February 10, 2015


How Much Does Iran Really Care About the Bomb? (CSIS, 2/10/15)

There is a real argument that Iran's primary goal is to pursue effective nuclear energy. Although Iran has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest gas reserves they lack a domestic refining ability which forces Iran to rely on imported gasoline. A domestic nuclear energy capability would diversify their economy away from oil, establish energy independence, reduce Iran's susceptibility to fluctuations in oil prices, and enhance a growth rate that while impressive, significantly trails their neighbors on the south side of the Persian Gulf. Further, nuclear energy would establish a national industry that would bolster Iran's 12.5% (probably grossly understated) unemployment rate, a weak point for Ahmadinejad in the Presidential elections.

So why be so secretive about civilian power? Why build plants for civilian use underground? Why not just allow in the IAEA and let them give the all clear in order to obtain more support for their nuclear program and relieve sanctions that are stagnating other parts of the economy?

Well, for starters they do not trust the Western Powers or Israel not to attempt to strike their enrichment facilities. If there were ever to be a military operation against Iran power facilities would be a target of the highest priority. Past examples can be found in the Yugoslavia and Iraqi campaign. A 1991 Washington Post article by Barton Gellman describes the air campaign against the power infrastructure in the first Iraq War.

"At least nine of the allied attacks targeted transformers or switching yards, each of which U.S. analysts estimated would take about a year to repair -- with Western assistance. In some cases, however, the bombs targeted main generator halls, with an estimated five-year repair time. The Harvard team, which visited most of Iraq's 20 generating plants, said that 17 were damaged or destroyed in allied bombing. Of the 17, 11 were judged total losses.

Now nearly four months after the war's end, Iraq's electrical generation has reached only 20 to 25 percent of its prewar capacity of 9,000 to 9,500 megawatts. Pentagon analysts calculate that the country has roughly the generating capacity it had in 1920 -- before reliance on refrigeration and sewage treatment became widespread.

"The reason you take out electricity is because modern societies depend on it so heavily and therefore modern militaries depend on it so heavily," said an officer involved in planning the air campaign. "It's a leveraged target set."

Is it unreasonable to believe that even if Iran had no intention of building a bomb they would still perceive cooperation with the West to undermine the purpose of the nuclear program? If Iran honestly believes that as long as they have civilian nuclear power there will be some form of sanctions (which is very possible considering the most recent NIE said they stopped trying in 2003) what incentive is there to cooperate? All cooperation will do is deprive them of the ability acquire the know how to develop nuclear weapons, compromise the position and interworking of their national power infrastructure, and force the nation to rely on another state for energy. How is relying on an outside state for enriched uranium (run by the same people who are currently sanctioning you) any better for economic autonomy and energy security than relying on an outside state for gas imports?

Posted by at February 10, 2015 5:45 PM

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