The West's obsession with the idea that Iran may be developing a nuclear weapon may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. -- On Monday, BBC News called attention to a new report from the Oxford Research Group saying that "military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms." -- A description of the 27-page report and a link to a .pdf file are posted below. -- In a foreword to the report, which was written by nuclear physicist Frank Barnaby, Hans Blix says he "fully agree[s]" with Barnaby's conclusion that "it would be several years before the present Iranian programs for the enrichment of uranium and possible production of plutonium could result in weapons and that there is time for diplomacy," and "that military attacks on Iranian nuclear installations would be disastrous and counterproductive." -- The foreword, executive summary, and introduction of the report are reproduced below. -- The rest of the report describes what is known about the histories and capabilities of Iran's nuclear program (8 pages), the possible impact of air strikes on the program (2 pages), how Iran might be able to build a nuclear weapon even in the aftermath of such attacks (4 pages), and makes the following concluding remarks: "If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capability at present, it is doing so relatively slowly. In theory, military attacks on the centrifuge plant at Natanz and the Bushehr reactor could set back progress towards this goal. However, this assumes that Iran will continue to work at a similar pace post- as pre-military action. -- In the aftermath of a military strike, and if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time: less than the two years muted as the time military strikes would set back its current program. The argument that military strikes would buy needed time is flawed. It does not take into account the time already available to pursue diplomacy; it inflates the likelihood of military success and underplays the possibility of hardened Iranian determination leading to a nuclear crash program. Post military attacks, it is possible that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon and would then wield one in an environment of incalculably greater hostility." ...
REPORT WARNS AGAINST IRAN ATTACK
March 5, 2007
Military strikes against Iran could speed Tehran's development of nuclear weapons, according to a U.K. think tank.
A report by the Oxford Research Group says military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms.
Iran denies Western claims it is trying to build weapons, saying its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
The study comes as the U.N. nuclear watchdog is set to discuss the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
In February, Iran ignored a deadline set by the UN Security Council to stop enriching uranium.
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was instead expanding the program.
Enriched uranium is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, but highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs.
Western powers have threatened to expand sanctions on Iran. These could include travel bans on Iranian officials associated with nuclear and missile programs.
The U.S. has not ruled out using force but says it wants to give diplomacy a chance.
The Oxford Research Group report is written by nuclear scientist and arms expert Frank Barnaby.
"If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity it is doing so relatively slowly, most estimates put it at least five years away," he says.
Mr. Barnaby adds that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would almost certainly lead to a fast-track program to develop a small number of nuclear devices as quickly as possible."
He says it "would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory."
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says that with two U.S. navy aircraft carrier strike groups in the Gulf region and U.S. spokesmen refusing to rule out force, this study is timely and highlights what most air power experts have been saying for some time.
An operation to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities would be neither brief nor limited in scope, our correspondent says. Multiple targets would have to be hit, and the outcome would be far from clear, especially if Iran has hidden facilities unknown to U.S. intelligence.
But he points out that this is not a military study -- written by a noted atomic scientist and peace campaigner, it looks more at the aftermath of a potential U.S. attack and questions the central rationale for any military operation.
On Monday the IAEA board of governors is due to discuss both Iran and North Korea.
The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says that while there is little progress on the Iranian nuclear file there has been movement on North Korea.
Last month Pyongyang agreed to take the first steps towards nuclear disarmament, as part of a deal reached during talks in Beijing.
Under the agreement, North Korea promised to shut down its main nuclear reactor in return for fuel aid.
WOULD AIR STRIKES WORK? UNDERSTANDING IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM AND THE POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF A MILITARY STRIKE
By Frank Barnaby, with a foreword by Dr. Hans Blix
Oxford Research Group
The prospect of a nuclear Iran causes acute concern not only in the United States and Israel, but also in Europe, the Middle East, and most of the rest of the world. Recent indications from the USA point towards possible military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets. The aim of such strikes would be to put back by many years any ambitions elements in the Iranian regime may have for nuclear weapons.
This report is an assessment of:
* What is known of Iran's nuclear program.
* How that program could be diverted towards military ends.
* Whether military strikes would succeed in preventing Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
Frank Barnaby concludes that far from stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, military attacks would probably accelerate Iran's nuclear programme.
The reasons for this counter-intuitive outcome are that:
* Limited intelligence about Iran's nuclear program means that many hundreds of strikes would still not destroy all nuclear related facilities and materials.
