Iran — nuclear threat? Posted by: Jon Henke
on Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Let's take the "nuclear Iran = mushroom cloud over New York" crowd at their word for a moment. If this is the calculation that should drive our foreign policy towards Iran, what steps should we expect that crowd to endorse?
Clearly, Iran does not have a missile program capable of reaching the United States — or even come close. In 2004, Iran announced that it had upgraded its Shahab-3 missile to a range of 2000km. Jane's describes the "enhanced Shahab", with "ranges of 1,300 km-1,500 km and 2,000 km respectively". However, it's very doubtful Iran could produce a small enough nuclear payload for that missile.
Any potential nuclear weapon Iran could produce would be limited to use in its own neighborhood for quite some time...
Iran’s chances of building an ICBM that can reach the United States arer pretty low for the near term—Iran would have to build a missile with a range of 9,000 or 10,000 km. Delivering a warhead with an ICBM also requires a shielded re-entry vehicle to protect the warhead that impose a substantial weight penalty.
Still, the US IC—as of 2005—judged that “Iran will have the technical capability to develop an ICBM by 2015” although “it is not clear whether Iran has decided to field such a missile.”
So, if a nuclear Iran really does pose a direct "mushroom cloud" threat to the United States, the only viable delivery mechanism left to them is what you might call manual delivery: terrorism.
If the Right is genuinely concerned about a nuclear Iran posing a direct threat to the US, it follows that they loudly support a terrorism equivalent to the missile defense program, right?
Today, House Republicans voted almost unanimously against an amendment to beef up port security and install radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry. They also blocked consideration of an amendment to require 100% scanning of shipping containers entering the United States. I think this tells you just how seriously they take the actual threat of a nuclear Iran.
And, while Chertoff says we're working on increasing security this year, security is lax
Two teams of government investigators using fake documents were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources to make two dirty bombs, according to a federal report made available Monday.
There are legitimate reasons to worry about a nuclear Iran, but those reasons are predominantly the prestige, flexibility and influence it would give the Iranian regime in the Middle East, rather than actual nuclear attacks.
Insofar as nuclear strikes are a concern, though — really, from any nuclear or near-nuclear rogue state — hawks don't appear to be taking the defense steps that correspond to their demagoguery.
There is still no evidence of any nuclear weapons program in Iran anyway — only the assumption that IF Iran acquires civilian nuclear technology that it is entitled to have, it COULD use the technology to build bombs at some indefinite point in the future — and the same can be said of many other countries.
So where are we going to scan all the containers, Jon? At the dock while they are off-loaded? While that would prevent cities such as Dallas from being nuked by a container bomb, I should think that a low-yield nuke in New York harbor would create enough damage to satisfy most terrorist groups. I believe that any such scanning would have to take place relatively far off-shore.
Using radiation detectors in the port isn’t a very serious approach, IMO.
Mark’s right. Radiation detectors probably wouldn’t work as an option for defending the US or even the US port system. They are both too expensive and not effective enough. The article Jon linked to as "lax" even says as much for detection technology. If they can get a nuke to the radiation scanner at a US port, then chances are they’ve already gotten it within the lethal radius of a major population center.
US policy has been focusing on the supply end of the nuclear equation. If they can’t get a bomb anywhere then they can’t detonate it over here. This is a far simpler and more effective way to go about things currently because nuclear weapons technology is not exactly widespread. Just because they aren’t doing it the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they are just sitting on their hands.
As for John, the Iranians have said that they are pursuing nuclear weapons. Repeatedly. Should we just ignore that? All the "we have no evidence" rhetoric falls apart in the face of them making a full signed confession to the world.
My belief is that you’re correct about Iran’s inability to deliver a missle strike against the US. Therefore, the real question is this. Since we’re considering action largely for Israel’s safety (to a lesser degree, Europe), are we willing to undertake preemptive military action to protect an ally? Given that we’re suffering Iraq fatigue, preemptive US military action isn’t in the cards. That being said, I suspect that Israel isn’t going to sit around and wait for our answer.