IRAN ON THE WAY TO THE NUCLEAR BOMB?
(Analysis of Tehran’s Nuclear Missile Program)
Sergey Minasian, Ph.D. (Hist.), lecturer, Russian-Armenian State University Applied Politics and World Politics and International Relations departments, research associate with the National Academy of Sciences Institute of History (Erevan, Armenia)
All the indications are that Iran’s nuclear missile program could be precipitated by the relatively small share of modern weapons in the country’s military arsenals, compared to those of its main neighbors as well as of Israel and the U.S. forces deployed in the Persian Gulf area. In the Cold War era, the conventional might of Warsaw Pact member countries threatened the stability and security of Western Europe. This imbalance in battlefield forces in Europe led to the development of tactical nuclear weapons for the European theater. The nuclear capability of NATO forces was seen as the great equalizer that would enable Western Europe to face off against the far superior conventional might of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Likewise, in the context of the Middle East, Tehran could seek to close the gap in conventional weapons by pursuing a nuclear missile program, which could help deter external threats to its national security.1
Iranian experts point to two sets of dangers threatening Iran: on the conventional level, and on the nuclear level. The first is reflected in the Western militaries’ high mobility, air power, electronic intelligence gathering and command and control networks as well as their sea-lifting capability, including in the Middle East.
The second includes regional and international nuclear powers. Some local experts believe that the nuclearization of the Middle East (Israel) and South Asia (India and Pakistan) has confronted the Islamic Republic of Iran with a basically new geostrategic environment with the growing likelihood of WMD being used in armed conflicts. Furthermore, these experts believe that, in the event of possible diplomatic standoffs, states in the region will to a very large extent be relying on their nuclear capability. Iranians are convinced that by far the most likely nuclear threat to Tehran comes from Israel. Given that any preemptive attack by Israel could cause the country irreparable, unacceptable damage, three options to protect itself against foreign aggression or unwanted interference are seen: the acquisition of nuclear capability; external protection provided by the nuclear umbrella of the world’s nuclear powers; and the denuclearization of Israel and the creation of a nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East.
Although Iranian experts, factoring in all aspects of the present-day geopolitical situation in the region, seem to favor the third option, it is by far the most challenging.2 So Tehran could naturally be interested to create its own nuclear weapons as well as effective delivery vehicles: ballistic missiles of various range.
According to some analysts, Iran has yet to commit itself to a nonproliferation regime. Although many of the country’s leaders are on record as pledging themselves to a WMD nonproliferation regime, there is ongoing debate in Iranian society over whether security can be safeguarded with nuclear or other nonconventional weapons. This debate became especially sharp in the wake of a nuclear test in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, a mere 30 kilometers from Iran’s eastern border.
Iran’s accession to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (January 1998) and the Nonproliferation Treaty and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty triggered an acrimonious debate within the country’s military-political leadership between the so-called hard-liners and moderates. Thus, Yaha Rahim Safavi, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commander (purportedly in charge of Iran’ s NBC weapons program), told a closed meeting with his officers that accession to international treaties will not protect Iran against threats on the part of the United States or international Zionism, as represented by Israel.3 Such disputes however are only concerned with whether the country needs nuclear weapons in principle, but not with a nuclearization program since this subject is absolutely off-limits to any public discussion in the state. The main arguments by opponents of a nuclear weapons program are as follows: Every step that the country takes is closely watched by the rest of the world, so the acquisition of nuclear weapons would be too risky, triggering a strong reaction from the international community; not even the acquisition of nuclear weapons will protect us against the United States, but could provoke preemptive strikes against nuclear sites by the United States as well as Israel; these weapons will not be necessary to deter Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or other countries in the Persian Gulf, but their creation will require the fulfillment of serious economic and technological problems.4
Proponents of nuclear weapons point out above all that all new members of the Nuclear Club are located in close proximity to Iran and that Tehran has disagreements with every one of them. Furthermore, a great threat is posed by the U.S. nuclear capability (not so much even strategic as tactical nuclear weapons of very low yields—the “micronukes” and “tinynukes”—as well as precision guided weapons, whose effectiveness approaches that of nuclear weapons) as well as the aggressive U.S. military doctrine with regard to Iran, which has been especially pronounced in the recent period.5
Finally, citing the Cold War era experience in nuclear deterrence and the existence of a bipolar system, the advocates of a nuclear weapons program for Iran stress that the sheer availability of nuclear weapons does not mean that they will necessarily be used against possible adversaries, but will only act as a deterrent. They contend that the creation of such weapons not only will help fulfill traditional military tasks but also enable Iran to enhance its stature in the region as well as in the entire modern system of international relations.
