israeli genocide, there would be severe consequences for US military involvement. Other than the financial burden, the US would be creating an emerging threat for direct and indirect Iranian revenge.[9] “Direct Iranian retaliation” targeting the US would produce numerous American casualties, destroy US institutions, and impact US interests within the Middle East.[10]

Research indicates Iran would rely on its conventional rocket systems, the IRGC’s naval missiles, and may shutdown the Strait of Hormuz to cause market instability and oil expenses to skyrocket.[11] Any US strike would produce Iranian backlash against Israel due to the perception that Israel is in part responsible for the damage against Iran. Iran would also incite and mobilize its Iranian proxy groups and the IRGC-Qods Force to launch terrorist attacks against Israel, the US and US interests. The current US stance foreshadows that the United States is committed to stand up for Israel before Iran becomes a nuclear state. As the US exhausts all diplomatic solutions, Iran will have to decide to cooperate with IAEA inspectors and agree to halt nuclear proliferation or risk a potential US/Israeli military strike on its facilities.

Conclusion

Iran’s nuclear ascension has become a key US national security interest throughout the 21st century. Iran’s continued progress for developing a nuclear capability and its refusal to work with the IAEA has spurred international concern and fear throughout the region. Iranian production of a nuclear weapon will produce grave consequences throughout the international arena, threatening regional and international security as well as the potential for nuclear-armed terrorism and potential Israeli genocide.[1] A nuclear Iran will produce political turmoil and a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and will greatly impact Israel’s well-being and placement throughout the region. The US and the P5+1 continue to thwart Iran’s nuclear intentions with crippling economic sanctions in an effort to destabilize the Iranian economy and isolate it from the rest of the world. US policy remains dedicated to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and has publicly announced that the US government does not have a strategy for containment of a nuclear Iran. The United States intends to uphold its security commitment to defend Israel and protect it from nuclear annihilation. As time passes, Israel continues to face an existential threat as Iran furthers its nuclear capabilities despite US sanctions.[2] To protect its country, Prime Minister Netanyahu views a nuclear Iran as unacceptable and is determined to prevent its fruition even without US support.[3] Senior Israeli officials are concerned that Iran’s nuclear progression is approaching a “zone of immunity,” in which the appropriate window for an Israeli strike would be too late. In July 2012, National Security Advisor Donilon, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Panetta visited Israel to reassure Israeli officials that the US is completely dedicated to quelling a nuclear Iran.[4] To substantiate this claim, the United States has deployed additional US forces to the Gulf region, implemented continual sanctions, and is committing possible covert forces to effectively halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.[5] The Obama administration has continually stated that a military solution is still on the table if negotiations with Iran continue to falter.[6] The direction of US national security policy is oriented toward diplomatic solutions with an emphasis on firm economic sanctions and implementing national security policies to prepare for a preemptive strike to thwart Iran’s nuclear ascension and to defend Israel from future nuclear genocide.

References

Abramowitz, Morton. Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran. Executive Summary. 2012. www.wilsoncenter.org.

Elliot, Abrams. Attacking Iran’s Nuclear Project| Two Views. World Affairs. May/June (2012) 25-38. www.worldaffairsjournal.org.

Eiland, Giora. Israel’s Military Option. Washington Quarterly 33 no. 1 (2010). Retrieved from Ebscohost.

Fitzpatrick, Mark. Assessing Iran’s Nuclear Programme. Survival 48, no. 3 (2006) 5-26. www.iiss.org.

Jonathan, Schell. Thinking the Unthinkable. Nation 294, no. 17 (2012) 20-26. Retreived from Ebscohost.

Katzman, Kenneth. Iran’s Strategic Capabilities and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. Congressional Research Service. (2011) 24-42. Retrieved from Ebscohost,

Katzman, Kenneth. US Policy Approaches and Additional Options. CRS. 2012

Obama, Barrack. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. January (2012) 60-78. Retrieved from Ebsco Host.

Kerr, Paul. “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations.” Congressional Research Service. 2012. Retrieved from Ebscohost.

Kraig, Michael. US Policies toward Tehran. Strategic Studies Quarterly 5, no. 4 (2011) 39-74. Retrieved from Ebscohost.

Wexler, Robert. Attacking Iran’s Nuclear Project| Two Views. World Affairs. 2012. www.worldaffairsjournal.org.


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