Threat Assessment Briefs are provided as part of the "Realistic Threat Assessments and Responses Project" led by ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann. Each brief takes an objective look at key security threats, and considers policy responses to those threats.
Even as tensions over Iran’s nuclear program rise, the principal parties engaged in the issue say that they seek a peaceful resolution through diplomacy. Earlier this month, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili reportedly sent a letter to European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton—who represents the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)—in response to the six-country offer for the renewal of serious talks on Iran’s nuclear program. With the P5+1 insisting that a diplomatic path to resolve the issue remains open and Tehran’s professed interest in dialogue, the question arises: what steps could the two sides take to resolve the impasse?
The Nov. 2011 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency details why the international community remains deeply concerned about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. While sanctions and other measures have slowed down Iran’s movement toward acquiring a nuclear weapons option, Tehran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities and has so far refused to implement the confidence building steps necessary to ensure it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in early November attracted intense media interest and stimulated strong political reactions in the United States and around the world. The IAEA report and its 14-page annex represented a milestone for the Vienna-based agency in terms of its willingness to present detailed information to the public on activities of concern in Iran’s nuclear program.
Shortly after the early September release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear program, the Arms Control Association assembled a panel of top experts to assess the status of Iran’s nuclear effort and examine strategies to address it. The September 19 briefing for Congressional staffers was part of an ongoing series of briefings organized by ACA and its partners on “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”
With Russia’s ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the stage is now set for new discussions between Washington and Moscow on further steps toward reducing the two states’ enormous nuclear arsenals that together comprise more than 90 percent of total nuclear weapons worldwide. Based on statements in Russia’s ratification documents and the statements of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, continued U.S.-Russian disagreements on missile defenses threaten to undermine those future talks. U.S. policymakers need to consider ways to prevent strategic missile defense system development and deployment from becoming an obstacle to progress in enhancing stability and reducing nuclear dangers. In his latest Threat Assessment Brief, ACA’s senior fellow Greg Thielmann analyzes the nature of the U.S.-Russian missile defense challenge.
The multilayered limits of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the elaborate verification measures flowing out of them were born of the difficult negotiations conducted in the waning days of the Soviet Union. The streamlined verification measures in the New START agreement, finalized in April 2010, are an appropriate response to the replacement treaty’s specific limits, which are designed to address post-Cold War realities. Combining proof-tested measures from 15 years of START implementation with new approaches to contemporary challenges, New START verification provisions are well suited to fulfill their core function. These provisions promise to permit the same high confidence in compliance achieved when the original START was in force, but will do so with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative verification provisions for monitoring deployed warhead ceilings.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) promises to lock in significant reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals by establishing lower ceilings on deployed weapons. The treaty’s veriﬁcation provisions are means to that end--providing conﬁdence that the sides are complying with those lower limits. Although the goal is to establish the high conﬁdence levels maintained during the 15 years of the original START (1994-2009), the successor agreement will achieve that goal with more focused and up-to-date methods, including innovative veriﬁcation provisions for deployed warhead ceilings. START’s multilayered limits and the elaborate veriﬁcation measures ﬂowing out of them were born of the Cold War. New START veriﬁcation can be streamlined in accordance with the new, simpliﬁed limits and in response to post-Cold War realities. In assessing the new treaty, it is critical that veriﬁcation provisions be judged by how well they fulﬁll their core function.
The nearly 2,000 nuclear warheads on Russian ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles constitute the sole near-term existential threat to the United States. The U.S. response to this threat has been to maintain the nuclear war-fighting posture adopted during the Cold War. Yet, this posture does not lead toward an improvement in U.S. security; it merely reinforces Russia’s incentive to persist in its own anachronistic security calculus. The New START and a transformational post-Cold War Nuclear Posture Review would clear the path for major U.S. and Russian arms reductions, laying the foundation for a rejuvenated effort to halt nuclear nonproliferation and for engaging other nuclear-weapon states in arms control.
The Obama administration has identified September as a time for reassessing its approach to negotiation with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program. It is imperative that this reassessment be based on a realistic appraisal of Iran's weaponization capabilities and limitations and not fall prey to politically motivated hyperbole. Iran's nuclear program is undeniably bringing that country closer to an ability to construct nuclear weapons-bad news for the region, the United States, and the world. Yet, a nuclear-armed Iran is years, not months, away, which is ample time for negotiating an outcome that prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon state while strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Although the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons is a major concern for Israel and the United States, leaving the "military option" on the table is counterproductive. Preventive military action by either country against Iran's nuclear facilities would only delay, rather than halt, Tehran's nuclear program, and it would cause Iran to retaliate against the United States as well as Israel. The aftermath of such an attack would be disastrous for the U.S.position in the region-particularly for relations with Israel and with Iraq-and its position in the wider world.