* Iran could then move from a gradual and relatively open nuclear program, to a clandestine crash nuclear weapons program using secret facilities, salvaged materials, and possibly procuring supplies from the black market, outside of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty controls.
* Under crash nuclear weapons program conditions, Iran could build a nuclear weapon within two years if the decision was made. Which is less time than the evidence suggests Iran could manage with the current program.
In the long-term, the report concludes, Iran cannot be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities.
WOULD AIR STRIKES WORK?
By Frank Barnaby with a foreword by Hanx Blix
** Understanding Iran's nuclear program and the possible consequences of a military strike **
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Barnaby is Nuclear Issues Consultant to Oxford Research Group. He is a nuclear physicist by training and worked at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston between 1951-57. He was on the senior scientific staff of the Medical Research Council when a university lecturer at University College London (1957-67). He was Executive Secretary of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in the late 1960s and Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from 1971-81. His books include: The Invisible Bomb (Tauris, 1989), The Gaia Peace Atlas (Pan, 1989), The Automated Battlefield (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987), Star Wars (Fourth Estate, 1987), Future Warfare (Michael Joseph, 1986) and The Role and Control of Military Force in the 1990s.
By Hans Blix
The ultimate aim of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty was a nuclear-weapon free world. All states without non-nuclear weapons were invited to commit themselves to remain without these weapons and the five states that had tested such weapons were invited to commit themselves to nuclear disarmament.
Incentives to acquire nuclear weapons flow in most cases from perceived security interests or from a wish for recognition and status. Success in preventing a spread of the weapons and in eliminating existing arsenals depends on states coming to the conclusion that their security interests and status do not call for nuclear weapons.
The end of the Cold War has been and remains singularly helpful to lower tensions and to increase security in many parts of the world. Practical cooperation between states bilaterally, regionally or through international organizations has the same effect. By contrast, new nuclear arms programs in nuclear weapon states, antimissile programs, space weapon developments, and threats of armed attacks or of actions to bring about regime change through armed force or subversion, increase security concerns. In cases like North Korea and Iran it is not the threat or use of armed force but the absence thereof that will help to ensure non-proliferation.
This report does not reject the contention that a wish to develop nuclear weapons or at least the option to acquire such weapons may be part of the reason for Iran’s program for the enrichment of uranium. Today, it does not matter much what the Iranian intention is, if, indeed, there is an agreed intention. After all, whatever the intention today, it could change in two years time. Inducing Iran to suspend the enrichment program at least for a prolonged period of time would -- all agree -- be desirable to reduce tensions in the Middle East and to give time for other efforts with the same aim. The question is how to induce Iran to join this conclusion.
With much technical knowledge this study argues, that it would be several years before the present Iranian programs for the enrichment of uranium and possible production of plutonium could result in weapons and that there is time for diplomacy. It further argues that military attacks on Iranian nuclear installations would be disastrous and counterproductive. I fully agree.
In the case of Iraq, the armed action launched aimed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction -- that did not exist. It led to tragedy and regional turmoil. In the case of Iran armed action would be aimed at intentions -- that may or may not exist. However, the same result -- tragedy and regional turmoil -- would inevitably follow. Further, as argued in this study, armed attacks on Iran would very likely lead to the result they were meant to avoid -- the building of nuclear weapons within few years.
It is inconceivable that the Security Council would authorize armed action against alleged intentions. Such action would therefore present another contravention of the U.N. Charter, raising the question whether anything was left of the Charter’s provisions on the threat and use of force. If Iranian nuclear power plants at Bushehr were to be targeted, when they have begun to operate, such attacks would also violate the 1977 Additional Geneva Protocol (Art. 56), which protects such plants.
The conclusion is clear: diplomacy must be used to persuade Iran at least to suspend its enrichment program for a prolonged period of time. However, it is illogical to ask Iran to suspend its enrichment program before any diplomatic negotiations take place about the conditions for the suspension. It is time for serious talk -- not for humiliating preconditions.
Hans Blix, Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission
14 February 2007
** Far from setting back Iran’s nuclear program, a military attack might create the political conditions in which Iran could accelerate its nuclear weapons program. This is the conclusion of this detailed analysis of Iran’s nuclear program, which adds further weight to the case that diplomacy must be made to work. **
To date, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been unable to confirm or rule out allegations that Iran has ambitions to become a nuclear weapons power. Uncertainty as to the extent of Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s advances towards mastering the enrichment process has led some in the U.S. and Israeli administrations to argue that military action must be taken before it is too late. Advocates of early military action argue that the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are such that military strikes are justified, whether a smoking gun is found or not. But what would be the effect of military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities? Could they really buy a significant amount of time? And is it possible that Iran could construct a crash nuclear program in the aftermath of an attack?
