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Missile defense cuts off our nose to spite our defense face.

By Russ Wellen

It’s common knowledge that, when it comes to protecting us from a nuclear launch by a major power such as Russia or China, missile defense has been found woefully lacking. At best, it’s supposed to protect the United States and Europe from states with small nuclear weapon programs such as North Korea and Iran. (Even though it’s efficacy in those situations is questionable as well.)

Nevertheless, Moscow professes to believe that our installations in Europe are intended as a defense against Russia’s nukes. It also maintains that missile defense deployed in the United States, as well, is a cover behind which the United States could launch a first strike. Much of its counterstrike, Moscow fears, would then be deflected by U.S. missile defense, while the United States would wipe out much of Russia’s remaining land-based nuclear missiles, thus diminishing the latter’s second-strike capabilities. Read the rest of this entry »


The West may not use nuclear weapons on Iran, but attacking its nuclear enrichment facilities will have a similar effect.

By Russ Wellen

As you can tell by the title, this 61-page paper, The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, is not Tehran-friendly. The report, released in September, is the product of Khosrow B. Semnani, an Iranian-American industrialist and philanthropist with, according to his bio, “extensive experience in the industrial management of nuclear waste and chemicals.” I’m in the midst of reading it in its entirety.

In the meantime, an excerpt from the executive summary (also available to those non-executives just as time-pressed as executives!) provides a good indication of exactly where Omid for Iran, Semnani’s organization, which released the report along with the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the University of Utah, is coming from.

The best long-term strategy would be a democratic, transparent, and accountable government in Iran. In such a scenario, political leaders would quickly understand that their people want jobs, dignity, opportunity, and political freedoms, not the false promise of nuclear weapons bought at a heavy, even existential, cost. A military strike would not only kill thousands of civilians and expose tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to highly toxic chemicals, it would also have a devastating effect on those who dream of democracy in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei has proven that he cares little for the Iranian people. It is up to us in the international community, including the Iranian-American diaspora to demonstrate that we do. Read the rest of this entry »

The West insists on nuclear nonproliferation, but refuses to reciprocate with meaningful disarmament. 

By Russ Wellen

When dueling narratives clash and the subject is nuclear weapons, the sparks that fly could make flashing sabers seem dim in comparison. According to conventional thinking in the West, Iran is not abiding by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restraining itself from all nuclear weapons activities. Thus it should be denied its right to enrich uranium. But, in the view of much of the rest of the world, the West is making little more than cosmetic efforts to roll back its nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it has no business denying Iran nuclear energy — not to mention nuclear weapons (but that’s another story).

In other words, the side that committed to disarming thinks that the side that promised not to proliferate is. And the side that promised not to proliferate thinks that the side that committed to disarming is not. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

One can’t help but suspect that a key reason the public and even many policymakers believe that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons is the sheer length of time that the words “Iran” and “nuclear” have been uttered in the same sentence by the media. Way back in 1957 Iran signed an agreement to participate President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini temporarily halted Iran’s nuclear efforts, both peaceful and weapons.

In the late eighties and early nineties, AQ Khan, lord of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program as well as the nuclear black market, shared know-how and components with Iran. Then, in late 2002, it was learned that Iran had built a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak. It appears, though, that in 2003 all but vestigial research toward an Iranian nuclear-weapons program ended. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

James Risen’s April 14 article for the New York Times on Iran’s Supreme Leader’s nuclear-weapons intentions — or lack thereof — has attracted much attention. Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, he writes, “often uses religious language when he talks about the nuclear issue, which can jar Western analysts trying to gauge the meaning of such strong statements.” It’s well known that he once issued a fatwa against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. As recently as February, Risen writes, Ayatollah Khameini said: “Iran is not seeking to have the atomic bomb, possession of which is pointless, dangerous and is a great sin from an intellectual and a religious point of view.”

Here are further excerpts from his pronouncements, about which I recently posted (Iran Tries to Take the Moral High Ground on Nukes). More from the February speech (the translation on his official website):

Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

“Iran regards utilizing nuclear weapons as forbidden in Islam,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once said. On another occasion, he declared: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

In 2008 a poll revealed that, while 81% of Iranians favored nuclear energy, 58% agreed with the Supreme Leader’s statement, while only 23% supported a nuclear-weapons program. In fact 63% expressed approval that Iran was still party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Presumably, those polled responded truthfully. But, in light of the International Atomic Energy Agency report presenting more evidence that Iran is acquiring the know-how and technology to build nuclear weapons, who — left or right — really believes the Supreme Leader’s avowals? Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

However many obstacles it encounters — International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, difficulty procuring the technology and know-how, sabotage, assassinations of its scientists — Iran appears to be stumbling toward a degree of nuclear weaponization. While some in the West believe Iran seeks to actually develop nuclear weapons, it’s more likely that, instead, it seeks the capacity to build nuclear weapons on demand (sometimes known as virtual deterrence). But, as Iran demonstrates by its occasional openness to overtures, it may be willing to bargain away weaponization.

Diplomacy is handicapped, though, when the West, especially the United States, fails to observe its end of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and take substantive steps toward disarmament. At the same time, it tries to hold Iran to the letter of the law of the NPT and demands that it refrain from nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, few would have guessed that observing a commitment to its people — if only to keep them from taking to the streets again — might determine the direction of Iran’s nuclear program. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

At Arms Control NOW, the Arms Control Association blog, Greg Theilman writes that

since “we have every reason to believe that an Iranian bomb is neither imminent nor inevitable. … alarmist estimates provided earlier this month require a response regarding timelines.”

Thielman quotes Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London to the effect that Iran “‘won’t have [a nuclear weapon] tomorrow or next week or next month or a year from now.’  To predict otherwise, he added, ‘borders on the irresponsible.'” Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are known to be champing at the bit to bomb Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. Even though, as the New York Times reported:

. . . former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan. . . . made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted . . . that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.” This week Mr. Dagan . . . said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.”

Israel of course enjoys a non-nuclear program with everything from tactical (battlefield) nuclear weapons to thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs. To the contrary, it insists, enabled in its charade by the United States. In Iran’s case, the International Atomic Energy Agency has yet to find damning evidence of a nuclear-weapons program. In fact, some of the “evidence,” such as what’s called the alleged studies documents, seemed manufactured and/or planted. Still, those of us most opposed to using force against Iran would make more credible advocates for a negotiated solution if we accepted that Iran most likely seeks weaponless, or “virtual,” deterrence (no weapons, but the full-blown capacity to manufacture them). Read the rest of this entry »