Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to explain Iran's nuclear negotiations posture in terms Obama can understand

Sar Shalom

When Barack Obama started his effort to bring universal health coverage, he initially tried to get some Republican support for his efforts by offering to adjust his plans to their concerns. He tried to tailor his plans to win the support of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. In every case, whenever he made a requested change, the response was the he or she still could not accept it. Sometimes this was accompanied by some additional change that would be necessary, sometimes not. Eventually, Obama came to the realization that the Republican idea on negotiating health reform was to keep saying that an agreement was just over the horizon so that Obama would waste his time seeking an agreement thus limiting what else he could do. In the case of health reform, running out the clock would have meant continuing the negotiations until Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer, thus eliminating any chance that Obama could achieve a partisan bill in the absence of any Republicans agreeing to universal coverage.

Such is the case with Iran's nuclear negotiating strategy. Whether or not you agree with my assessment of the Republicans' health care negotiation strategy, it is highly likely that those arguing that we should just give the negotiations with Iran more time to succeed would and a certainty among those in the administration. In the case of Iran, "running out the clock" would mean continuing the negotiations until Iran develops enough fuel to reach breakout capacity. At that point, Iran could build several nuclear weapons in response to any punitive action and have them ready before those measures achieve any impact. The one possible exception would be an Operation Iranian Freedom undertaken without debate, but in which the President declared the clerical regime was negotiating in bad faith and the next day troops would land in Khuzestan and in Sistan and Beluchistan with an advance to Tehran as quick as Operation Iraqi Freedom's advance to Baghdad.

It is time to do in the negotiations with Iran over their nuclear developments what Obama did in his negotiations with the Republicans over health reform.


  1. How many years before an Iranian bomb?

    2? 3?

    Maybe 5?

    I will be pleasantly surprised if, come 2020, Iran does not possess nuclear weaponry.

    I am guessing that Iran probably will not go nuclear within the remaining time of Obama's term, thus giving Obama the ability to claim that he prevented Iran from going nuclear on his watch.

  2. Breakout capacity is a rhetorical tool. It's employed today by Japan (and Germany!) to define their strategy. While both countries nominally claim to legally bar the development of atomic weapons what they both ascribe to is 'breakout capacity'. In use doctrine this is called the last screw protocol or the last screw problem. What it essentially states is that you are technically in compliance of not deploying a weapon if you have completed all the steps short of turning the proverbial last screw. In common parlance this usually thought of as a one month window. Build everything you can up to the point where another 30 days are required to stuff an operational deployable weapon on a missile. But this means that the whatever you have to do to make it deployable is included in that window. It could mean that the bomb is actually complete and all that has to be done is test a missile to see if it can fly right with a bomb stuck on it. It doesn't imply though that you know if the bomb, once flung on a missile won't break and it will actually work right. But that's somewhat irrelevant. You already have a bomb, you already have a missile, you know the missile flies and you know more or less that the bomb will probably work. Now having said that, the engineering and physics aren't foolproof. What India, Pakistan and North Korea have all done is dummy up their own results by detonating multiple bombs at the same time and calling it a test whereas the efficacy of any one bomb is likely a dud.

    The problem for us is whether we'd trust the Obama administration to be truthful about some of what they know. That's debatable. If Iran has done some high pressure detonation tests of triggering explosives, some testing of bridge wires, some testing of package shaping, implosion hydrodynamics, shock testing, reliability analysis then we would hope that they actually admit to knowing whether those things have or have not occurred. It's fairly hard for EVERYONE to not know whether they have done this. Israel has numerous spy satellites over Iran to tell them this. We'd hope they haven't missed much. But again, once you have most of it it's not entirely relevant any more.

    South Africa was able to put together 6-8 'crude' Hiroshima gun-type atomic bombs which were no more sophisticated that what they could drop from a Canberra bomber or even out the back of a cargo plane. The US never tested the Hiroshima design before they used it because it was simple enough to have high reliability. It was developed in case Trinity failed and the Nagasaki design wasn't available.

    So...'breakout' is a legalistic device used to hit them with sanctions. It's not a statement of deployable functionality. What do I think? I think Iran is already past that point. I think what's stopping them is politics not science. They most likely have the ability to cobble together an atomic bomb today. Will it fit on a missile? Probably not. But the tradeoff is crude and reliable vs the amount of nuclear fuel you have to use. The cruder your device the more precious uranium you have to consume. A crude bomb today might be a one and done proposition - use most or all of their fuel for one crude bomb vs refine the technology to make several smaller bombs. That might be a tradeoff Iran is willing to make. I suspect this is what's behind Obama's appeasement. They told him to lay off or their one and done bomb might be used. Iran is probably weighing whether anyone would actually respond even if just economically, to an atomic strike on Israel or Saudi Arabia. Iran may think that if they can successful fool the west into believing that they have more nuclear capability than they really do, that were they to attack Tel Aviv or Riyadh that the US wouldn't respond certainly not in kind and maybe not at all.

  3. Maybe we should send the First Lady over there to deal with them. I get the sense that she knows how to deal with tyrants and thugs better than anyone in the administration, or most of Congress.

  4. Don't forget this is the extension of the extension of the deadline. When that extension runs out he'll simply decree another. If a democrat wins in 2016 then on inauguration day Iran will finally announce they are a nuclear state and demand the withdrawal of all infidels from the mideast and west Asia.

  5. As the site owner, I think that I can speak for Sar Shalom when I say, feel free to go ahead and republish. Just give full attribution and a link back.

    Thanks for dropping by.