Today it is very difficult to judge of Iran’s nuclear doctrine should it acquire nuclear weapons—whether it will choose nuclear deterrence strategy and will use this capability only as a last resort in ensuring its national security or will opt for a more aggressive policy, based on the possibility of delivering a preemptive strike (say, on Israeli nuclear forces), thus intimidating possible adversaries, including its neighbors.
The possible deployment of an Iranian nuclear program, which is directly related to the problem of WMD proliferation in the Middle East, is a kind of a catalyst and indicator pointing to the intensity of regional security and stability problems. Furthermore, some extra-regional states regard this Iranian program as a real and immediate threat, which is bound to affect the security of the entire so-called Greater Middle East.
Development and Status of the Civilian Atomic Program
To get a general idea about Iran’s capacity to create nuclear weapons, it is essential to consider the main stages of its nuclear power development program.
Back in 1957, the United States signed with Iran an agreement on cooperation in the nuclear sphere within the framework of the U.S. Atom for Peace program. The first nuclear reactor (5 MW), built with U.S. assistance, went into operation in 1967. It is located at the Amirabad Nuclear Research Center (now Amirabad Technical College), in Tehran. In the late 1960s-early 1970s, the country began to explore prospects for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. In 1970, Iran acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in 1974 started actively cooperating with the IAEA on the problem of nuclear safeguards—that is to say, by that time a legal groundwork was already in place to develop its own peaceful atomic program. Also in 1974, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) was created and a number of contracts signed with U.S., West German, French, Belgian, and other companies on the building of reactors and the purchase of equipment and fuel for atomic power stations. It was a fairly ambitious program providing for the building of 23 reactors. It was due to be completed by the late 1990s.
By the onset of the Islamic Revolution, Iran had signed contracts with Western companies to build six nuclear reactors. Sixty percent and 70 percent of two reactors (1,300 MW each), at the Bushehr nuclear power station (they were built by the German companies Siemens and KWU), respectively, were ready. Preparations were in progress to build two 935 MW reactors with French assistance. Thousands of Iranian specialists on nuclear engineering received training in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and India. 6 Even Israel provided Iran assistance in building its nuclear power industry.
Following the downfall of the Shah regime (1979), many of the country’s nuclear programs were scaled down as U.S. support stopped while by the late 1980s, under U.S. pressure, many Western as well as other states virtually ceased cooperation with Iran in this sphere. Foreign specialists and a large number of their Iranian colleagues had to leave the country. Moreover, from March 1984 until November 1987 Iraqi aviation, using reconnaissance information from U.S. and British intelligence services, carried out six air raids on the Bushehr nuclear power station, causing substantial damage to it, which further impeded implementation of Iran’s nuclear program.7
Nonetheless, as of the mid-1980s, Iran went ahead with a new stage of its nuclear program—importantly, relying to a very large extent on its own resources. Uranium ore began to be mined in the Yazd province and in 1984, a nuclear research center was opened in Isfahan, where a small Chinese-made nuclear reactor was subsequently installed.
In the early 1990s, Tehran was giving increasing priority to the civilian nuclear program, which was to a considerable extent due to the growing energy needs of the country’s economy even though it had not matched the level of development that had been achieved under the Shah regime. The experience in building the Isfahan nuclear research center as well as other projects showed that Iran had an acute need for the import of equipment and nuclear material as well as technical assistance, consultations, foreign specialists, and so forth. A shortage of specialists became one of the main problems for Iran, so (along with intensive personnel training programs), as of the second half of the 1980s, the Iranian authorities deployed a lot of effort to ensure the repatriation of those who had left the country after the revolution.8
In the late 1980s-early 1990s, the following countries cooperated with Iran in the nuclear sphere: Argentina, the South African Republic, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Pakistan, India, China, and the U.S.S.R. (subsequently Russia). All of them, except China and Russia, however, under U.S. pressure, had to break off contacts with Tehran in this area.
