17 March 2012

Iran, Nukes, Peace: Part I

I didn't see it when it came out but, due to continuing controversy, I recently bumped into the International Atomic Energy Agency's report on developments with regard to nuclear energy within the Islamic Republic of Iran, a report issued in November 2011. For those who want a link: here.

One big issue these days is whether Iran has been preparing a bomb of a sort -- or preparing for a situation in which it could rapidly assemble a bomb in a final few-weeks-long breakout -- that could reasonably instigate an Israeli pre-emptive strike, and even what seems to have been the assassination of Iranian nuke scientists by the Mossad.

Here are some pertinent passages from the IAEA:  "Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information." That's a ten-year period (but who's counting?) -- time enough to have accomplished something.

More recent news?  The IAEA has "had direct discussions with a number of individuals who were involved in relevant activities in Iran, including ... an interview with a leading figure in the nuclear supply network," i.e. a clandestine international network that provides goods, services, and information pertinent to weaponization of nuclear materials.

In general, the IAEA says that it "has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme. After assessng carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible."
In general, the report uses diplomatic language but leaves one with the clear  impression that Iran does not now have nuclear weapons, but has been working toward that end, and will likely have nuclear weapons in the near future if not blocked.

I recently came across -- was directed to -- an AlterNet essay called "10 Myths About Iran -- and Why They're Dead Wrong." The overall theme of the essay is that there is no good reason for the rest of the world, including Israel, to regard itself as threatened by Iran.  I applaud their pursuit of the goal of peace, and I agree that the calls for war -- yet another war! -- require resistence. For reasons I will discuss in Part II, I can't let that stop me from pointing out sloppy reasoning when I see it, and AlterNet is guilty of some. Again, here is a link.

Alternet starts off by debunking the myth that Iran already has a bomb. For this purpose, it prominently cites the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Fine with me.

As the second point of its list of ten, Alternet then debunks the "myth" that Iran is "rushing to build a nuclear weapon." I sniff here a whiff of wordgamesmanship.  Like scrabble but not as fun. At what point in the development of such a device is one "rushing" to do it. If they've been working on it at a deliberate pace, but they've been doing so since 2002 or so, they might well be near completion even without any "rushing"!

So let's just interpret this "myth" as the view that Iran may well be close to completing work on a nuclear weapon. That "myth" is, according to the IAEA as we've just seen, not a myth at all, but their inference from years of study.

Alternet treats IAEA as a sound authority for debunking the first "myth" and then simply ignores IAEA when dealing with the second. Alternet doesn't say, "yes, IAEA supports this, and they are sometimes right as we've just acknowledged, but we think they are wrong this time because [give reason here.]" No ... in making their second point, Alternet just lets IAEA drop out of the discussion altogether!

This is lame on the face of it. If they have a good reason for believing IAEA a good authority on some subjects then they should at least be worthy of an explicit mention with regard to a closely related second point. If there is good reason to reject IAEA's statements on that second point, why not let us in on it?  If they believe IAEA an unreliable source generally, why bring them up at all? 

And what evidence or source would hold weight for AlterNet in coming to believe something they don't want to believe? If the answer to that last question is "none," then that answer renders all other questions rather moot, doesn't it?

Further, there is no reason to believe it beyond them, sanctions or not. This isn't some state-of-the-art thing. This is 1940s technology. It's like making a radio with vacuum tubes. Heck, North Korea is capable of it.

A related point: the technology for delivering it is of 1940s vintage, too. You don't need a North-Pole straddling ICBM to get a bomb from Qom to Tel Aviv. You only need the sort of missile that Von Braun was making, in wartime conditions. Von Braun was working in conditions of greatre hardship  than anything the sanctions have created for Iran, in German held territory in the summer of 1944. It was high tech then, of course. It isn't high tech now.

In January, the Federation of American Scientists put out their own report on the subject. Its conclusion:  "We are still in a stage where the numbers of new centrifuges Iran installs and
their effective performance have significant effect on its time to a bomb. As total enrichment capacity
at FEP grows and especially as Iran continues to stockpile 20-percent uranium, we are entering a phase in which Iran’s enrichment capacity will no longer be the important rate-limiting step in producing a bomb because breakout time will be in the order of weeks, not months."

It is very possible, even IMHO likely, that Iran is working to position itself for a 'breakout,' a quick period of the final assembly. What is more clear is that Israeli policy makers are quite rational in worrying about such a possibility.

There is a difference between war-fighting weapons and deterrence weapons. The US and the USSR faced off for decades with huge stockpiles of deterrence nuclear weapons. They didn't try to hide these from each other. In fact, they were quite public about their respective arsenals, because weapons don't deter anybody unless the other fellow thinks or knows you have them. So if you have the weapons for deterrence, it makes sense to be quite open about them.

If you are developing a weapon for the purpose of actually using it (as the US was while the war with Japan was underway) the information imperative works the other way. You don't want your foe to know what you have up your sleeve. You'll have the work go on in the middle of a desert and keep it all hush-hush until your break-out.

Under all these circumstances I can see why Israeli policy makers quite rationally regard an Iranian capability as a real threat, and why they don't regard the sort of re-assurances provided in the AlterNet piece as being especially ... reassuring.

Further, it was back in 2005, three years after IAEA says the "undisclosed nuclear related activities" began, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a chillingly explicit statement of his intentions. Not only is there, he said, a "new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine and ... growing tumult in the Islamic world" that will "in no time wipe Israel away," but even nations that merely recognize Israel will "burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury."

His intentions as so expressed far exceed his capacity. But his intentions are such as to make one want to keep a very close eye on his capacities.

Okay ... I've gone on for a bit now.  I've written books that were a quicker read than this post has likely been. But I have to say: none of what I've just said in any way justifies nor should it even excuse the rush to war in some quarter -- the warlike language of every Republican candidate for President not named Ron Paul, for example, [here, by way of contrast, is a link to Paul's sensible view].

So: if I want peace why have I expended such effort making these points? 

Tomorrow, sings Annie. Tomorrow.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.