To prevent Iranian nukes, a negotiated deal better than a military strike: David Albright

Ultimately, the effort to deny Iran nuclear weapons will require negotiations, so “even if it came to military strikes, there would still have to be negotiations to keep Iran from reconstituting a nuclear weapons program,” Albright says.

Here are Albright’s answers to two of DW questions.

DW: For all of your concerns over [the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program] and many other issues, you still say that engaging with Iran is a far better option than military action — bombing its nuclear sites. Why?

Albright: The experience with bombing isn’t great. Israel bombed the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Iraq proceeded to make a much more secret - and much bigger - nuclear weapons program. And it was only Saddam’s miscalculation in invading Kuwait in 1990 that kept Iraq from getting nuclear weapons. If they hadn’t invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraq could have had tens of nuclear weapons by now. So I think bombing by itself can delay a program, but it can’t stop it.

A negotiation can stop it — although it doesn’t have to, as the case of North Korea shows. But the negotiations are a far better way to proceed. And it’s also important to buy time. The North Korean nuclear weapons program was nipped in the bud in a sense in 1994. It was on the verge of being able to make tens of nuclear weapons per year — it was building very large nuclear reactors to do that. The agreed framework prevented that from happening and delayed the day when North Korea got nuclear weapons.

In the case of Iran, the stakes are higher. The Middle East is a much more dangerous region. The effort has to be to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The negotiations are tougher, they require a lot more, and the Iranians are going to have to be watched much more carefully during the implementation of a deal. And if Iran goes to make nuclear weapons in the future, the United States and its allies are going to have to stop it. And that may require military strikes.

Just to add to that, part of what you would have to do if you were to pursue a military strategy — and it’s by no means ideal — is you have to be able to have a strategy that keeps Iran from rebuilding the day after. And that ultimately would also require negotiations. So even if it came to military strikes, there would still have to be negotiations to keep Iran from reconstituting a nuclear weapons program.

DW: Given those problems with military action, why do you believe it might be the best option if Iran reneges on a deal?

The negotiations deal with this idea of “snapping back” the sanctions, then that creates pressure on Iran to not build a bomb. It takes a long time for sanctions to work, so you’re going to have to do more. I think ultimately from a US point of view, there’s going to have to be a recognition that military options could be used to stop Iran. It would have to be sustained - it can’t be like an Israeli attack, it’s not going to be a one-off effort. It would have to be designed to keep Iran from rebuilding, which means they may have to go back. And certainly they’re going to have to threaten. So it’s certainly a very dire situation. But unfortunately you’re forced into that because sanctions don’t act quickly.