As for China, it provided assistance in research, installation of research reactors, training Iranian specialists, and in building nuclear power stations and developing the nuclear power industry. Thus, in 1985 the PRC may have supplied two “subcritical training reactors” to the Isfahan nuclear research center (a 27 kilowatt miniature neutron source reactor and a heavy water zero power reactor). In addition, some fifteen nuclear engineers from the Isfahan center were trained in China between 1988 and 1992, and in the late 1980s China is believed to have sold Iran a small electromagnetic separator called a calutron (used in uranium enrichment) for use at the Isfahan facility. In 1991, it was reported that China and Iran had struck a deal under which China would sell a research reactor (20-30 megawatts) to Iran, to be located at the Isfahan site. Nonetheless, despite the sides’ serious intentions, a 300-megawatt nuclear power project was frozen as, in October 1997, Washington and Beijing signed an agreement whereby the Chinese side undertook to stop nuclear cooperation with Iran.9
As far as Russia is concerned, today it is Iran’s only real partner in this sphere. We will not go deep into it here: This subject was analyzed in detail elsewhere, in another work by this author.10 It only needs to be noted that two VVER-1000 reactors (1,000 MW each), are to be put into operation in Bushehr, to be followed with another two, of a more modern design—VVER-440 (440 MW each). Under the contract, the first unit of the Bushehr nuclear power station should be ready in 2003.11 According to Assadola Sabori, IAEO deputy chief, more than 70 percent of the nuclear power project is ready while later this year the first shipment of nuclear fuel is expected from Russia.12
According to some U.S. experts, Russian VVER-1000 reactors in Bushehr could be tapped to build a crude nuclear weapon using spent nuclear fuel (up to 180 kilograms a year)13, which is unlikely, however. First, Russian specialists and officials stress that in accordance with the standard practice adopted for all Soviet/Russian-made reactors abroad, this fuel first is to be shipped for reprocessing to Russia and only then returned to Iran.14 Second, Tehran does not have either the resources or infrastructure or technology necessary to create a nuclear charge based only on energy-grade plutonium. International practice knows of just one example when such a device was built and successfully tested: in 1962, in the United States, but even then only after 15 years of research and 62 field tests. Furthermore, such nuclear devices are unfit for long storage while owing to their high radioactivity, more serious personnel protection measures are necessary than in handling arms-grade plutonium.15
It will be appropriate in this context to point out that the presence or absence of a nuclear power industry does not at all mean that a state can or cannot build nuclear weapons. Thus, Pakistan developed them using highly enriched uranium although it is not used at Pakistani nuclear power stations. Moreover, Israel does not have a nuclear power industry at all while there are no doubts that it has nuclear weapons. At the same time, the creation of nuclear explosive devices in the South African Republic, based on highly enriched uranium, has virtually nothing to do with the country’s nuclear energy industry.16 Sometimes it is argued that Iran is one of the world’s largest oil exporters and so does not need a nuclear power industry. Iranian experts, however, note that oil could run out, and if no investment is made in the nuclear power sector, the country will over time lag hopelessly behind the rest of the world.17 In addition, for some reason the Americans did not express such concerns in the 1970s, when they were providing assistance to the Shah regime in this sphere.
Because Iran is signatory to virtually all international treaties on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy (except the IAEA’s 92+2 expanded safeguards system), it is fully entitled to develop its own atomic industry. In 1999, Iran placed 10th on the list of countries receiving technical assistance from the IAEA; as of late 2000, it was participating in 12 of its projects. 18
Nonetheless, both Iran’s nuclear program per se and its cooperation in this sphere with other states arouse serious concern in the United States, Western Europe, Israel, and the Arab countries. They are afraid that Iran will be able to use its nuclear technology to build nuclear weapons. At the same time, some U.S. and Israeli experts admit that the Bushehr nuclear reactor itself will hardly be tapped to build a nuclear bomb. All states that used a civilian nuclear program for such purposes, did it not with the help of nuclear power stations but research reactors. They point out however that the use of a nuclear power station to train personnel, acquire the necessary technology, and sign contracts on nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian needs can expedite the development of a nuclear program.19
Sh. Feldman, a well regarded Israeli expert, JCSS research associate, notes: As concerns Iran’s capacity to acquire nuclear weapons, the most serious threat here is not posed by building a facility in Bushehr. As far as we know, this project is a perfectly legitimate effort to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The problem lies in the possible existence of other, including uranium enrichment, projects in Iran as well as the extent to which the scale of the Bushehr project enables Iran to use it as a front for other projects.20 Although it has to be recognized that Iran—at least formally—has a better record of compliance on many of the nuclear energy treaties than the United States’ closest ally, Israel, which has yet to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty, or Pakistan and India, which have not acceded to the Treaty but already have nuclear weapons.
The Military Nuclear Program
Iran began to work on this program as of the mid-1970s. The Shah himself went on record as declaring the country’s intention (it was later played down) to build nuclear weapons. The process, however, was interrupted by the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Many Western experts believe that it was not until 1987 that, on express orders from Imam Khomeini, the research program was resumed, naturally arousing the concern of both neighboring as well as other states.
