Wolfthsal on Uncovering Iran’s Nuclear PastPosted: May 26, 2014
I was just reading a new piece by Jon Wolfsthal in the National Interest entitled “Uncovering Iran’s Nuclear Past: Where to Start? Where to Stop?” Overall I think this piece is part of a welcome movement of pragmatism regarding the PMD issue in Iran. However, I was struck by this passage in the piece, which I think does express a common view in DC policymaking circles:
Iran has yet to provide adequate answers to most of these questions, in part because it continues to publicly deny it ever pursued nuclear weapons. This, in the minds of officials, experts and long-time observers is proof that Iran harbors long-term nuclear weapon ambitions and cannot be trusted to implement any new agreement.
I don’t see the logical connection between these two assertions: 1) Iran doesnt want to talk about nuclear weaponization research and development activities that may have gone on in the increasingly distant past in Iran; and 2) that means Iran wants to build nuclear weapons in the future.
As I’ve been researching my new book, I’ve been surprised by just how many states have at some point since the end of World War II pursued nuclear weapons programs, to varying degrees of development, and then have at some point stopped them. At this link you can find a really interesting and useful brief run-down of some of these programs.
Each case is of course different, but on the whole I think you could make a few generalizations about them. In by far most of these cases, state officials in later years were not keen to talk about the former programs, and definitely would not have welcomed attempts by other states or international organizations to pry into that history, and force them to “come clean” about all the details concerning them. Also, in by far most of these cases, once the nuclear weapons program was stopped, it remained stopped, at least in an active, development sense. A number of these states now possess mature civilian nuclear energy programs, and are advanced industrial states with defense industries, and therefore have all the necessary capabilities to seriously re-start a nuclear weapons program if they chose to do so. But again, they have not.
So I would say that overall, history does not support the connection that Wolfsthal makes in this piece, and that I think underlies efforts to pressure Iran to make an accounting of its past nuclear weaponization R&D.