The London Times recently reported that Iran has perfected the technology necessary to create and detonate a nuclear warhead. According to the report, which has been confirmed by others in our intelligence community, it would take approximately six months or less to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb and another six months to assemble the warhead for possible deployment.
That means, in effect, that next year Iran will have the bomb and deployment capability. This may not shift the Obama administration from its present acquiescence since it believes deterrence will work, but it will certainly send shivers down the spine of our European and Israeli allies.
Moreover, at the same time the administration has seemingly averted its gaze from this impending nightmare, the Obama administration has scaled back the number of ground-based midcourse defense interceptors from 44 to 30. President Barack Obama has also decided to abandon an additional 10 interceptors and the anti-missile system that were promised to Poland, as well as the radars scheduled to be introduced into the Czech Republic.
It would appear that at this critical juncture this decision will seriously undermine American defenses against an Iranian threat and adversely affect relations with our allies. In fact, based on North Korean tests and the recorded range of Iranian missiles, it would seem that the U.S. should put additional effort into enhancing defenses against potential threats.
State Department officials assert that the nuclear force of the United States and the existing interceptors are sufficient to deter an attack from Iran or any other prospective enemy. There statements of assurance, however, are not predicated on evidence. At the moment the Iranian missile force cannot reach the United States, but it can hit every European capital and can certainly reach nearby Israel. What remains unknown is the condition that militates against a first strike.
Is the retaliatory capability of the United States enough to prevent a first strike by an enemy? Or is a theological state intent on national jihad resistant to rational countermeasures?
Moreover, even if deterrence works, or appears to work for a time, the existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of a rogue state like Iran is also a political weapon that can influence regional alliances and serve as cover for terrorist proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Since one cannot be certain about deterrence with an irrational enemy, that enemy cannot be certain about missile defense. The rogue state is unlikely to know how many of its missiles can penetrate missile defenses or whether any can do so. Hence, this nuclear weapons equation is filled with imponderables. The notion that we can deter is based entirely on experience, but it has only a casual relationship to the future.
Therefore sensible policy is dependent on robust defenses, indeed even redundant defenses, that make the calculation of penetration more difficult for the prospective enemy attacker. As I see it, the intelligence reports on Iran should lead to the deployment of additional interceptors rather than fewer ones.
This retrenchment strategy is based on the view that our good will gestures will be reciprocated. But there isn’t the slightest chance this will occur. The gains in Iranian prestige and influence from the possession of this weapon far exceed the pain we are prepared to impose on this rogue state. Obama’s strategic position appears to be “hope for the best and prepare for the best.” Unfortunately history doesn’t usually cooperate with unguarded optimists. Too bad our president doesn’t read history.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of “Decade of Denial” (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and “America's Secular Challenge” (Encounter Books).
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