Natanz Nuclear Facility in Iran

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have dismantled over 75 percent of their nuclear weapons. Yet the spread of nuclear weapons has continued apace. The latest issue of the Journal of International Security Affairs provides insight into the question of the next stage of proliferation.

As Heritage’s senior analyst Peter Brookes writes in the journal, Iran is one of the hottest candidates for obtaining nuclear weapons capability. The ayatollah regime in Tehran appears determined to continue with uranium enrichment, an essential step for developing nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied the International Atomic Energy Agency access to facilities suspected of working on the nuclear weapons program. According to the Air Force’s estimate, Iran will have a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory by 2015. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a game-changer in the region because other countries are likely to follow suit.

In his article “Nonproliferation, Russian Style,” Stephen Blank argues that perceptions of the dangers in Moscow from Iran differ from that of Washington. Iran is seen as an important geopolitical partner and also a major consumer of Russian arms. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Kremlin would support measures necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear weapon program.

This flies in the face of the Obama Administration’s assertions that the “reset” policy and its crown jewel, New START, a bilateral arms control agreement with Russia, would help to ensure Russia’s cooperation on future nonproliferation challenges, be they tactical nuclear weapons or the nuclear programs of Iran, North Korea, or Syria.

In addition, as Keith Payne points out in the current issue of the journal, New START allows strategic forces flexibility only if the following assumptions remain valid for the next 10 years: (1) U.S. planning guidance for strategic forces would remain the same; (2) there would be no requests for an increase in forces; and (3) Russia would be compliant with New START. Obviously, with new independent and emerging nuclear powers, nobody can have reasonable confidence that these assumptions will be valid 10 years from now. Moreover, New START offers no assurance that the U.S. nuclear force will be an effective deterrent in the future.

The U.S. nuclear infrastructure needs comprehensive overhaul—a critical problem demanding urgent attention. The White House has proposed $85 billion in spending over the next decade. This money is modest compared to the need. Furthermore, most of the money is proposed to be spent well beyond the President’s term. Finally, Congress has the final say in formulating the budget, not the White House.

The journal is looking into some of the most pressing and most important proliferation challenges and is an essential reading for anybody trying to understand the issue at hand.