Friday, April 21, 2006

Can Iran Be Deterred?

The Washington Times: Editorial
"Iran under its present rulers cannot be allowed finally to acquire nuclear weapons -- for these would not guarantee stability by mutual deterrence but would instead threaten us with uncontrollable perils...The rulers of Iran are openly financing, arming, training and inciting anti-American terrorist organizations...If this is what Iran's extremist rulers do now even without the shield of nuclear weapons to protect them, what would they do if they had it?" So writes Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an opponent of military strikes, in the May issue of Commentary magazine. READ MORE

Mr. Luttwak argues against military action on grounds that there is still time to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The urgency of the Iran issue continues to grow, however, in the wake of newly released commercial satellite photographs which help to document a pattern of building and concealment activities dating back to 2002 at two major Iranian nuclear facilities: a uranium conversion site at Isfahan and a uranium enrichment site at Natanz.

At Isfahan, satellite photographs taken last month and obtained by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research organization, show construction of a third tunnel entrance to the nuclear facility. Iran's decision in January to resume uranium enrichment bars the International Atomic Energy Agency from conducting more comprehensive inspections of the Natanz nuclear site to keep track of centrifuge components and assembled centrifuges, along with critical centrifuge manufacturing and assembling equipment. Notes the ISIS: "As a result, the IAEA is slowly losing knowledge regarding the use and location of many of these items."

The evidence that Iran is pressing ahead with a nuclear weapons program is strengthening the position of those who believe that Washington must take military action. One proponent is Reuel Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Gerecht concedes that there are powerful reasons not to bomb Iran, including the possibility of retaliatory terrorist attacks and violent reactions from Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere. But he makes clear that none of these problems will go away if the United States attempts to pursue a policy of Cold War-style "containment" against a nuclear Iran and virtually all of them will worsen if Iran acquires an atomic bomb.

The Bush administration and Pentagon generals have little interest in taking military action, but in the end their hand is likely to be forced, because it would be intolerable to permit a jihadist rogue state to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran is less like the Soviet Union than a more dangerous version of bin Ladenism, Mr. Gerecht writes. While it would be preferable to see Iranians peacefully remove the mullahs and forge a democratic government, this could take decades and it is unlikely to happen before the regime acquires a bomb. If we allow this to occur and hope for the best, Mr. Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard, an American president would be faced some day with a terrible decision if we were attacked by a terrorist group that the United States believed to be backed by Tehran: "What would we do if we were pretty sure they'd ordered a terrorist attack -- say, 80 percent sure -- but we were 100 percent sure they had nuclear-armed ICBMs?" In a post-September 11 era, Mr. Gerecht argues, it is essential that Washington set non-negotiable red lines to ensure that no rogue regime can use the possibility of a nuclear strike to deter U.S. retaliation for a terrorist atrocity against Americans.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the current debate is the degree to which an opponent of military action like Mr. Luttwak agrees with Mr. Gerecht. Mr. Luttwak writes that it will be possible to overcome Iran's attempts at camouflage and deception, and also "to target air strikes accurately enough to delay Iran's manufacture of nuclear weapons very considerably"; that "there is no indication that the regime will fall before it acquires nuclear weapons"; and that deterrence cannot work with an Iranian government run by someone who believes that provoking a nuclear catastrophe will bring back the long-deceased "12th imam."

In sum, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that containment or deterrence can work against Iran.