02 February 2007

Frere Jacques and Why Iran is Under Suspicion

This week French President Jacques Chirac gave an interview with the New York Times. It contained a couple really dumb statements, which are being seized upon by some quarters, and a couple things are actually brighter than Chirac is given credit for. He is no friend of ours, but even rivals can occasionally say things that make more sense than we'd like to admit.

Chirac stated that he thinks that an Iranian nuclear weapon wouldn't be that big of an issue. They may use it once, but then they'd be swiftly dealt with, so nothing to worry about, he says. "The fact of having a nuclear bomb — having one, maybe a second one a little later, well, that's not very dangerous. But what is very dangerous is proliferation."

Getting the bomb is dangerous because that means countries are proliferating nuclear weapons horizontally (i.e. increasing the membership of the "nuclear club"), and may inspire other countries in the region to do the same. Iran gaining and holding the bomb could inspire other vile regimes in the region to pursue nuclear weapons; imagine the thought of a nuclearized Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Syria. And this is why people are rightly up in arms about Chirac's statement tha having the bomb, no big deal. "Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground." If possession is the necessary and sufficient precondition for proliferation, that by definition makes possession a big deal, so there is very much a danger "in the bomb it will have."

And in the meantime, potentially hundreds of thousands of Israelis would be killed because Iran wanted to fulfill its proclamation of "wiping Israel off the map." Chirac assumes too much; because France is a ruthless practitioner of realpolitik, he assumes that Iran would do the same, despite all the current evidence to the contrary. Rational thought has not proven to be a strong point in the Iranian regime's ledger sheet. Their mere pursuit of an atomic program that lacks transparency is not in their interests, as it has brought sanctions, condemnation, pariah status, and continued status in the axis of evil. The United States has yet to remove Tehran's distinction of being the "greatest threat to peace" today, and that is because the Iranians are pursuing a program in a fashion that leads the rest of the world to deem that it is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Chirac does get a couple of things right, though: "To maintain the regime of the mullahs, it needs to not be contested or threatened by the international community. And the international community, who is it? It's the United States." He is more right than he knows, because there is no "international community" beyond Washington and whatever ad hoc coalitions it can muster. France worked strenuously to prevent that international community from removing a brutal dictatorship on Iran's borders. It failed, and it lost one of its client relationships as a result. The new Iraq will never look to France for inspiration or assistance in times of need (though, sadly, it may look to Iran) because Iraqis remember France's complicity in keeping Saddam's regime alive. However, he is right to establish the current regime's survival on the basis of avoiding confrontation with the United States and any willing coalition. Should Tehran overstep in any venue and provoke confrontation, the mullahs will find that they have accelerated the elapse of the borrowed time the regime is already using. Granted, getting rid of a vile regime is the easy part, installing a legitimate successor is the hard part, but survival is the key factor in Iran's political calculations. Which leads me to my next point.

Chirac: There is no risk. There is the I.A.E.A. that monitors this. There is control. There is no risk.
Q: There is no risk?
A: None, absolutely none. You cannot take an electrical nuclear plant and make a bomb. It just doesn't work.

Having done a little bit of research into what states need to do to create a uranium-based atomic bomb, I can say that Chirac is absolutely correct in making this statement. It may be, taken out of context, a statement that causes alarm bells among people and prod them to suggest that Chirac is off his rocker. That may be true in other circumstances, but not in this one. You see, in order to produce weapons-grade uranium (U-235), it has to be highly-enriched to approximately 90% purity. The level of enrichment in uranium for nuclear energy is much lower, approximately 20-25% This something which is easily measurable and verifiable for the scientists of the IAEA. What Iran's obfuscation on the matter does, however, is make it very difficult for the IAEA to verify their claims that they are seeking only a nuclear energy program. The IAEA scientists have already discovered trace elements of weapons-grade uranium at Iranian facilities. Iran's prevention of certain inspectors only raises the cloud of suspectability.

If Iran wants to demonstrate that it is only pursuing a nuclear energy program, it is a very easy task to accomplish. Allow the inspectors to oversee and verify that all uranium activity is confined to energy. Deceiving them, attempting to cover up discoveries of HEU, and denying that the HEU even exists is not in Iran's vital interests. It was the same type of opaque process that cooked Saddam Hussein's goose. If the Iranians have nothing to hide, why are they hiding? Even France is reluctant to play the role of dictator babysitter on this one, and has been very involved in ensuring that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. They will not likely be able to rely on a French veto in the UN Security Council if it becomes necessary to forestall action against Iran to forcibly prevent them from fully developing a nuclear weapons capability.

The Chirac interview is an interesting one, and I do recommend that people give it a read.

Super Bowl Prediction

Colts win. Manning gets MVP for a huge performance against a tough Bears defence.

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