It's died off a bit now, but a few months ago we were hearing a LOT of sounding off about war with Iran. Conventional wisdom is that this is off the table until after the US election if Obama has anything to say about it, so we might hear more on it later in the year.
I want to cover one point, which is the reason for war. Supposedly Iran is developing nukes.
It isn't and if you think it is you are wrong. It has a peaceful nuclear energy programme.
I've summarised responses to some fairly common points below, originally posted by me for somewhere else entirely, which I'm hoping will let people see why exactly it is stupid to assume Iran has nukes.
Iran has loads of gas and oil, why would it need a domestic nuclear energy programme? It must be trying to develop nukes.
This sounds like a decent argument. Common sense says this is logical, until you see the details of how Iran operates. http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=IR This is a link to the EIA, the part of the US government which analyses energy in foreign countries. Almost everything I'll mention here is pulled from there seeing as I think we can all assume the US government won't be biased in favour of Iran.
Iran has a lot of fuel, both in terms of oil and natural gas. Based on latest reports it produces 3.7 million bbl/d (Barrels per day) of crude oil and consumes 1.8 million bbl/d of fuel itself. However Iraq's refinery capability is comparatively poor and it can only actually refine 1.5 million bbl/d of fuel; below the amount it consumes. This means it is facing an oil deficit and actually has to import fuel into the country - specifically light fuels like gasoline. Gasoline actually makes up nearly 70% of total products imported into Iran.
Iran's fuel consumption is also rising incredibly fast. Their gas production, for instance, has risen by 550 percent in the last two decades but their consumption has risen at the same rate and they still do have to import some gas from Turkmenistan. This massive increase in consumption is increasingly likely to result in shortfalls and also hinders their ability to export at a profit, not to mention meaning that it's energy reserves will run out all the sooner. This consumption increase is the reason why "build more refineries" isn't a solution for them, they're already doing so and are still fighting hard to keep up with their skyrocketing demand.
Iran's ability to upgrade its infrastructure to keep up with this rate of consumption is also hampered by the nature of the problems it faces such as high natural decline rates (Due to circumstances like water flooding) in its fields, an inability to efficiently upgrade its capacity due to the sanctions and international pressure which stop it getting the equipment and investment it needs and competition in the supergiant South Pars gas field which Qatar also access to and is tapping into at a much higher rate.
The various energy related problems which it faces, all of which put pressure on export prices, are a sound reason for Iran wanting to invest in nuclear power.
This isn't just something that is supported by US government figures and my explanation of them, this position is backed up by peer reviewed studies and accepted by the UK government as a legitimate reason even if it then still does have concerns about potential nuclear weapons:
Why don't they let us look? If they had nothing to hide, they'd let us look.
Unfortunately Iran's position is often misrepresented and a lot of people truly believe that Iran is closed off and no inspectors go in there.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspects all Iranian nuclear sites. It has a regular presence at major sites like Nantaz, makes inspections at other sites at required, have installed cameras to record what's happening 24 hours a day, measure feed inputs into centrifuges, conduct interviews and have access to documentation, place seals on reactors so that fuel can't be input without their knowledge, etc, etc. The wide held belief that there's some kind of impenetrable wall around Iran that inspectors can't get through isn't true in the slightest.
Here are the reports the IAEA have issued since just before Iran opened up its nuclear program to international scrutiny in late 2003:
While there are parts of their reports where they're critical of Iran or press for additional access, that Iran is being inspected regularly to the original NPT standards cannot be denied.
This mistake largely happens because the media will run wild with exaggerated reports, leaks which later turn out to be untrue, biased sources and complaints that Iran isn't implementing a higher level of inspection. What filters through the public consciousness is just that "Iran isn't letting inspectors in".
But what about the evidence of them creating nukes?
The first major area criticism based on something tangible, if only barely, regards evidence the IAEA has found during its inspections. That's actually a bit of a lie in itself, because the IAEA has been given the information that is causing concern by third parties like the US and Israel intelligence services rather than actually finding it themselves. None of the information given is proof of Iran creating nuclear weapons, but it has included a few things which IAEA has raised concerns about and published in its reports. These get wildly blown out of proportion. I'll use one of the latest 'smoking guns' as an example.
If you've been paying attention over the last couple of years, you might know there's been a laptop found that's presented as uncovering a lot of evidence about Iran potentially developing nuclear weapons. A fuss was made about it because there were several things that the IAEA brought up with Iran at once and when the IAEA tried to resolve these with Iran in 2008 the laptop was the only one that didn't get resolved and still hasn't been.
What most people probably don't know, even though a lot of this is tucked away in the IAEA reports I linked to and other IAEA documentation, is:
- The laptop is 10 years ago old. It contains information from before Iran changed their nuclear doctrine and opened up their program to international inspection in 2002/3. It isn't related to anything Iran has been doing in the last decade.