The progress or sheer existence of Iran’s military nuclear program is a moot point, however. There are two sources of information on the issue. First, the so-called “closed information from competent sources,” which is often cited by, among others, U.S. and Israeli officials. Second, information available in the public domain—from the mass media, research centers, and other establishments and organizations concerned.21
It needs to be noted that analysis of closed information is absolutely useless as there is no way of studying, let alone assessing, its sources. Say, it is not possible to establish the authenticity of information provided by the Americans to Russia or other states concerned, the United States being reluctant to disclose its sources. (Yet, back in 1977, when France studied U.S. intelligence on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Washington managed to persuade Paris to abandon cooperation with Islamabad in the nuclear power sphere. The United States has been providing information about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to the IAEA since 1991, as a result of which Baghdad’s program became a subject of international concern.)
As for information available in the public domain, this poses an additional difficulty that has to do with information overload and duplication as well as the unreliability of information, even that provided by specialized scientific research centers. Naturally, official sources—state or international organizations, records of parliamentary hearings, international conferences, and so forth—can be the most reliable of all. They should serve as a basis for all analysis of the issue in hand.
Western, primarily U.S., experts maintain that Iran is actively working to develop all types of WMD, mainly nuclear weapons. These assertions oftentimes rely on statements by Iran’s top military and political leaders, talking about the aspiration, and ability, to build a nuclear bomb to ensure the country’s security. Thus, back in October 1988, shortly after the cease-fire, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, then the speaker of the Iranian parliament and later Iran’s president, declared it to be Iran’s aspiration to “equip” the republic with chemical, bacteriological, and radiological weapons. In 1991, Ayatollah Moajarani, the vice president of Iran; and other Iranian officials, announced that the country was working, together with other Muslim states, on joint projects to build the “Islamic bomb.”
In 1993, the CIA reported that, in its estimate, Tehran would be able to build the nuclear bomb within the next eight to 10 years while the U.S. secretary of defense said that the process could take between seven and 15 years.22 It is noteworthy that in the past decade the CIA has been repeatedly releasing data on the “real” time frame for Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons (see Table 1). All of this, rather, points to a lack of reliable information about Iran’s scientific and technological capability in this sphere.
Date CIA forecast was made (year)
Purported date for acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran (year)
At the same time, according to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), progress on the project to build the Iranian nuclear bomb has been very slow, so it will not appear until 2005-2007 at the very best.23
The Israelis are even more categorical. According to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Tehran will acquire nuclear weapons by 2005. The same forecast was made by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad (true, this is not the first time the Israeli intelligence agency has put a time line on their acquisition; earlier, it said the program would be completed in 2000).24
As for Russia, its official structures and independent experts paint a somewhat different picture. According to a report by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, which was publicly released, although it has an appropriate program, Iran today does not have nuclear weapons or capacity to create them. Even with technical and financial assistance ($1 billion to $1.5 billion a year), it will not build such weapons until in 10 years time while the country’s progress in the nuclear sphere does not exceed that of another 20 to 25 states.25
This is borne out by a comparative analysis of the main economic and military parameters of the Middle East countries. Among these, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and Pakistan have the most advanced economic capacity (in terms of GDP and energy consumption). In per capita GDP, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and Iran are at the top of the list. At the same time, Tehran places last in the level of military spending, which objectively points to a considerably lower level of its militarization, compared to Israel, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, or Egypt. This conclusion is also substantiated by the dynamics of the 1989-1998 period: The annualized average share of military spending in GDP during this period was: in Saudi Arabia, 13.6 percent (approx. $17.8 billion); Israel, 10 percent; Syria, 7.6 percent; Pakistan, 6.3 percent; Turkey, 3.8 percent; Egypt, 3.6 percent, as compared to Iran’s 2.6 percent.
