Taking a closer look at the NIE on Iran's Nuclear capabilities, I have noticed a few intriguing things, some good and some bad. The best thing is that it may not be necessary to attack Iran's installations in the near future. Beyond that, things are not as rosy as we might hope.
The NIE declares that:
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program1 ; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.
In my mind this is not at all a "vindication" of those who believe that Iran is "not pursuing nuclear weapons," but that it is not currently in the process of CREATING one according to current intelligence. I also strongly question whether or not there has been anything more than an "announcement" of a decision to "halt uranium enrichment" since Iran also announced that it now has 3000 centrifuges, something which it acquired and announced RECENTLY. Iran may not be USING their centrifuge capability to enrich uranium right now, but while not using those centrifuges it had, it acquired more capability, allowing it to enrich uranium faster in the future. Again, in my mind this is evidence that Iran is not currently IN THE PROCESS of creating a weapon, not that it is not "intent on pursuing the development of a weapon." This conclusion is not negated by the key points in the NIE.
The NIE states:
We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.
In other words, we are very confident that Iran INTENDED to develop nuclear weapons as of Fall, 2003. We are relatively certain that this was suspended for some time after. Why? In my mind, it is quite possibly because it was at that time that international scrutiny intensified on Iraq and Iran and because the US went through on its threats to invade Iraq, bringing dramatically increased US capability to act against nuclear installations in Iran. The NIE makes clear, however, that it is only moderately confident that the halt it has identified represents a halt to Iran's "entire nuclear weapons program." I would argue that the continued development of enrichment capabilities and delivery systems are two parts of that program that Iran has DEFINITELY NOT halted. Furthermore, the NIE states flatly that it does "not know whether it (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."
The NIE adds:
D. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.
This is in line with my thoughts above. Iran continues to move toward having the capability to create a weapon, whether or not it is currently intent on producing one as soon as possible.
The NIE states that:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.
This is good news. It means that sanctions and other policies that affect the economy of Iran are also affecting its policies regarding nuclear weapons development. I would question what would happen should those sanctions be lessened, however, and the "benefit" of possessing a nuclear weapon should increase versus the "cost" of sanctions. This is especially true considering the NIE's assessment of the leadership of Iran and their objectives.
The NIE states that:
We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.
This statement alone seems to strongly vindicate all of those who have stated that Iran is a serious threat and that it is likely to pursue the creation of nuclear weapons in the near future. It is this statement more than any other in the NIE that is troubling, because if this assessment is correct, any suspension of development of nuclear weapons by Iran is temporary at best.
Just a few thougts,