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.