The volume of military spending by Iran does not provide conclusive evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Judging by purely financial indicators, however, there is reason to suspect that such programs exist also in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and even Syria. Meanwhile, Iran’s industry is insufficiently developed and still heavily depends on the import of materials, parts, and components.26
Based on Iran’s budget expenditure indicators, the average ratio of defense spending to GDP (factoring in oil price fluctuations) is as follows (see Table 2).27
Defense spending to GDP (in percentages)
Defense spending to all budget expenditure (in percentages)
This shows that after the Iran-Iraq war, military spending has reduced considerably. Furthermore, its financial problems have often compelled Tehran to suspend conventional arms purchases. Thus, in the early 1990s, Russia froze supplies to Iran of certain types of weapons owing to its failure to fulfill its financial obligations (e.g., the last of the submarines it ordered was not delivered to Iran until 1997). Even if it wanted to, Iran would hardly be in a position to allocate substantial resources for a military nuclear program. This said, it would be impossible to disagree with the opinion of some European experts that the present pro-reform regime is able to develop this program. This is due to the fact that today it is easier for the government to encourage many of the Iranian nuclear physicists living abroad to return to their motherland to work on such a program.28
So, even with sufficient funding and active foreign assistance (which is rather iffy) Iran is unlikely to create a nuclear bomb before 2005-2007.
Nonetheless, some experts believe that under certain conditions the country could acquire a “radiological,” or the so-called “dirty nuclear bomb” within a shorter period. In their time the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States refused to adopt such warheads for service because of the danger involved in storing them as well as the complexity of using them in combat conditions. In Iran, however, these considerations are likely to be sidelined and the country’s political leadership will decide to create such warheads using highly radioactive material, say, nuclear waste. Yet the lethal effect of such weapons is lower than that of a standard nuclear warhead. Still, they could effectively poison a city if detonated near the ground, leading to catastrophic consequences, comparable to those of a low-yield nuclear warhead.29
The Status of Iran’s Missile Program
Plans to create modern missile forces figure prominently on Iran’s military development program. This program is cited as indirect evidence by those contending that Tehran will soon acquire nuclear weapons. It has to be said, however, that the sheer existence of this program does not point to Tehran’s intention to acquire nuclear weapons. After all delivery vehicles for these weapons can be provided by combat aircraft, heavy artillery, and so on and so forth. Experts believe that cruise missiles also can be used for these purposes—say, Chinese-made HY-2/C-801 Silkworm, Soviet MiG-29s and SU-24s, U.S. F-4E/Ds, F-14As, F-5Es, and Chinese F-7s.
On the whole, Tehran has sufficient industrial capacity to implement a missile program, but it lacks technology to build missile control and guidance systems.30 In the post-war period, it received significant assistance in this sphere, mainly from North Korea and China. Thus, the North Korean NoDong-1 missile (a modernized version of the Soviet R-300 missile, known in the West as Scud) was used as a platform for the Shahab-3 missile. For its part, China made available technology to produce C-701 ASW missiles (with a range of 15 kilometers) and C-802 missiles (approx. 120 kilometers) which also can be used by F-4E/D and F-5E aircraft that are in service with the Iranian Air Force.31
At present the country’s military has approx. 35 operational/tactical missile launchers and 84 tactical missile launchers with a large number of missiles of various range (mainly North Korean-made Scud-B/Cs as well as modified missiles or missiles built in Iran with Soviet, North Korean, or Chinese missile technology: CSS-8, FROG, Iran-130, Oghab, Shahin-1/2, Nazeat, Shahab-2/3—in all, approx. 500 missiles).32
Of these, the Shahab-3 missile (a modernized modification of the Soviet R-300—in Western classification, Scud-B) has a range of about 1,300 kilometers, which enables it to reach not only Israel and the majority of Arab states, but all U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf area.33 It is armed with a single warhead (with a mass of approx. 1,000 kilograms) and has a CEP (Circular Error, Probable) coefficient of 1.9 to 2.1 kilometers. By 2010, Iran is likely to deploy 16 to 20 such launchers (today they are based near Hamadan and Isfahan).
Furthermore, Iranian experts are working on the Shahab-4, a medium-range ballistic missile, based on the North Korean TaepoDon-1 platform—a two-stage liquid propellant ballistic missile with a launch mass of 27 to 30 tonnes, capable of delivering a single warhead (1,100-1,200 kilograms) to a distance of up to 2,200 kilometers with a CEP of approx. 2 kilometers. First launchers for these missiles (between two and six) are expected to be adopted for service by 2010. By 2015, their number is likely to increase to 10.
Iranian specialists could use technical solutions made in the process of developing this missile in building the Shahab-5 ballistic missile that will probably also be an analogue of the North Korean TaepoDong-2 ballistic medium range missile. According to some estimates, this two-stage liquid propellant ballistic missile could have a launch mass of 84 to 86 tonnes, a maximum range of up to 3,400 to 3,550 kilometers, and the circular probability error of approx. four kilometers. First (two to four) Shahab-5 launchers are expected to be adopted by 2010, their number increasing to six by 2015. They will be armed with single conventional warheads. Nonetheless, Iranian specialists believe they also can be armed with CW warheads.34
In all, within the Shahab program, which was begun in 1992, several types of liquid propellant ballistic missiles are being developed. By 2015, the Iranian military is expected to get a considerable number of such missiles of varying range, which should, according to the country’s military-political leadership, strengthen its armed forces and, as a result, enhance Iran’s stature and influence in the Middle East.
