- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It’s common and unsettling knowledge that Iran is building “the Bomb” — they have been busy at it for years.

The Iranians have done it like other countries with covert nuclear weapon programs have done it, i.e., North Korea: they joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime as a long-term political ruse, forswore all efforts to build nuclear weapons (a lie) while receiving aid and technology for their “peaceful” atomic energy development — while pursuing a secret program to build a nuclear weapon.

So, if we know what they are up to and what will happen — and there aren’t serious disagreements with the reality of the above assessments — what will we do about it?

Recent political statements about “all options are on the table” or words to that effect, are not nearly clear enough for the Iranians to understand our “red line.” What is it?

A useful precedent: During the Clinton administration, Defense Secretary William Perry suggested we would not allow the North Koreans to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

This has never been repudiated, so one could assume it still represents the basis for a good statement of U.S. policy on the issue, i.e., an inherently dangerous political regime will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Of course, honest people could disagree on whether or when such capability had been achieved, or whether development of a nuclear weapon alone is sufficient — however, as a crisp policy statement, it has a certain bipartisan clarity.

Legally, of course, such a policy is unassailable: Even the United Nations Charter recognizes any nation’s fundamental right of individual or collective self-defense. And, who in the world would be most threatened by the development of a nuclear capability by Iran — France?

Most dangerous, of course, is that radical Islamic clerics really run Iran. Once they develop a nuclear capability, they are very likely to use these weapons — either directly or through a surrogate — to threaten or actually attack us. Traditional deterrence doctrines during the Cold War don’t apply to such radical religious fanatics — their approach to terror has always been to use whatever weapons they have, targeted indiscriminately to inflict the greatest possible death and destruction, and always on civilian populations.

Bottom Line: Nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands are the “perfect” terrorist weapon, and we can absolutely count on them being used against us unless we prevent it.

And, because this is such an inherently dangerous situation, certain presumptions could be made — right now — regarding our evolving policy toward Iran’s nuclear weapons program:

• There soon will be a statement of U.S. policy on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Like other such statements, it will be conciliatory, at least in the beginning, expressing the “hope” Iran cooperates fully with the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime and verifiably scrap its nuclear weapons program.

• Also, and in this context, there probably will be a diplomatic nod to the ongoing discussions between Iran and the European Union (however, it seems clear the Iranians have no intention of doing anything except talk to the EU).

• Next, there will be a clear recital of international law — the U.N. Charter self-defense provision referred to above — and the conclusion Iran’s nuclear weapons program represents a fundamental national security threat to the United States and therefore Iran will not be allowed a nuclear weapons capability.

• Finally, we will expressly reserve to ourselves the nature, extent and timing of our response to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and that all options will be available. This is what we really by “all options are on the table.”

Politically, there would be little disagreement on the need to issue such a clarifying policy statement, especially without Iran’s full repudiation of its nuclear weapons program.

In fact, this policy’s domestic politics are made much easier because it seems very unlikely the Iranians have any intention of abandoning their nuclear weapons program.

Further, there would be little difference in how Republicans or Democrats would “work” such a policy statement with the Congress or the U.N.; this is because the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. agency for NPT compliance, has already determined Iran has most likely embarked on a covert nuclear weapons program.

It’s time to be very, very clear about our policy: Iran must either shut down its nuclear weapons program or have it shut down for them. There will be little debate, either domestically or internationally, on the need to do this — as it would be difficult to imagine a more serious and immediate threat than Iran with a nuclear weapons capability.

In short, if we let them get it, they’ll use it on us.

Daniel J. Gallington is a national security consultant who served in senior national security policy positions and was a member of the U.S. delegation to the nuclear and space talks with the former Soviet Union.

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