- http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-02-22-nuclear-iran_N.htm IAEA diplomats have mentioned off the record to the AP that they doubt the significance and veracity of the laptop. http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/transcripts/2009/hindu011009.html ElBaradai, the Director of the IAEA at the time the laptop became a major issue, said "The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents."
- The US, which provided the documentation, only believes that weaponisation occurred up until 2003 at which point it stopped. Even the US does not believe the laptop is evidence of anything beyond that (Mentioned in IAEA articled linked in above point).
- The laptop evidence contains information regarding Iranian missile systems. It showed designs for a missile which could potentially carry a nuclear payload. The thing is, we know Iran has been developing conventional missiles for ages and the IAEA's analysis showed it could also just be used for carrying a normal warhead like all the other types of missiles that we know about and accept to not be used for nuclear purposes.
- Iran and the IAEA in 2007 signed an agreement to resolve a number of issues called http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/2007/infcirc711.pdf "Understandings of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues". They both agreed in relation to the alleged studies from the laptop that an appropriate response was:
"As a sign of good will and cooperation with the Agency, upon receiving all related
documents, Iran will review and inform the Agency of its assessment."
Everything other than the alleged studies that needed to be dealt with in the Modalities Agreement was dealt with. The alleged studies did not get resolved because it turned out the IAEA couldn't get permission from the US to actually give Iran copies of anything more than select portions of the data, so the IAEA couldn't meet it's end of the bargain by giving Iran all related documents http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2008/gov2008-15.pdf
The proposed solution to this is that Iran just reveals a mass of national secrets regarding it's conventional missile program to satisfy the IAEA not being able to meet it's side of the agreement agreement, because if they aren't in a position to provide specific information to refute the allegation then they will just have to release massive swaths of data because some of it will have to refute the suggestion. Releasing so much incredibly sensitive data is as unpalatable to Iran as it would be to any other country.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gareth_Porter Gareth Porter has ( http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=21994 ) written a report which goes into some of the more complicated reasons why the laptop evidence is very possibly either fake or being massively misinterpreted, which are too detailed to her into here.
To sum it up, the evidence is nowhere near being the smoking gun the neo-liberals have been making it out to be by a long shot, even to someone intensely critical of Iran. Personally I find the laptop information so shot full of holes that I don't even view it as circumstantial evidence and the laptop is an example which is fairly representative of the kind of evidence used against Iran.
That's just your amateur interpretation of the facts. What about the experts who claim they are producing nukes?
They don't. Your average opinion piece in a newspaper might freely claim they are, but high level political and scientific figures, if they make suggestive comments about Iran, make sure to couch their objections in specific terms. See:
You'll notice that the detractors don't say Iran is making nuclear weapons, they refers to Iran increasing it's nuclear capability. This isn't due to Iran focusing on nuclear weapons in any way, at least not any way which we yet know about or has been shown, but rather because the development of a domestic nuclear power by it's very nature involve the development of a nuclear infrastructure which can be geared towards peaceful domestic nuclear energy or destructive nuclear bombs. Increase in nuclear capability is simply what it says on the tin - it means a country is more nuclear capable, not that the nuclear capability is directed towards producing weapons
Increasing nuclear capability is unavoidable for most countries. One of the core tenants of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treat is that states have the unalienable right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy, which necessitates increasing nuclear capability.
In fact we have outright statements from people who should be in the know saying that they aren't developing weapons:
Like the US Director of national intelligence:
Key quote from Page 14 as it's quite lengthy:
Chairman LEVIN. Now, relative to Iran, Director Clapper, you mentioned in your statement that you do not, we do not know, talking about the Intelligence Community, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons. I read into that that Iran has not made a decision as of this point to restart its nuclear weapons program. Is that correct?
Mr. CLAPPER. Yes, sir. I would like, though, to defer a more fulsome response to a closed session.
Chairman LEVIN. Okay. But, what is level of confidence that you have that as of this time they have not decided to restart that program? Is that a high level of confidence?
Mr. CLAPPER. Yes, it is.
Or half a dozen former ambassadors to Iran:
Or Mossad chief Meir Dagan who when he retired last year said that he does not believe Iran is even capable of building a nuclear weapon before 2015.
All Western Intelligence agencies, including all 16 of the USA's, are confident Iran is NOT pursuing nuclear weapons. The danger about them is simply a media narrative.
Why doesn't Iran comply with the IAEA if it has nothing to hide?
Post 2003, Iran has been complying extremely well with it's obligations under the NPT. What it hasn't been doing so great at is complying with obligations it never agreed to them, like unilateral demands from the UN or obligations that it hasn't agreed to meet because it hasn't signed up to the higher standard of inspections known as the Additional Protocols.
