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Nuclear-Sized Backfires

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 12, 2020

When it comes to helping to keep the world from nuclear proliferation, Donald Trump’s militaristic posturing with Iran and his strange rose-colored sense of North Korea are proving to be major disappointments if not outright failures.

Iran’s announcement that it would renew efforts to develop nuclear weapons and to all but withdraw from whatever remains of the 2015 agreements to restrict such work comes atop North Korea’s vow to eschew American entreaties to stop missile development, atomic tests and storage of nuclear weapons.

As The New York Times’ David Sanger and William Broad concluded recently “But now, instead of buckling to American pressure, Iran declared . . . that those restrictions are over — a decade ahead of schedule. Trump’s gambit has effectively backfired.”

A decade and administrations ago, the United States and Israel were close to decisions to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, even launching cybertools to ruin Iranian software. Then Iran decentralized its nuclear development and literally went underground, until diplomats from several nations with Iran to create the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that would forestall nuclear development by 15 years, and removal of 10 tons of uranium stocks to Russia. Critics aside, Iran generally stood by the agreement.

Donald Trump repeatedly ridiculed the deal, and ordered U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, and the lowering of strong economic sanctions on Iran — and on allies who did business with Iran. That brings us to the recent round of attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq by Iranian proxy militias, the Trump-ordered assassination of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, and tensions about escalating retaliations that have eased for now, but still hang in the air.

Now Iran is within striking distance of a nuclear weapon, some say within months — five years after the abridged agreement.

In North Korea, meanwhile, leader Kim Jong-Un remains cagey about re-starting testing of long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, while Trump keeps talking about a meaningless piece of paper that kinda, sorta indicated interest in de-nuclearization in a hazy way if the United States would lift economic sanctions, recognize the end of the Korean conflict and reduce or eliminate presence of U.S. peacekeeping troops on the border with South Korea.


Unless you are one of those Trump advisers who has lobbied forever to confront Iran and North Korea, it is very difficult to see these developments as positive for global nuclear safety.

Of course, that suggests that we had real strategies in place beyond Trump’s impulsive and vague reliance on personal relationships, or lack of them, toward agreement that nuclear weapons are a bad thing.

Journalists have had no difficulty finding various American and international diplomats, scientists and military folks involved on the nuclear weapons front to adjudge solemnly that the doomsday clock has ticked closer to deadline.

Basically, the combined view is that we have Trump intransigence over what would be required for good deals meeting the stubbornness of two dictatorial, authoritarian nations a half-world apart towards any kind of practical agreement.

The alternative in Iran, just as with North Korea, is learning to live with nuclear weapons in the hands of people whom America judges should not be holding them.

North Korea is flat out unpredictable and disdainful of international law. Iran has a practical, working history of using and arming proxy militias and organizations we label as terrorists. The idea that Hezbollah or other such groups might have a nuclear weapon is beyond imagination on the international fear scale.

From news reports, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, who all were partners in the nuclear deal, it was the Trump’s decision to back out of the 2015 agreements that led directly to this point. That act prompted re-imposition of economic sanctions that, in turn, prompted Iranian adventurism in Iraq and throughout the Middle East through the proxy militias. That has included attacks on U.S. ships and troops, on Saudi oil fields, on support of Yemeni rebels and conflict in other Persian Gulf nations, and on Israel through Hezbollah and militias in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Weirdly, Iran and the United States found themselves briefly allied in fighting ISIS.

In any case. the recent attacks have only speeded and escalated the tensions in the region — with dreams of nuclear weaponry as the spoils.


Iran did not say how much uranium it would produce, and added that it would continue to allow international inspections inside Iran, so, technically, it has not abridged the agreements. But no one expects that they will continue to color within the lines.

A primary objective in the agreement had been to keep Iran at least a year away from getting enough uranium for a nuclear warhead. Iran is now reportedly within months of such a goal.

So, we’re back to Square One. The United States and Israel will have to mount an aggressive way to invite negotiations or to once again decide on military or cyber means to interfere with nuclear production facilities.

Logic would suggest that we would be seeing active diplomatic attempts to resolve these issues, but that would require a plan, as well as people who were more interested in getting a deal than in threatening to blow up cultural institutions inside Iran.

Maybe we could all get hats: Make Iran Nuclear-Free, and just hold rallies.


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