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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:47 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:47 | SYDNEY

Iran's weaponisation

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COMMENTS

5 June 2008 15:34

Judah Grunstein's (spelling fixed; sorry Judah) comparison of the Iranian nuclear program with the construction of a car is a useful one. Judah says the fact that Iran has, according to the US National Intelligence Estimate, suspended its weaponisation program is 'the equivalent of building a car frame, refining gasoline, and discontinuing the program that was developing the internal combustion engine.'

Judah goes on to argue that because Iran continues to pursue the other aspects of its nuclear program — including uranium enrichment, which is the most technically challenging of all the tasks needed to make a nuclear weapon — we cannot assume that Iran has no intentions of weaponising. His point is to caution Bush Administration critics who argue that the Iranian nuclear threat has abated. It hasn't, entirely, because Iran hasn't stopped the most important part of its program.

But Judah's motor car comparison also carries an implicit caution to those who diminish the significance of the NIE. It is no small matter, if one is builing a car, to just discontinue development of the engine — it slows down the overall project. Similarly, as these two Arms Control Wonk posts explain, building a warhead to put inside the nosecone of a ballistic missile is no easy task. Weaponisation may be easier than perfecting uranium enrichment, but it is not trivial, so the fact that Iran has set aside that task probably does push back their overall timeline. Given the NIE judgment that Iran took this action in response to international scrutiny and pressure, that might be counted as a victory for the diplomatic process.

Of course, none of this logic applies if Iran builds a big, crude nuclear weapon that can be transported around the world in a shipping container.

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