The US must become more aggressive about stopping Iranian nuclear development

May 01
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The Hill, By Robert Monroe
Sunday, 30 April 2016

Confusion and uncertainty seem widespread over our U.S. response to Iran’s determination to go into production of nuclear weapons. There shouldn’t be any doubt whatsoever about America’s course of action. At stake is the future of mankind. 

The current course of pursuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran will lead to a world of nuclear horror and chaos, a globe covered with the radioactive ruins of great cities. The alternative course – of preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons – leads to the caging of the nuclear genie and the world’s long-term peaceful coexistence with nuclear weapons. And we have months, not years, to make the choice.

Let’s examine the current approach. President Obama’s incomprehensible action in creating and relentlessly pursuing this Iran Agreement defies understanding. It is guaranteed to produce global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

For a quarter-century two irresponsible and belligerent rogue states, North Korea and Iran, have focused their entire existence on becoming nuclear weapons states, and each is now close to success. When North Korea succeeds, it will sell nukes to anyone with money. When Iran arrives, the world’s preeminent sponsor of terrorism will provide nuclear weapons to proxies such as Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Hamas, Taliban, and the Houthis for use.

In response to these threats, regional nuclear weapons planning is already underway in Northeast Asia (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan) and the Mideast (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt). With intercontinental missile ranges increasing rapidly throughout the world, this proliferation cascade is already going global.

Look at the numbers. Today eight states have nuclear weapons. By 2030 the number will be about 20, mostly our allies who lost confidence in the failing U.S. nuclear umbrella. By 2040, about 30 states will have nukes, as technologically advanced nations seek the safety of a nuclear arsenal. By mid-century the number will be about 40, as the more-developed third world nations produce nuclear weapons. And that’s just the beginning.

With nuclear weapons spread widely across dozens of states and hundreds of sites, no type of control will be possible. They will not even be countable. Increased availability of fissile material from global reactor growth will add to the problem. Nuclear weapons will become readily obtainable by aggressors, failed and failing states, terrorist organizations, criminals, extortionists, even disaffected individuals. Nukes will be used, and frequently. We’ve passed the point of no return. Nuclear proliferation is a killer.

Turning now to the alternative approach – stopping Iran – the path is clear. The U.S. should withdraw from the Iran Agreement and inform Iran, formally and publicly, that if it does not dismantle all its nuclear facilities, we will do it with military force, to preserve nuclear nonproliferation. 

If Iran does not comply, we should destroy the Natanz uranium centrifuge facility and the Arak heavy water reactor with conventional air strikes. We simultaneously announce to the world that this is not war’s outbreak, but rather an initial element of the negotiation process (stick and carrot). When Iran’s nuclear dismantlement is complete, the world will feel a surge of hope of unbelievable magnitude. Proliferation can be controlled!

With the stark example of Iran on the table, North Korea will be much easier.

These emergency actions, however, are just the starting point. We will have demonstrated to the world the lesson all should have understood decades ago: Nonproliferation requires enforcement! Now we must convince the world how it can co-exist peacefully with nuclear weapons for the long-term. Enforcement must be regularized.

This will require the most immense diplomatic effort of all time. Two major changes in the world’s arms control regime must be made. The first is in the bedrock Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970. It created two tiers of states: the five approved nuclear weapons states (permanent members of the UN Security Council); and the other states (currently 186) who signed as non-nuclear-weapons states. The principal responsibility of the five must be to enforce nonproliferation, hopefully collegially, but individually, if necessary.

The second change is in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996. It must be made non-applicable to the five nuclear weapons states. To enforce nonproliferation, these five must have unquestioned continuing nuclear superiority.

The world’s best chance for remaining livable in the nuclear weapons era is to trust these five to accept this sobering responsibility and rise in stature to become dedicated stewards of nonproliferation. We can tolerate three non-approved nuclear-weapons-states and work to change them. The non-nuclear-weapons-states, on their part, must realize that they are the true beneficiaries of this regime. They will be freed of fear of nuclear aggression if they can change their international focus from nuclear disarmament to nonproliferation.

Achieving these two global changes over the years ahead will be a worthy test of U.S. diplomacy.

Think of 1938. Nazi Germany was just getting started. Britain and France could have stopped them easily, but they shrank from the casualties and destruction. The result was seven years of world war and 60 million dead. It will be much worse if America does not act this time.

Robert R. Monroe, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

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