Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

The Iranian Nuclear Deal

President Obama this week appeared to have gathered sufficient support from Congressional Democrats to block a Republican effort to defeat the Iranian nuclear deal. Under the terms of legislation passed earlier this year, Congress has the authority to review and vote down the proposed agreement. But the deal will take effect if Congress is unable to vote it down. Now that President Obama has garnered the support of at least 34 Democratic Senators, the Republican bill defeating the proposed agreement will not be able to be sustained in the face of a certain Presidential veto.

From the perspective of its defenders, the agreement represents the best possible outcome of negotiations with Iran, and will make it impossible for Iran to secure a nuclear weapon for at least the next decade. From the perspective of its critics, the deal is ineffectual at best, and at worst undermines international efforts to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Regardless, the Obama White House clearly invested significant political capital in the deal’s success, and it appears that that investment will now pay off with the implementation of the new agreement.

What do you think? Will the Iranian nuclear deal be effective in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Would you support or oppose the deal if you were a member of Congress? Why?

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Will Congress Reject the Iranian Nuclear Deal?

Lawmakers in Congress are taking sides for an upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear deal. The political process was set up last April, when an alliance of Republican and Democratic Senators passed bipartisan legislation requiring any executive agreement reached between the United States and Iran to come to Congress for review. Usually, executive agreements are not subject to Congressional review or approval. But in this case, Congress need not approve the agreement, but may decide to reject it.

The approach has created some interesting political dynamics. While the United Nations and most American allies–with the notable exception of Israel–have welcomed the agreement as a powerful step forward that places real limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Congressional Republicans have argued that the agreement does too little to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons while simultaneously granting too much relief to the Iranian government.

Because of the way the review legislation was structured, President Obama need only secure one-third of Congress voting to approve the new agreement. Remember that Congress must pass legislation to reject the agreement. If the vote falls strictly along party lines, Congress will pass such legislation, which President Obama could veto. Without strong support from Congressional Democrats, the Republican Congress would be unable to override President Obama’s veto. President Obama’s strategy thus appears to focus on maintaining the support of moderate Democrats, many of whom have already said they will back the President. Already, most key leaders have expressed support for the President, with the notable exception of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has said he will vote to reject the agreement. This announcement sparked a response from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a noted foreign policy export.

What do you think? Should Congress reject the proposed agreement on Iran’s nuclear program? If so, what alternative strategy would you suggest for addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Commemorating 70 Years Since Hiroshima

The Japanese government is marking the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. On August 5, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 150,000 people. Three days later, it dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 50,000 people. A week later, Japan would unconditionally surrender, marking the end of World War II.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb has been hotly debated since 1945. Critics of the decision contend that the use of such devastating weapons against a largely civilian population, constituting a war crime under international law. Defenders of the decision argue that the decision brought the war to a speedier close, saving countless lives and shortening the conflict by years.

What do you think? Was the US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified? If you were advising President Roosevelt at the time, what would you have counseled? Why?

The Politics of the Iranian Nuclear Talks

Ongoing talks between the six parties (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran were extended one day to provide time for the parties to reach agreement. The talks are intended to establish a framework for ongoing negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. But domestic American politics have often interfered with the talks. Republican critics of the Obama administration have criticized the idea of talking with Iran at all, sending a letter to hardliners in the Iranian government suggesting the US Congress would not approve any deal  and inviting Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without discussing the invitation with the White House.

Republican critics have suggested that the talks are another example of a feckless and misguided foreign policy of the Obama White House, and that the United States should take a more aggressive stance on Iran, intensifying sanctions and further isolating the Iranian regime if it is unwilling to offer wider concessions. The Obama administration counters that real progress is being made as a result of the talks.

What do you think? Should the United States continue to work under the six party framework to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran? Would such a deal be effective at limiting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Or should the United States take a more aggressive stance with Iran? Which approach would be more effective in achieving the US goal of a nuclear-weapons free Iran? Why?

