ABC is reporting that Iran’s nuclear program may be able to enrich enough uranium by 2009 to begin constructing warheads — which isn’t a particular surprise, but shocking nonetheless. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had bragged that he could have 3,000 uranium-refining centrifuges up by May, and he may well not have been merely boasting.
The reality is that the world must soon take action to ensure than Iran does not go nuclear — but once again the forces of fecklessness have primacy over international affairs. A nuclear-armed Iran would be an unmitigated disaster for the rest of the world and could easily lead to a situation in which terrorist gain hold of nuclear weapons.
Of course, the usual suspects are arguing that all of this is just another example of how BUSH LIED!™ — which is exactly why the overheated and ignorant rhetoric of this last war is so dangerous to international security. In a climate where the analysis of our intelligence agencies is instantly discounted and policymakers are pressured not to take their warnings seriously, disaster is far more likely. While there’s no question that the intelligence community screwed up over intelligence on Iraq WMDs (and that goes for the global intelligence community, not just the CIA), that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong now.
There’s no room for doubt that Iran has an active nuclear program and is doing whatever it gain to gain nuclear capability as soon as it can. It is not acceptable for that to happen, and the rest of the world is going to have to do something to ensure that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East doesn’t start. However, given the absolute weakness of Europe and the political situation at home, it’s doubtful that anything will happen.
Instead, we will likely see a nuclear Iran within the next 5 years, and we will see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East shortly after. The only way in which Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be stopped is if the Ahmadinejad regime collapses (which seems, sadly, to be only a very distant possibility) or a preemptive strike is launched to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. No one seems to be willing to do that, and the rest of the world seems more interested in playing pissant politics than dealing with the most serious threat to world peace out there now.
Because of the weakness of the democratic world, the self-serving politicization of national security here in the US, and the meglomania of the Iranian regime, the chances of seeing a full nuclear war within our lifetimes has shot up dramatically. We are at a point in which nuclear war is more likely now than it ever was during the Cold War when our nuclear-armed adversary was rational and constrained by the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. We now face a situation in which our potential nuclear adversaries are prone to making dramatic and dangerous miscalculations and there is a great degree of strategic ambiguity as to whether we really would meet a nuclear attack with proportional force.
This is a dangerous time, and unfortunately very few policymakers seem to have any real interest in confronting these dangers, preferring instead to posture for the cameras. The price we may yet pay for our lack of diligence will cost us dearly if we don’t start accepting the reality of our predicament now.