According to I. Safranchuk, a well regarded Russian expert, director of the Center for Defense Information Moscow office, “Iran, being a large country with a substantial geopolitical and geo-economic potential, is thus far not in a position to tap it to the full. This is due to the fact that the state is a rampant Eastern bureaucracy, absolutely unfit to work effectively, but is very good at going through the motions, imitating activity in different spheres. Herein lies the main difficulty in assessing Iran’s real military-technical capacity and its progress in implementing military-technical programs, including on WMD.”35
In assessing Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons, it is essential to define the content of the concept “military nuclear program,” which should be regarded in two aspects. First, the aspiration to have such weapons in principle, which does not for all intents and purposes lend itself to verification nor provide grounds in international law for denying Tehran access to nuclear technology. Second, the existence of such a program as well as its implementation does lend itself to verification.
From this perspective, judging from a number of statements by Iran’s top officials, there is good reason to say that it has probably gone ahead with applied work within the framework of such a program. Today, however, there is no cause to suggest that Iran will develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. After all there is no conclusive evidence pointing to implementation of such a program, which also is backed up by IAEA data. Still, the likelihood of such a program is fairly high, a view that is shared by the majority of Western and Russian experts and also is reflected in reports by the world’s leading intelligence services. Sure, in their time IAEA inspections did not establish any violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty on the part of Iran. Even so, U.S., British, French, German, and Israeli intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned that alongside the development of a civilian nuclear program, which is under the control of IAEA inspections, Iran is in fact also developing nuclear weapons.36
Still, progress made by Iran enables it to organize the production of weapons-grade nuclear material with foreign assistance as the country seeks to master this technology. So, in light of these assessments, Iran could be ranked among the states that have made a decision in principle to build such weapons and are working to put in place the necessary scientific and production base.37
Further cause for concern is Tehran’s aspiration to acquire heavy-water reactors and facilities to produce arms-grade nuclear materials. Thus, in the early 1990s, China supplied Iran with a heavy-water zero power reactor, unfit to produce plutonium, but making it possible to model processes occurring in a high-power heavy-water reactor. In the second half of the 1990s, the IAEO was negotiating the purchase of a heavy-water research reactor, purportedly with 40 MW capacity, in Russia.38 Furthermore, there have been occasional reports about Iran’s intention to buy nuclear material and even nuclear weapons on the so-called international black market.
In the course of his visit to Iran (late February 2003), Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that Iran should agree to an “additional protocol” under the IAEA’s nuclear inspection rights. The IAEA discovered Iran was building a centrifuge plants for processing nuclear fuel at Natanz, 200 miles west of Tehran. Not surprisingly this aroused serious concern among experts.39 Although on the whole the IAEA head expressed satisfaction with the results of his visit, adding that Iran had agreed to supply early information on all new nuclear facilities, which could be seen as a sign of greater transparency of Iran’s nuclear program.40
The sincerity of Iran’s intention to cooperate on a nuclear program should be backed up by the country’s accession to the IAEA Additional Protocol of Program 93+2 INFCIRC/540, providing for more intrusive inspections than INFCIRC/214. Although accession to the Additional Protocol 93+2 is not a legally binding procedure, its signing would enhance the level of trust in Iran on the part of the IAEA as well as other structures concerned, with regard to Tehran’s fulfillment of its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty.
The future of the nonproliferation regime itself could be crucial to Iran’s nuclear program. The situation was seriously complicated following the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan and their de facto accession to the “Nuclear Club.” The collapse of the nonproliferation regime in East and South Asia as well as North Korea’s recent withdrawal from the Nonproliferation Treaty will have most serious implications in the Middle East. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran (especially after Israel) could trigger a negative reaction across the Arab world, especially given that, according to a number of sources, Saudi Arabia is closely cooperating with Pakistan in the military sphere. Furthermore, “in the worst-case scenario, a nuclear chain reaction could spill over to other countries of the Islamic world—from Turkey to Malaysia to Indonesia.”41
Development of Iran’s nuclear missile program will to a very large extent be predicated on the position of the United States, Russia, and the West European states, or rather, on their political will. On the one hand, they can prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear and missile technology; on the other, they should—jointly or with assistance from other states concerned—safeguard Iran’s security, including against regional nuclear powers and threats that are increasingly being heard from the United States, which indeed is to a very large extent contingent on prospects for a peace settlement in the Middle East. After all only real security guarantees for Tehran will be able to convince it that it should not seek nuclear weapons.
