What Next?

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 07-17-2022

Today, Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council for Foreign Policies and a senior advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader,  Ayatollah Khamenei, announced that Iran has enriched uranium to 60% and “we can easily produce 90% enriched uranium. Iran has the technical means to produce a nuclear bomb.” But he added “there has been no decision by Iran to build one.” Kharrazi also noted that Iran would not negotiate on its weapons programs. He did call for a dialogue with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and said that Iran is ready to improve relations with Saudi Arabia.

The presumption should be that, beyond Presidential embarrassment, Iran is, in fact, “breaking out,” Iran is now nuclear capable, and is using the departure of the President from the region to make a definitive move towards Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, moving to establish itself as the lead state in the region, displacing a United States that finds itself spread thin, with the war between Ukraine and Russia, fears of an aggressive China, a looming recession, and a weakened President.

Presumably, Iran will wait a short while to see how the world responds and then move to the next step - provide some sort of proof.

There is, of course, the distinct possibility that they are bluffing, that they don’t have the ability to rapidly put together a weapon, perhaps they don’t even have enough enriched uranium, though that is unlikely. They have more than enough centrifuges and raw ore to play with and they certainly have had the time. If they are bluffing, it would be a very dangerous game they are playing as it may well be that the next thing they hear will be the sound of Israeli aircraft and missiles passing overhead, en route to destroying their various related capabilities for weapons that don’t yet exist.

But the US, as much as it might want to draw back from the region, focus on Europe, and focus on Asia, cannot and should not leave the question of stability, and in fact survival, of friends and allies in the Mid East to the hope that Israel will solve our problems for us. We need to take certain actions.

To begin, the US needs to reassert the concept of a “nuclear umbrella,” making it clear to any states that might be wondering, that they do not need their own nuclear weapons. The worst possible consequence of an Iran break-out would be additional proliferation.

We are already saddled with the Ukraine - Russia war, which is at least in part a consequence of Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal. A failure now of the US to provide a clear statement - and demonstration - of protection to our friends and allies in the Mid East would send a disturbing signal to any number of states that they need their own nuclear weapons.

Then the US needs to ensure that there are capabilities on hand - in adequate numbers and at a high enough state of readiness - to send the signal to Iran that any action on their part against any of our allies will result in an unacceptably high level of damage to Iran.

Then the US needs to move assets into place to visibly assure one and all that no missiles - cruise or ballistic - would be able to reach our allies from Iran. 

And, the US needs to invest enough funds in the development - the research, development, test and evaluation - of various weapon systems that we can begin to counter ballistic missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, aircraft, drones and other delivery systems even in large numbers, and set a course to defang the nuclear arsenals around the world.

We cannot, as was pointed out first by Henry Kissinger, “Un-invent nuclear weapons.” But we can make the ability to deliver them a very difficult event.

It would be wonderful if, while we set a course to spend what will surely be hundreds of billions of dollars in building these systems that there would be a reckoning in Washington and around the country; that the politicians, bureaucrats, academicians and journalists who for years have sought to appease and coddle the various regimes in places like Iran or Russia or China were finally run out of town in disgrace. But that won’t happen. But perhaps, before this whole mess blows up - literally - they can support the necessary steps to protect the world from their mistakes.