Preventing A Nuclear Iran

by Jasmin Ramsey

Now that an interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the 6 world powers known as the P5+1 is being implemented, the atmosphere of “imminent war” that existed around Iran and the US from 2011-2012 may be a fading memory. But as readers of this blog know, that was precisely the case just a couple of years ago, and if we’re not careful, could be again. In his new book, Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Joe Cirincione, a nuclear security expert, examines reigning arguments from those years about how to effectively counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While the debate in DC back then was largely focused on the use of military force, now it’s about diplomacy, which has finally produced tangible results and which Cirincione — the president of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-profit organization focusing on the elimination of nuclear weapons — clearly favors. Here’s an Iran-related book excerpt (prior to this the author notes that, unlike North Korea, Iran is not even close to making a bomb, and its nuclear capabilities are “confined to the nuclear cycle”):

In short, Iran and North Korea are difficult, idiosyncratic regimes skirting on the edge of the international system. But they are not unstoppable threats beyond the capabilities of the United States and its allies and partners. It is possible — and I have long argued — that the nuclear threats presented by North Korea and Iran can be isolated and deterred by the right combination of pressure and incentives. The major powers must constantly remind these nations of the potential benefits of rejoining the community of nations and complying with their international treaty obligations as well as the continued and escalating costs of their failure to do so. Coercive measures alone have never forced a nation into capitulation or compliance. A strategy that couples the pressures of sanctions, diplomatic isolation, investment freezes, travel restrictions, and other economic measures with practical compromises and realizable security agreements can, over the long run, encourage both these nations that they can realize their security, prestige, and regional goals more assuredly through a non-nuclear-weapons path.

Cirincione has an impressive history of nuclear policy work; that’s why what he says matters. He was hired onto the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee in January 1985 and assigned oversight responsibilities for several nuclear programs, including the Strategic Defense Initiative, the MX missile, the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the Trident submarine and NATO policy. Working with both Republican and Democratic members, Cirincione helped craft legislation that reduced the funding for many of these programs and built support for dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons in the Reagan years and beyond. After leaving the House at the end of 1993, he worked for 15 years in Washington think tanks before before joining the Ploughshares Fund in 2008.

In other words, Cirincione, who has spent much of his life working against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is arguing that the most effective way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is by pulling it closer rather than pushing it away. A though-provoking notion, especially as Iran and the P5+1 head into talks for a comprehensive nuclear deal in Vienna on Feb. 18.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. One sober voice in the crowd. I find it somewhat confusing that there are those who profess to know what’s good for the World, seem to be so ignorant about what diplomacy attains. Perhaps it’s because this country has been on a war footing for so long, that they don’t know any better. So many doing the “me too thing”, acting like little Napoleons, and we all know from history where that leads, not considering what a peaceful settlement will achieve. It might even cause North Korea to change its belligerent attitude too.

  2. While this piece, especially the speech by Joe Cirincione, make some sensible points about the danger of nuclear weapons, about a war with Iran and the need to support the ongoing nuclear negotiations, it should be pointed out that some of the conditions that he wishes to impose on Iran for a final agreement are both unrealistic, as well as going against the provisions of the NPT. To demand that Iran stops enriching uranium above 5 per cent, gets rid of her stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, reduces her centrifuges to less than half, closes all her nuclear installations except only one may be what the hawks and the neocons demand, but it is dangerous to give the impression that if Iran does not accept those rules she has acted against the law.

    The NPT that is the document that has been recognized as a bargain between the countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that don’t demands that non-nuclear powers will refrain from manufacturing nuclear weapons but it does not limit the number of their centrifuges or the extent of their peaceful nuclear activities. Incidentally, it also requires nuclear powers to get rid of their nuclear weapons, something that they have refused to do. The reason behind the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and some of her European allies was allegedly to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. If Iran shows complete transparency as she has vowed to do and proves that her nuclear activities are peaceful the sanctions should be lifted without making more unreasonable demands. The alternative would be either Iran’s total surrender, which is unlikely, or a war that will be disastrous for everyone.

  3. Sanctions are the only means short of attack in Iran’s nuclear facilities to insure Iran does not possess nuclear weapons. Iran has never exhibited in its past history an ability to abide by international agreements unless it meets their needs. A religiously governed theocracy obeys no law except its own unassailable belief in god and that is the most dangerous government to simply trust to do the right thing.

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