Seven key countries are involved in an elaborate kabuki dance over nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles: Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Romania, China, Russia and the United States. When examined closely, what we see is definitely not what we are going to get.
On May 17th, for example, the Iranians announced a deal with Turkey and Brazil to send less than half its nuclear reactor fuel, now at 4% enriched uranium, out of the country in return for receiving 20% enriched uranium useful only for nuclear isotopes and medicine. China said the deal was a good demonstration of the success of "dialogue and negotiation."
On May 18th, the US and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China, circulated a draft resolution calling for a fourth round of economic sanctions against Iran. Tehran still has not agreed to abide by previous UN Agency International Atomic Energy Administration requirements that it cease the enrichment of uranium.
Also on May 18th, the US administration urged the Senate to ratify the New START Treaty to reduce US and Russian deployed nuclear warheads, as part of its campaign to eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide, known as "Global Zero." A companion modernization program — required by Congress — includes a hedge deployment of better missile defenses in Europe, scheduled for 2018-2020.
This all looks good, right? First, we are hedging that Iran might be successful in building missiles to launch nuclear weapons against us. Second, we are working with the UN to put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons programs altogether. And third, Brazil and Turkey are being helpful in negotiating a deal to reduce Iran's potential stock of nuclear weapons fuel.
Unfortunately, this is all one big sham. Turkey and Brazil did announce they have "brokered" a "deal" to bring some percentage of Iranian low enriched uranium to Turkey. But as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs [JINSA] explains, the "deal is a fraud--without knowing how much uranium Iran has, you cannot know how much it 'lent' to Turkey and how much remains in its weapons program."
As for the UN sanctions announced Tuesday, they have been watered down to please Russia and China and thus will add little to the previous three rounds of sanctions.
While Iranian ships can be inspected to determine whether they are carrying nuclear-related material when they visit foreign ports, it is more critical to inspect ships going to Iranian ports from foreign ports.
Many believe the US and its allies are simply going through the motions at the UN. So too with Congressional energy sanctions against Iran, now pending final consideration. The initial drafts were very tough, but they have been changed to exempt Russian and Chinese firms. Why? The administration says Moscow and Peking are "cooperating" with the UN.
While both measures might make economic life marginally more difficult for Iran, the reaction of the mullahs will probably be a collective "So what?" Tehran will most likely continue on as before, especially as it recently announced further progress in its enrichment capability. And who anticipates this very outcome? The lead article in this month's Foreign Affairs does: "After Iran Gets The Bomb: How Washington Can Limit the Damage From Iran's Nuclear Defiance."
As for missile defense, there are two parallel dances here. The Navy system is the basis for the Administration's expanded proposals for the "defense of all of Europe," as DoD official, Brad Roberts, described the effort. It could result in the deployment of many dozens of effective interceptors. If interceptor speeds of 4-5 kilometers per second could be achieved, the US and NATO would be in business to deal with advanced Iranian threats.
Not so fast. A recently released Defense Intelligence Agency report indicates that Iran may have an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. These missiles are the delivery systems for nuclear weapons. And it is only in 2018 and 2020, several yeas later at best, that the US plans to deploy advanced Aegis Navy interceptors capable of shooting down these longer range Iranian missiles, including those capable of reaching the United States. Further, these plans, late as they could be, are only on paper.
The House military committee last week added $361.6 million over the budget request of $9.9 billion to "strengthen our defenses against the most immediate threats from nations such as Iran and North Korea," said Committee Chairman Langevin of Rhode Island. The additions included "$65 million more for advance procurement of AN/TPY-2 radars and $50 million more for fielding of the Aegis Standard Missile-3."
Much more is needed. An amendment to the defense bill in the House would require the administration to continue developing the variant of the interceptor we have already deployed in Alaska and California. The variant, which was supposed to be deployed in Europe, could have offered protection against Iranian ICBMs. The administration scrapped this plan last June.
The other dance is being choreographed by longtime opponents of missile defense, who were assuming that wholesale cuts would be made in missile defense with the new administration. During the campaign, after all, promises were made only to field missile defenses that were "effective," a "code" for "let's cut these programs."
Part of the tactic is to require unrealistic tests before deployment can begin.
Although some significant and promising programs were cut, such as the Airborne Laser and the deployment of additional interceptors in Alaska, significant missile defense funds were added, especially for short- and medium-range missile interceptors. The administration also proposed a major future expansion of our Navy-based missile defense program, including a phased program to deploy defenses of Europe and the United States in stages, including 2015, 20118 and 2020.
But missile defense among the arms control priesthood is anathema. It was started by that Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan. And it is simply part of a strategy one prominent critic called: "First the shield and then the sword."
On May 18, additionally, the New York Times reported that the Navy-based standard missile interceptors cannot destroy a nuclear warhead. In some tests the interceptor has reportedly only shot down the missile, while the dummy warhead fell short or overshot its target. This is important as the existing Navy system is scheduled to be deployed soon at sea and on land (the latter called "Aegis ashore"), in Romania, and elsewhere -- to defend southeastern Europe against current Iranian missiles.
Ironically, an administration perceived as intent upon dismantling missile defenses is now vigorously defending the program. Administration test data on the Navy systems, for example, actually show infrared images from both interceptor and airborne sensors, demonstrating the complete destruction of the target missiles, and undermining entirely the Times's criticism.
According to the Missile Defense Agency, "since 2002, a total of 19 Navy SM-3 missiles have been fired in 16 different test events resulting in 16 intercepts against…both…subscale unitary and full-size targets with separating warheads.
"In addition, a modified Aegis BMD/SM-3 system successfully destroyed a malfunctioning U.S. satellite by hitting the satellite in the right spot to negate the hazardous fuel tank at the highest closure rate of any ballistic missile defense technology ever attempted."
When one realizes that the current interceptor strikes a warhead "target" at 3.7 kilometers per second, or between 6000-8000 miles an hour, it is easy to understand that there has been, and will be, nothing but dust after any intercept.
Unfortunately, despite this record of past missile defense success, the new proposed future deployments for 2015, 2018 and 2020 to protect Europe and the US are still just on paper. Critics wonder whether this new agenda is just for show.
In addition, to be most effective, the Navy system needs a forward-based radar. The best place to position it would be Turkey, but that is the very NATO member that has gone off and let "Iran off the hook" on nuclear fuel. On top of this, the future defense proposals have yet to include an operational plan or realistic cost estimates. Some Hill critics believe we are thus putting "one egg in one basket and hoping for the best."
The immediate threat from Iran is to the Gulf Region, including Israel. There, the administration is working with our partners to deploy more and better defenses. Further, Israel is deploying new defenses such as "Iron Dome" and "David's Sling" -- all to the good.
But last October, we proposed that Iran ship its enriched nuclear material out of the country, in a deal not unlike what has now been proposed by Iran, Turkey and Brazil.
Instead of insisting that Iran cease its production of nuclear fuel—let alone its terrorist ways—we let it go "half way." Iran accepted Turkey and Brazil as dance partners and left us alone on the floor.
Thus, in our pursuit of "global zero," the abolition of nuclear weapons, we changed the argument from challenging Iran to challenging the whole world, including ourselves. As Iran said in response to the United States pledge to eliminate all nuclear weapons, "You first."
So there we are. Dance anyone?