A Nuclear Iran – the MAD Hatter’s Dance
As reported in August by The Muslim News, an online newspaper aimed at English-speaking Muslims in England and worldwide, Iran is fully justified in its quest for nuclear weapons, because it faces “a perilous future of being enveloped by unfriendly states, beholden to U.S. interests.”
According to The Muslim News:
“It is clear that developing nuclear weapons is in the national interests of Tehran. While Tehran cannot openly develop nuclear weapons – due to the international outcry it would warrant – it can continue its research into peaceful nuclear energy all the while preparing for a possible day when it could quickly develop its first nuclear weapons and become a nuclear-armed state. Such status would shield Iran from a variety of outside threats – including ones emanating from its traditional rivals, the United States and Israel – but also from the newly formed governments in Kabul and Baghdad.
The Muslim News outlines a scenario wherein Iran threatens nuclear retaliation against any nation that launches an attack against its sovereignty. It points out that even the United States or Israel would be unlikely to project sufficient clout to take out Iran ’s entire nuclear arsenal in a first strike, thus making it possible for Iran to launch a devastating counter blow against an attacker. This, concludes The Muslim News, would serve to deter such a strike in the first place.
While not exactly Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) within the context of 20th century nuclear diplomacy, the prospect of an Iran capable of launching any kind of nuclear attack is alarming. Begging the question for a moment of whether Iran actually possesses nuclear weapons, let’s examine Tehran ’s ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
From information compiled from various intelligence sources, Iran currently has the following ballistic missile types:
|2,100-2,250 (2 stage)||Unknown||LRICBM3|
2,400-2,600 (3 stage)
- Medium Range Ballistic Missile
- Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile
- Long Range Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
- Indigenously developed system with similar performance to the Soviet SS-4.
- Indigenously derived version of North Korea ‘s NKSL-1.
- Indigenously developed system with similar performance to the Soviet SS-5.
- Indigenously derived version of North Korea ‘s NKSL-X-2. The claimed range probably exceeds what is technically feasible. It most likely is similar in performance to the Soviet SS-5 (2,400-2,600).
The thing to keep in mind here is that most of Iran ’s missile inventory numbers are unknown. While we believe that the Shahab 4 through 6 and the IRSL-X-2 are still in development, we really have no idea what the stage of this development is. Since they each are derived from already existing models from North Korea and other sources, the actual development path may be quite short.
The following map, supplied courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists, shows the range from Tehran that current missile systems can target, and also shows the ranges for the missiles under development. From this map it is clear that all of Europe and even the borders of the United States are potential targets of a nuclear- armed Iran.
Courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists, Washington, D.C.
In-depth analysis from the Nixon Institute and current intelligence estimates give Tehran the ability to enrich both Uranium and Plutonium to weapons-grade quality. This, alone, does not give Iran nuclear weapons, however. The step from possessing the necessary materials to constructing a device that will actually produce a nuclear detonation is highly complex, and virtually beyond the reach of most Third World nations. Nevertheless, Iran has technicians trained by Russia, China and North Korea who are, at least in principle, capable of taking this step.
Even though it is unlikely that Tehran actually has nuclear weapons right now, it is virtually certain that it will possess them sometime in the relatively near future. What is more alarming is that Iran already has the means for delivering these weapons in the region, and will soon be able to deliver them throughout Europe.
It is easy to focus on nuclear weapons when discussing WMD, because these devices are the preferred weapons for planners and strategic thinkers. They have known yields and known effects that are well understood, and can be factored into any planned scenario. Other WMDs, however, are less predictable, and so their incorporation into future plans is fraught with uncertainties.
For Tehran , however, its perceived vulnerability is immediate. It sees itself surrounded by hostile intent. The United States already has forcibly removed the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. It sees itself in line for similar treatment.
With its nuclear arsenal still in the production pipeline, Tehran has turned to chemical and biological weapons to establish an immediate deterrent ability.
Iran ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, obligating itself to eliminate its chemical weapons program over a period of years. Nevertheless, with Chinese assistance Iran has continued its development of a large self-supporting CW infrastructure, and it continues to upgrade and expand its chemical warfare production infrastructure and munitions arsenal.
Tehran currently manufactures weapons for blister, blood and choking agents, and it is conducting research on nerve agents. Iran ’s stockpile of chemical weapons is believed to include nerve and blister agents. Iran stockpiles several thousand tons of sulfur, mustard, phosgene, and cyanide agents. Iran ’s production capacity is 1,000 tons a year from its production facilities 300 km. east of Tehran at Damghan.
Even though Iran has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention, it has had a viable biological research program since the Iran-Iraq war, and has dramatically ramped up its capability since the 1991 Gulf War. Its biological weapons program is in what might be called an advanced research and development phase. Since Iran has excellent pharmaceutical capability and highly qualified, trained scientists, and since it also possesses the necessary commercial and military infrastructure, it may already have produced pilot quantities of usable biological agents.
Although Iran does not need outside assistance for its biological weapons program, Russia has been supplying both information and personnel. Tehran has located its BW lab near its CW production facilities at Damghan, where it has investigated both toxins and live organisms, produced some agents, and weaponized some of its production.
It is possible, therefore, that Iran already has a small BW arsenal with the certain capability of delivering it regionally.
So what we have is a frightened Iran, surrounded by perceived potentially belligerent neighbors, with sufficient chemical and biological agents to cause a lot of mayhem and death, and with an incipient nuclear capability that could be brought on line at almost any moment. This situation is real and immediate. It won’t go away, and with time can only grow worse.
To this observer, the only viable solution is the application of force, and the sooner, the better. A preemptive attack by the United States with or without its allies is the only sure way to remove the cocked gun from Tehran’s shaking hand. A thousand-ton per year chemical capacity equals about three tons per day. Every day counts!
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor