April 7, 2015 | Commentary on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Middle East, Iran

Iran deal leaves security fears

Let’s be honest, the joint comprehensive plan of action announced last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, between the P5+1 (U.S., France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany) and Iran is essentially a Rorschach inkblot test.

People will see what they want to see.

Some people, like Team Obama, see the deal as a flurry of white doves released into the air, cooing “peace in our time.” Others see the preliminary pact as a dark field filled with mushroom cloud-shaped weeds.

In my opinion, it’s not a good deal.

First, the deal attempts to “freeze” Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a decade or so, but doesn’t roll it back; its vast nuclear infrastructure of reactors and enrichment facilities may be altered but won’t be dismantled.

That’s troubling.

This state of play will cause Arab and other Sunni countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, perhaps, Turkey to start looking at leveling the nuclear playing field with their Persian, Shia rival
by building programs of their own.

Due to Iranian assertiveness in Syria, Iraq and (to a lesser extent) Yemen, a conventional arms race is also likely to ensue. As sanctions are lifted on Tehran, money will flow into its coffers, allowing its political, economic and military might to grow.

Its neighbors will respond.

One also can’t be comfortable with the idea that not all of Iran’s existing stockpile of fissile material will be shipped out of the country, but instead diluted. That process can be reversed if Iran should decide to do so.

There was also no action on Iran’s long-range missile program which could be used to deliver a nuke to the United States. Indeed, this year Iran could test a space vehicle with ICBM range. ICBMs are designed to carry nukes, by the way.

Iran will also be able to continue to conduct some nuclear research and still hasn’t answered the “PMD” (Possible Military Dimensions) questions posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency over concerns about nuclear warhead development.

Of course, why would Iran want to answer those questions since it would confirm that its nuclear program wasn’t for peaceful power purposes after all?

Fortunately, there’s a very good chance this deal will not be finalized, considering the devilish details that need to negotiated by the next deadline, the end of June.

This includes the pace of economic sanctions relief, nuclear R&D limitations, PMD questions, establishing benchmarks (e.g., nuclear stockpiles), and the need for intrusive challenge inspections to support verification during implementation.

Some have insisted that the only other policy option to the framework as currently proposed is war — so take it or leave it. While the either/or argument sounds compelling, it’s a misleading and false narrative.

There are plenty of policy options between war and this agreement that potentially would have driven a better deal, including more economic sanctions that perhaps would’ve forced Iran to make increased concessions on its program.

Indeed, this pact, instead of decreasing the chances of war, may actually increase the chances of conflict — in that Israel (or others) may feel driven to strike Iran’s nuclear program to address their unmet security concerns.

 - Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Boston Herald