Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Iranian Nuclear Program Must be Destroyed!

Here is an excerpt from an article in the latest print edition of the Economist(requires subscription access):

A FIRST report, last month, by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, expressed “concern” at a string of previously undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. A second damning report, when the agency's board meets in September, could raise a storm. So on July 9th Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA's director-general, was in Tehran hoping to find answers to the questions in his June report, and to win Iran's acceptance of toughened safeguards.


Mr ElBaradei wants to know why Iran produced uranium metal, not needed for its planned nuclear reactors, but handy for making bombs. And why build a heavy-water research reactor, ideal for making bomb-usable plutonium, when Iran's energy plans depend on light-water reactors? But the IAEA has been keenest to probe Iran's claim that it is building a sophisticated uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz—a pilot plant and a much larger production-scale plant—without ever having done tests with uranium gas to prove its centrifuge machines work. These can produce low-enriched uranium for reactor fuel, or highly enriched uranium for a bomb. Iran is obliged to report either sort of work, but denies flatly it has done any.

Iran shrugged off the agency's June report, which detailed its undeclared import in 1991 of 1.8 tonnes of natural uranium (from China, although the IAEA does not say so), claiming that its safeguards agreement did not require it to do so. When some of this material was found to be missing—1.9kg of uranium hexafluoride—Iran blamed leaky cylinder valves. Was it used instead for testing centrifuges?

While, from a purely humanitarian viewpoint, it is a shame that the Iranian student protests planned for the 9th of July turned out to have been such a damp squib, in a larger sense I think it fortunate that they petered out. Attacking an Iran in which the reform movement was making real political progress would have been a difficult proposition to advance, and it is extremely unlikely that even a more democratic Iranian government would be likely to desist from attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Faced with a choice between the destruction of Iran's entire weapons infrastructure by force of arms, and the blossoming of a "reformist" Iranian leadership, I say "Let the mullahs stay where they are!"

Is my position callous, amoral even? Only if one fails to consider things from the standpoint of self-interest. If the cost of Iranian democracy were non-existent or low, I should have no reason to resist giving it my support, but the last thing the world needs is a highly nationalistic country with the means at its' disposal to destroy Tel Aviv, Berlin, Paris and London. No, not even democracy in Iran is worth that much.