True, it is expedient to separate Iran’s missile program from its nuclear program. The former largely hinges on the fact that it provides the most low-cost, quick, and rational way for Iran to close the gap on long-range and air assets with its neighbors—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, let alone Israel, which has the most powerful air force in the Middle East, to say nothing about the U.S. troops deployed in the Persian Gulf zone. In the number of modern combat aircraft—approximately 70 to 80 Soviet/Russian-made MiG-29s, Su-24s and SU-25s—Iran is seriously behind the Air Force of Turkey (240 F-16C/Ds) and Saudi Arabia (114 Tornado ADV/IDSs, 167 F-15S/C/Ds) and comparable with that of Pakistan (32 F-16A/Bs), and even Azerbaijan (five SU-24s, two SU-25s, over 30 MiG-25s) and Turkmenistan (24 MiG-29s and 24 MiG-25s). It should also be borne in mind that Iran’s U.S.-made F-4 and F-5 aircraft were designed back in the 1960s, the majority of F-14s are almost unserviceable while none of these aircraft can be effectively used in air battles owing to problems with the launch of Phoenix air-to-air missiles.42
True, it must be said that even Tehran’s acquisition of an impressive number of missiles using Scud technology and armed with conventional warheads does not close the gap with its neighbors in aviation and other modern weapon systems. In the course of World War II, Germany used approximately 4,200 V-2 (Scud prototype) missiles against Great Britain, which, however, did not produce a serious impact on the outcome of the war. The use of missiles had little effect on the results of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Prior to 1991, Iraq had the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East (approx. 1,000), which also did not play a significant role in the course of the war in the Persian Gulf at the time. Although it could be presumed that development and introduction of new technology in building missiles in Iran, in particular missile guidance systems, will enhance their accuracy—that is to say, enhance their role as a combat asset.
Summing it up, it needs to be said that even if the international community persuades Tehran to scale down its military nuclear program, given the present military-political situation in the Middle East, it will hardly abandon the work on missile systems, even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve.
1 See: K.M. Campbell, “Nuclear Proliferation Beyond Rogues,” The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2002-2003, p.12.
2 See: J. Roshandel, “Iran, Nuclear Technology and International Security,” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 164-165.
3 See: B.J. Talbot, J.J. Hicks, “Led by a Lion: The U.S. Role in Preserving Gulf Security,” Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2000, p. 88.
4 See: F. Farhi, To Have or Not to Have? Iran’s Domestic Debate on Nuclear Options. Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Options: Issues and Analysis, ed. by J. Kemp, Washington, 2001, pp. 41-45.
5 See: N. Entessar, “The Post-Cold War U.S. Military Doctrine: Implications for Iran,” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Summer 1996, pp. 406-411.
6 See: A.H. Cordesman, “Iran and Nuclear Weapons,” CSIS, Washington, 2000, pp. 5-6.
7 See: A. Koch, J. Wolf, “Iran’s Nuclear Facilities: A Profile,” CNS, Monterey, 1998, pp. 1-2.
8 See: I. Safranchuk, “Iadernye i raketnye programmy Irana i bezopasnost’ Rossii: ramki rossiisko-iranskogo sotrudnichestva. Part 1,” Nauchnyye zapiski PIR-Tsentra (Moscow), No. 8, 1998.
9 See: B. Gill, “Chinese Arms Exports to Iran,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 2, May 1998, pp. 62-65.
10 See: S. Minasian, The Contemporary Status of Iran’s Nuclear Missile Program and the Russian-Iranian Relations. Iran and Caucasus, Vol. VI, Briel, Leiden, Boston, 2002.
11 See: A. Zobov, Bezopasnost’ Rossii, Iran i amerikanskiye sanktsii, Special Supplement to the Iadernoye rasprostranenie collection, No. 1, 2001, pp. 23-25.
12 See: “Iran’s Nuclear Plant Nears Completion,” The Guardian, 11 March, 2003.
13 See: F. Wehling, “Russian Nuclear and Missile Exports to Iran,” The Nonproliferation Review, Winter 1999, pp. 137-138.