Thinking About Nuclear Weapons

nukeAlex Wellerstein, a nuclear weapons historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, has produced an amazing (if somewhat ghoulish) tool for thinking about the potential impact of nuclear weapons. The Nukemap takes advantage of Google Earth’s 3D technology to evaluate the impact of various sized nuclear explosions—ranging from the 20 ton “Davy Crocket,” the smallest nuclear weapon ever created, to the massive 100 megaton “Tsar Bomba,” the largest ever created. Once a target is selected, the impact of explosion can be viewed, fallout patterns can be plotted (taking into account prevailing weather patterns and topography), and casualties are estimated.

It’s a very interesting addition to thinking about nuclear deterrence and proliferation, and I’ll certainly add it to my list of teaching resources for future use.

Iran’s Ongoing Nuclear Ambitions

Satellite image of Iran's Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

Satellite image of Iran’s Fordow nuclear enrichment facility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday warned that the Iranian government continues to make progress in its effort to boost uranium production and refinement in the country. It noted that Iran has, in the past three months, completed installing new centrifuges in a secret nuclear facility and has refused to provide the IAEA with opportunity to monitor its activities. The IAEA also believes that Iran is trying to destroy evidence of previous nuclear enrichment activities ahead of scheduled IAEA inspections.

International efforts to monitor and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons materials have to-date focused on several resolutions of the UN Security Council, and on international negations between the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany (the so-called P5+1 group) and Iran.

Against the international backdrop, the Israeli government continues to threaten unilateral action against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, raising the stakes for all parties involved.

The primary challenge, though, is that there appear to be few good options in dealing with Iran. Economic sanctions are already in place and are having a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. There was a glimmer that the sanctions may force the Iranian government back to the negotiating table, but it is not clear whether or not that would happen before Iran developed a nuclear capacity, fundamentally altering the nature of international negotiations.

Covert efforts, including the deployment of computer viruses targeting Iranian nuclear facilities, have appeared to slowed Iran’s progress but have not stopped it altogether.

And a military strike against Iran could create broader challenges in the region, undermining support for US efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and creating uncertainty in global oil markets, threatening the global economic recovery.

What do you think? What is the best option to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Should the United States continue to support international efforts at a negotiated settlement? Should it support Israeli proposals for a military strike despite the economic threat posed by such an option? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

The Intersection of Domestic Politics and Foreign Affairs

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses reporters in Israel.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney addresses reporters in Israel.

Israel was in the news this week, as both Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with key Israeli leaders to discuss, among other things, the Iranian nuclear program.

During his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Mitt Romney was unreserved in his position, asserting that ensuring the security of Israel and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability “must be our highest national security priority.” Romney’s senior national security aid, Dan Senor, clarified Romeny’s statement, concluding that, “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

With his statements, Romney was trying to draw a sharp contrast between his position and the position of the Obama administration. Just two days after Romney’s meeting with Netanyahu, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was expressing a more reserved tone. In his meeting yesterday with Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he urged Israel to show restraint in its dealings with Iran.

The New York Times reported that there are growing concerns in the Obama administration that Israel may be preparing for a unilateral military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities as early as this fall. Secretary Panetta’s visit was just the most recent in a series of flurry of trips to Israel by high ranking administration officials in recent weeks . Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon each recently visited Israel as well.

These visits occurred amid increasing rhetorical attacks by the Israeli government. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that discussion of sanctions against Iran were useless. Netanyahu concluded that, “Right now, the Iranian government believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”

The Israeli calculation is highly influenced by the timing of the US presidential elections. Most observers believe that if an Israeli strike were to occur, it would likely be in September or early October. As the New York Times observed, “Mr. Netanyahu feels that he will have less leverage if President Obama is re-elected, and that if Mr. Romney were to win, the new president would be unlikely to want to take on a big military action early in his term.”
Perhaps the largest problem facing the international community the lack of viable options. Ongoing negotiations with Iran have failed to produce the desired outcome. Sanctions have not been historically effective in promoting policy changes, as the longstanding US embargos against Cuba and North Korea attest. And an Israeli strike against Iran would likely produce a strong response from the Iranian government, perhaps including Iranian missile strikes against Tel Aviv. In such a scenario, the United States could well be pulled into another war in the Middle East.

What do you think? How should the United States deal with Israel and Iran? Can sanctions be effective? And how do the domestic politics of the United States affect the ongoing developments in the Middle East?