The crux of this revolves around the Additional Protocols ( http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Factsheets/English/sg_overview.html ). These are a series of major amendments that increase the obligations of a NPT signatory, which as all major treaty amendments would typically have to be ratified by a government's Parliament or head of state before commencing.
Iran has no objection to sticking to the Additional Protocols, it followed them from 2003 to 2005 on a voluntary basis pending actually signing them into force. However it ended up not signing them into force and stopping its voluntary concessions because despite its compliance it was still being threatened by other countries and it was still being treated disingenuously by being referred to the UN security council even though it had been fully implementing the higher protocols without any breach in compliance.
The UN then issued a resolution, a decision made unilaterally rather than the prior willing bilateral co-operation on which inspections were based, demanding Iran agree to the Additional Protocols. Iran hasn't complied with this, but has been engaging since then with various nation groups; mainly the France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (AKA: EU3) or the EU3 + China, Russia, and the United States (AKA: P5+1).
This is really the heart of the matter because the two main issues with Iran are, in no order of importance, firstly that it's not implementing the the AP which allows investigators a much broader mandate and secondly that the West wants absolute confirmation that the alleged studies didn't take place, which could be shown using the AP. Getting Iran to agree to the AP is the key point of all this trouble and a really crucial matter if we want everything to chill out.
So why doesn't Iran sign up to the AP?
Well (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc140.pdf) the whole point of the NPT is that by meeting internationally set obligations, a country has the inalienable right to develop research, production and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
The problem is that even if Iran agrees to the AP, or even assumes obligations beyond the AP, the West is not willing to let Iran conduct it's own enrichment activities ( http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/reports/90569.pdf ). As the whole point of the NPT is that if you don't have to face that kind of sanction, it's a no brainer that Iran wouldn't want to comply under those terms.
Iran have spent untold billions over decades to develop their nuclear program and abandoning domestic enrichment activities (All of which are monitored by the IAEA as mentioned earlier, so we know they're only being enriched to energy/research levels rather than weapon grade levels). Abandoning that would be an economic disaster, not to mention that it would seriously damage their energy security by making them reliant on foreign powers to sell them enriched uranium. That's why Iran really shouldn't comply with these demands until a decent agreement can be made.
The other aspect is that even without the AP being in force, we know that all the known centrifuges in Iran are not producing uranium to be used for weapons, they're too highly regulated to be doing so (And Iran has suggested making them even more so as part of its counter offers) and there has been no suggestion from the IAEA otherwise. The AP is aimed at uncovering secret centrifuges we might not know about, at top secret clandestine sites and the such. If Iran were to secretly want to enrich to a weapons grade level, it would be doing so at these hypothetical secret sites which wouldn't need to stop enriching if Iran agreed to the EU3 and P5+1 demands because they are secret, we don't know about them and can't be checked. The Western focus on stopping their enrichment activities is completely and totally useless for it's stated purpose, even if Iran could be forced to accept it.
The way forward is to offer Iran a fair deal where they can grant inspectors the greater access they require to ensure no nuclear weapon research is being conducted and put all of us at ease, while simultaneously allowing Iran to develop a peaceful nuclear program under plenty of international scrutiny so that we can be satisfied nothing untoward is going on in Iran and the situation can be defused. This moderate and easy approach to the situation is just something that the West has refused to consider even though it has been endorsed by neutral experts: ( http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/mar/20/a-solution-for-the-usiran-nuclear-standoff/?page=2 )
Iran is enriching fuel at too high a level for it to be for peaceful energy related purposes.
Iran is enriching its fuel to just under 20% uranium-235, which means it's classed as low-enriched uranium (LEU). Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is what is used for weapons and technically counts as everything above 20%, not far from the maximum Iran enriches.
However it isn't just any HEU that can be weaponised; you need to get it around 80% enriched to be usable in nuclear weapons, meaning they're not even nearly producing weapons grade Uranium.
Looking into this in a bit more depth, people with a bit more knowledge might know that you don't need 19.75% enriched uranium for energy production, ~4% will do. The reason this isn't suspicious is that Iran needs 19.75% enriched is because it has a single research reactor.
These type of reactors need a higher level of LEU because rather than produce energy they're used for more specialised purposes to do; namely research into a variety of mundane fields but also things like producing radioactive isotopes used in medical diagnosis and treatment.
Iran's research reactor was given to it by the US before the Islamic revolution, when Iran was headed by the Shah's pro-US government. At the time it actually accepted very highly enriched weapons grade uranium of 90+% and it was only after the Islamic revolution that the current government converted it to work on LEU instead of HEU.
Until there is either a robust body of evidence showing that Iran is trying to create nuclear weapons or Iran has refused to cooperate with valid and fair minded solutions which meet the needs of the countries on both sides, the nuclear controversy cannot be legitimately used to press for aggressive action against Iran.