This report provides a detailed briefing on the Iranian nuclear program as well as a breakdown of individual facilities. It sets out the paths open to Iran should it wish to pursue a nuclear weapon capability. It argues that, alongside other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is reasonable to assume that Iran has conducted research and development into the fabrication of nuclear weapons. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Iran has embarked on production engineering -- putting in place the technical facilities needed to build a bomb -- and it is known that it is some way off being able to produce the amount of fissile material needed to produce a nuclear weapon.
Among advocates for military action are those who argue that only by setting back the Iranian nuclear program militarily will it be possible to ensure that Iran does not master the enrichment process and thereby attain all the knowledge necessary to produce a nuclear arsenal, should it choose to do so.
Based on an analysis of Iran’s current program, this report argues that there is still time to allow diplomacy to work. Furthermore, the case for military action must be assessed carefully. The contention that military action will set back Iran’s nuclear program significantly can and should be questioned.
QUESTIONING THE CASE FOR MILITARY ACTION
Iran’s nuclear program is extensive and dispersed; a military strike would have to contend with:
A large number of targets;
Well-protected and hidden facilities;
Inadequate intelligence; and
The likely survival of key scientists and technicians.
If the aim of military strikes is to destroy key nuclear facilities, they would have to target: the Kalaye Electric Company that produces components for gas centrifuges; the nuclear power reactor at Bushehr; the heavy-water reactor under construction and the heavy water production plant at Arak; the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz, the uranium mines and mills at Saghand, and the research reactors at Isfahan.
There is an inherent contradiction in arguments that a military strike could both encompass all key facilities and be surgical and brief. A compromise would have to be made on either the scale or military action or the certainty of success. In either case, the numbers of innocent civilian casualties would probably be high because a surprise attack would catch many people unawares and unprotected.
There is a real possibility that Iran has constructed secret facilities in the anticipation of a military strike. It is also conceivable that Iran has built false targets, installations that appear to hold nuclear facilities but in fact act as decoys. With inadequate intelligence, it is unlikely that it would be possible to identify and subsequently destroy the number of targets needed to set back Iran’s nuclear program for a significant period. Furthermore, with the probable survival of key scientific personnel, it would only be a matter of time before Iran could rebuild its nuclear program. The question is, how much time?
If Iran’s nuclear facilities were severely damaged during an attack, it is possible that Iran could embark on a crash program to make one nuclear weapon. In the aftermath of an attack, it is likely that popular support for an Iranian nuclear weapon capability would increase, bolstering the position of hardliners and strengthening arguments that Iran must possess a nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, Iran has threatened to withdraw from the NPT and, should it do so post-attack, would build a clandestine program free of international inspection and control. In the aftermath of an attack, following a political decision to change the nature of the nuclear program to construct a bomb as quickly as possible, Iran could:
1. Use stored, fresh nuclear fuel to produce HEU in a small centrifuge facility to fabricate a weapon.
2. Chemically remove plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel elements -- from the Bushehr or Arak reactors, if either were operational - -and use it to fabricate a nuclear weapon.
3. Assemble new centrifuges and produce highly enriched uranium (HEU). Some centrifuges might survive a military attack, but it is conceivable that Iran has stored additional centrifuges in secure locations.
This process would be hastened if Iran had a secret supply of uranium hexafluoride or if it had constructed a small primitive reactor, fuelled with natural uranium, to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. It is also possible that, post-attack, Iran could purchase additional needed materials from sympathetic states or on the black market.
In the aftermath of a military strike, if Iran devoted maximum effort and resources to building one nuclear bomb, it could achieve this in a relatively short amount of time: some months rather than years. The argument that military strikes would buy time is flawed. It does not take into account the time already available to pursue diplomacy; it inflates the likelihood of military success and underplays the possibility of hardened Iranian determination leading to a crash nuclear program. Post military attacks, it is possible that Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon and would then wield one in an environment of incalculably greater hostility.
It is a mistake to believe that Iran can be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities, and presumably continuing to do so should Iran then reconstitute its program.