Time to Give the Iran Deal a Chance

Time to Give the Iran Deal a Chance
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Almost one year since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed, the agreement between Iran, the United States, and five other international partners is still regularly under attack. One particularly creative example can be seen in the recent RealClearDefense op-ed entitled, “Time to Seize the High Ground on Nuclear Weapons” by Jonathan Ruhe, which used President Obama’s supposed “unprecedented steps toward nuclear disarmament” to urge a nuclear policy change toward Iran. Unfortunately, much of the logic relies upon incorrect figures about the rate of warhead reductions since 2009 and asserts a false claim that the Obama Administration has retired all nuclear cruise missiles. Most importantly, the recommended nuclear policy change would result in unintended and dangerous consequences for the United States and its allies.

But first, the record must be corrected about the merits of the JCPOA. Contrary to some claims, Iran simply does not have the ability to produce enough fissile material annually for multiple bombs under the deal. And no, inspections on Iran’s nuclear progress have not been undermined by the agreement.

In actuality, it is a widely accepted fact that Iran’s breakout time – the time necessary to produce enough weapons-grade material for one nuclear weapon – is one year. Before the agreement, Iran’s breakout time was two to three months. The JCPOA also gives IAEA inspectors unprecedented access to critical Iranian nuclear and relevant military facilities. Before negotiations began, international access was severely limited.

Now to Mr. Ruhe’s particularly bold proposal, which calls for the President to change U.S. nuclear policy toward non-nuclear nations, with the clear goal of undermining the JCPOA and US-Iran relations writ large.

Currently, Ruhe explains, the U.S. “will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear NPT members.” He proposes changing this policy to non-nuclear capable [my own emphasis added] Non-Proliferation Treaty members because “any non-nuclear member actually capable of producing nuclear weapons would by definition violate the treaty.”

The presumption is wrong, but beyond that, the consequences of this change would be severe. In just one example, Japan, a staunch U.S. ally with enough fissile material to produce 6,000 nuclear weapons and the capability to produce a warhead in a relatively short timeframe, would, by Ruhe’s definition, violate the NPT. One would doubt that Mr. Ruhe wants to subject Japan to potential nuclear threats from, or destruction at, the hands of the United States?

The proposal also leaves out an important section of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which in addition to stating that the United States won’t use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear weapons NPT states, augments that each country must also be “in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” A country like Japan is in compliance with its non-proliferation obligations, but is also technically nuclear capable. Thus the penalties of this change would be extraordinary – not just for Iran. 

Like all arms control treaties, the JCPOA isn’t flawless. Iran could always renege on its commitments, though it has shown no indication of doing so. But if they cheat, the U.S. has the ability to impose snapback sanctions and, of course, military options remain on the table – even if they would be less effective than the agreement. 

Today, it is indisputable that Iran is currently complying with its obligations and our understanding of the country’s nuclear program and facilities is far greater than before. Could the agreement fail? Perhaps. But every other major arms control treaty could have also failed, and they withstood their fair share of skepticism. At this point, it’s time for critics to take a step back and finally give the JCPOA a chance. 

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