Monday, May 14, 2012

The most important report on nuclear Iran you are likely to read

This entry was posted on May 14, 2012,

An in-depth reading of the last several IAEA reports have led Anthony Cordesman to conclude that anyone who believes Iran is not yet pursuing a nuclear-weapons program is committing an act of willful delusion.

I hesitate to recommend Rethinking Our Approach to Iran’s Search for the Bomb by the Center for Strategic & International StudiesAnthony Cordesman as weekend reading, since its conclusions are just too sobering. On the other hand, the comprehensive report is rather heavy-going, and may be hard to find sufficient time to do it justice during the working-week. It is compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in strategic issues, and does a fantastic job of summing up all the most up-to-date and unclassified information available on Iran’s nuclear program, with the added bonus of Cordesman’s invaluable insight.
The veteran national-security expert has done much of the work for us by wading through hundreds of pages of the full versions of the last two International Atomic Energy Agency reports on Iran and other relevant documents, rendering them into something approximating laymen’s terms. As he notes at the beginning of study, very few of those commentating on these affairs have actually read the entire documents, probably even less have the necessary qualifications to actually understand them.
Any serious readers of this blog would do very well to make the time and read Cordesman, unless you have access to classified material, as this is the most important report on Iran you will read until something really big and new comes out. I certainly hope the Western negotiators who are about to meet their Iranian counterparts for the second round of the P5+1 talks in Baghdad, ten days from now, will have read it by the time they land in Iraq. It is probably much better than anything they will get in their briefing papers.
Here is a short summary of the document. I hope I do it justice:
- Anyone who believes that Iran is not yet actively pursuing a nuclear-weapons program and merely developing the capabilities is committing an act of willful delusion. The intelligence supplied to the IAEA and verified by different “member countries,” is clear on that Iran has been working on a wide range of projects for over a decade, all of which are specifically aimed at acquiring the capabilities necessary not only to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, but to assemble a nuclear advice that can be launched by long-range missile. Talk of a fatwa against nuclear weapons is just that: talk.
- Despite sanctions and international monitoring, Iran has received highly specialized instruments and equipment, benefited from the knowledge of foreign nuclear weapons designers and made impressive advance in its own scientific centers, so as to be able to carry out most of the necessary testing for a nuclear device, without actually creating a nuclear detonation. There has also been preparation for an actual nuclear test.
OK…It’s a long one..
Rethinking Our Approach to Iran’s Search for the Bomb
We badly need to rethink our approach to Iran’s nuclear programs. We are putting far too much emphasis on Iran’s nuclear efforts without considering how these programs fit into Iran’s over military and strategic objectives. At the same time, we are placing too much emphasis on whether Iran has revived its formal nuclear program and the current shape of its nuclear facilities. The ironic result is to put too much emphasis on both the wrong form of arms control negotiations and preventive military strike.
Advertisement from the 1970s by American nucle...
Advertisement from the 1970s by American nuclear-energy companies, using Iran’s nuclear program as a marketing ploy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
To begin, it is essential to understand that Iran has moved far beyond the point where it lacked the technology base to produce nuclear weapons, or where searching through the statements of senior Iranian officials provides any meaningful picture of its progress and intentions. Iran has pursued every major area of nuclear weapons development, has carried out programs that have already given it every component of a weapon except fissile material, and there is strong evidence that it has carried out programs to integrate a nuclear warhead on to its missiles.
The threat Iran’s nuclear efforts pose are not simply a matter of its present ability to enrich uranium to 20% U-235, and efforts to control its enrichment activities will not halt its ability to move forward in many areas even if its current enrichment facilities and stocks of highly enriched uranium are fully secured.
Iran’s efforts are part of a far broader range of efforts that have already brought it to the point where it can pursue nuclear weapons development through a range of compartmented and easily concealable programs without a formal weapons program, and even if it suspends enrichment activity. These are also programs that have been examined in depth in recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Progress to Date
Many of the details of Iran’s efforts, and the sources of that information, have to be kept classified. The IAEA has however, issued unclassified reports based on inputs from many member countries that clearly outline just how far Iran may have gotten.
The IAEA reports for May 24, 2011 noted seven major areas of concern that covered every major aspect of a nuclear-armed missile program:
  • Neutron generator and associated diagnostics: experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons.
  • Uranium conversion and metallurgy: producing uranium metal from fluoride compounds and its manufacture into components relevant to a nuclear device.
  • High explosives manufacture and testing: developing, manufacturing and testing of explosive components suitable for the initiation of high explosives in a converging spherical geometry.
  • Exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonator studies, particularly involving applications necessitating high simultaneity: possible nuclear significance of the use of EBW detonators.
  • Multipoint explosive initiation and hemispherical detonation studies involving highly instrumented experiments: integrating EBW detonators in the development of a system to initiate hemispherical high explosive charges and conducting full scale experiments, work which may have benefitted from the assistance of foreign expertise.
  • High voltage firing equipment and instrumentation for explosives testing over long distances and possibly underground: conducting tests to confirm that high voltage firing equipment is suitable for the reliable firing of EBW detonators over long distances.
  • Missile re-entry vehicle redesign activities for a new payload assessed as being nuclear in nature: conducting design work and modeling studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.
The IAEA report for November 8, 2011 went further, and provided far more unclassified data than has been made available by any Western intelligence source or outside report.  Its summary noted that, “The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing.”  ... CONTINUE READING