Unlike North Korea, whose overt pursuit of nuclear weapons is used for atomic diplomacy and blackmail, Iran's nuclear weapons program is clandestine and may remain covertly secret -- because Iran plans actually to use its "Islamic bomb." (Image source: iStock)
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), comprising largely former, mostly Democrat administration foreign policy and defense officials, in a new study — "Risk and Responsibility: Managing Future Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction Threats" — tries to sell the notion that Iran armed with nuclear, biological and chemical offensive weapons will be an acceptable risk. CNAS is a source of staff and "expertise" to the Biden Administration. Unfortunately, their idea is preposterous.
Based on three tabletop exercises, the CNAS report concludes that "even if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the likelihood the regime will use it is low."
Therefore, according to CNAS, the Biden Administration is justified in its plans to "accept risks in the Middle East and against future Iran threats" in order to "better address the long-term 'pacing challenge' posed by China."
The CNAS report states:
"Washington is reimagining its global role, leading the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to make difficult choices about priorities, resources, and risk to better address the long-term 'pacing challenge' posed by China. To do so, the United States plans to accept risks in the Middle East and against future Iran threats. Iran's possession and potential use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)—specifically, its nuclear program, chemical weapons, and biological agents—pose the greatest threat to U.S. interests."
Three table top exercises, according to CNAS, indicate that "the United States can better accept risk in the Middle East and revise its global priorities while still protecting core U.S. interests."
One might wonder if the CNAS study is a "trial balloon" from the Biden Administration to begin preparing the nation and world psychologically for the advent of Iran's "Islamic bomb." One might also wonder if the CNAS study is an attempt to justify consequent U.S. retreat from the Middle East, not as another humiliating defeat, but as a prudent and wise reprioritization of resources to meet the threat from China.
Since the Biden Administration's intelligence community estimates that Iran is only 8 weeks away from having atomic weapons, Iran is already a "threshold" or nuclear weapons state. Other senior national security officials have warned repeatedly that Iran probably already has nuclear-armed missiles.
On the other hand, CNAS and the Biden Administration may really believe that nuclear-armed Iran is an acceptable risk. Biden's administration is the most anti-nuclear in history, staffed and advised by anti-nuclear activists who mistakenly believe nuclear weapons have little or no military utility, are "unusable" and that nuclear employment is "unthinkable." Jill Hruby, for instance, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons, was drafted from the Nuclear Threat Initiative group. Biden's nuclear "kitchen cabinet" includes the Carnegie Foundation's Nuclear Policy Program, led by James Acton, that persuaded Biden to fund a study by Carnegie arguing against modernization of American ICBMs. In the Congress, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith and Senator Elizabeth Warren are outspokenly against U.S. ICBMs and nuclear modernization generally, want the U.S. to adopt a "no first use" policy and reduce U.S. nuclear weapons to a minimum deterrent of a few hundred warheads.
Consequently, Biden is defunding nuclear weapons that are critical to U.S. national security, such as the SLCM-N and B-83. He is also still seriously considering abolition of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and is doing nothing to accelerate desperately needed modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent—despite increasing nuclear threats from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.
To the Biden Administration, its deepening involvement in Ukraine runs unprecedented and escalating risks of nuclear war with Russia. For those, therefore, who genuinely believe in the mantra: "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the nuclearization of Iran should be thought of as a relatively small and "acceptable risk" to the U.S. and its allies.
Yet World War II was a nuclear war, fought and won by the United States -- and not the only time the U.S. has seriously contemplated the employment of nuclear weapons. During the Korean War, for example, General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against North Korea and China. President Dwight D. Eisenhower achieved an armistice in that war by threatening the use of tactical nuclear weapons. President John F. Kennedy and his administration contemplated the use of nuclear weapons during the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Gulf Wars, the use of tactical nuclear weapons was threatened if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical or biological weapons. There are many such examples, such as Japan in World War II -- so long as the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" is highly credible.
If America, the most benign and humane civilization that has ever existed in history, is capable of using nuclear weapons, what can be expected from the evil empires that are Russia, China, North Korea and Iran?
At minimum, a nuclear Iran will be even more aggressive supporting terrorism against moderate Arab states, Israel, and the U.S.. Iran might well also arm its proxies -- many of which are officially designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations -- with weapons of mass destruction, while relying on anonymity and its nuclear deterrent to escape retaliation. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is, in fact, the world's largest, deadliest terrorist organization, and is in charge of Iran's so-called "space program" that has orbited two satellites.
Nuclear proliferation, and risks of nuclear war by accident or design, will greatly increase as a consequence of Iran going overtly nuclear. Syria, Egypt and Turkey might go nuclear. According to one recent headline, "Saudis would develop bomb 'the next day' if Iran nuclear deal led to weapons capability: experts."
Unlike North Korea, whose overt pursuit of nuclear weapons is used for atomic diplomacy and blackmail, Iran's nuclear weapons program is clandestine and may remain covertly secret -- because Iran plans actually to use its "Islamic bomb."
Western analysts typically underestimate or ignore Iran's ideological motives for nuclearization, deeply rooted in radical Shia Islam's belief that the secular and spiritual worlds are in their "end time" and that Iran has a highest duty, as a nation is expendable, in service of holy war to destroy the "infidel" peoples, especially the U.S. "Great Satan" and "Little Satan" Israel.
The Congressional EMP Commission warns that Iran, armed with only one or a few nuclear weapons, could carry out an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack against the U.S. and/or Middle East allies, blacking-out national electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures, thereby posing an existential or "assured destruction" threat.
The July 2017 EMP Commission report, "Nuclear EMP Attack Scenarios and Combined-Arms Cyber Warfare (see also the 2022 EMP Task Force report "Iran: EMP Threat") describes several scenarios where Iran, for geostrategic and ideological reasons, carries out EMP attacks on the U.S., Israel, Europe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The report warns, to quote one example:
"[An] EMP attack that paralyzes the government, communications, transportation, and cuts the supply of food and water might well trigger a protracted revolution or civil war, effectively destroying the state of Egypt and creating a zone of permanent chaos..."
A nuclear Iran is an existential threat to the U.S. and its allies and should not be an "acceptable risk" to the Biden Administration.
Expect the Center for a New American Security to weave more fig leaves rationalizing Biden Administration blunders and irresponsible policy as a species of wisdom. Coming soon, U.S. nuclear inferiority to Russia and China will be called an "acceptable risk."
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, was Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, served on the staffs of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of the books Blackout Warfare, The Power And The Light, and Will America Be Protected?