14 See: A. Zobov, op. cit., pp. 27-28.
15 See: A. Khlopkov, “Iranskaia iadernaia programma v rossiisko-amerikanskikh otnosheniiakh,” Nauchnye zapiski PIR-Tsentra, No. 18, 2001, p. 22.
16 See: V. Novikov, “Novye podkhody k ukrepleniiu rezhima nerasprostraneniia iadernogo oruzhiia,” Iadernoye rasprostranenie, No. 39, April-June 2001, p. 20.
17 See: J. Roshandel, S. Lotfian, “Horizontal Nuclear Proliferation: Is Iran a Nuclear-Capable State?” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. V, No. 1, Spring 1993, p. 215.
18 See: A. Khlopkov, op. cit., p. 17.
19 See: R.C. Nelson, D.H. Saltiel, “Managing Proliferation Issues with Iran,” The Atlantic Council of the U.S. Policy Paper, January 2002, p. 12.
20 See: “Regionalnye aspekty nerasprostraneniia. Moskovskaia konferentsiia po nerasprostraneniiu,” Iadernoe nerasprostranenie, No. 39, April-June 2001, p. 43.
21 See: V. Novikov, “Raketno-iadernoe nerasprostranenie: vopros Irana,” Iaderniy kontrol, No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 50-51.
22 See: W.S. Carus, “Iranian Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons: Implications and Responses,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1998, pp. 12-13.
23 See: A.H. Cordesman, op. cit., p. 2.
24 See: “Iran’s ‘Nuclear Weapon’,” Jane’s News Briefs, Issue 2656, 14 September, 2001.
25 [www. svr.gov.ru/material/4-iran; www. svr.gov.ru/material/2-13-9].
26 See: A. Alimov, “Voenno-promyshlenniy potentsial Irana: nekotorye otsenki,” Iaderniy kontrol, No. 3, May-June 2001, pp. 44-50.
27 See: V.P. Tsukanov, “O realizatsii finansovoi politiki Irana v usloviiakh neftianykh shokov (za period 60- 90-x godov),” in: Iran: Islam i vlast, Moscow, 2001, p. 95 (Table 3).
28 See: “Elusive Partnership: U.S. and European Policies in the Near East and the Gulf,” The Atlantic Council of the U.S. Policy Paper, September 2002, p. 18.
29 See: A.H. Cordesman, op. cit., pp. 31-32.
30 See: G.B. Korsakov, “Problema rasprostraneniia raket i raketnykh tekhnologiy,” SShA i Kanada: ekonomika, politika, kultura, No. 6, 1999, pp. 37-38.
31 See: R. Hewson, “China, Iran Share Missile Know-how,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 4 December, 2002, p. 15.
32 See: V. Sazhin, “Vooruzhennye sily Irana,” Zarubezhnoe voennoe obozrenie, No. 12, 2000, pp. 2-9; “The Conventional Military Balance in The Gulf,” CSIS, Washington, 2000, p. 76; “Military Balance 2000/2001,” IISS, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 139.
33 See: M. Khodarenok, “V raketnom klube—popolnenie,” Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, 31 May, 2002.
34 See: V. Dvorkin, “Sostoianie i perspektivy razvitiia raketnogo vooruzheniia v stranakh “tretiego mira” v period do 2015 goda,” Iaderniy kontrol, No. 1, January-February 2002, pp. 44-45.
35 I. Safranchuk, op. cit.
36 See: Ch. Zak, “Iran’s Nuclear Policy and the IAEA: An Evolution of Program 93+2,” WINEP, Washington, 2002, pp. 6-7.
37 See: Rossia v poiskakh strategii bezopasnosti (problemy bezopasnosti, ogranicheniia vooruzheniia i mirotvorchestva). Chapter 7, “Nerasprostranenie iadernogo oruzhiia,” Moscow, 1996, p. 76.
38 See: A. Khlopkov, op. cit., p. 22.
39 See: I. Traynor, “U.N. Alarm at Iran’s Nuclear Programs,” The Guardian, 18 March, 2003.
40 See: V. Skosyrev, “Nam obeshchaiut pirog v nebe,” Moskovskie novosti, 26 February, 2003.
41 S.M. Rogov, “Iadernoe oruzhie v mnogopoliarnom mire,” SShA i Kanada: ekonomika, politika, ideologiya, No. 8, 1998, pp. 8-12.
42 See: Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment. The Gulf States, April-September 2002, p. 237; Military Balance 2000/2001, pp. 41, 78-80,139-140, 297-298; “The Conventional Military Balance in The Gulf,” pp. 53-54.