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More of NPEC’s Work
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HOME > REGIONS > Greater Middle East & Africa      
Greater Middle East & Africa
Sep 08, 2021 Iran Leaving the NPT: Our Next Headache (Occasional Paper 2105)
Iran is increasingly putting Washington in a nuclear bind. On the one hand, it refuses to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor its uranium enrichment-related activities or to clarify its past suspect nuclear weapons pursuits. On the other, it has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the 2015 nuclear deal unless Washington lifts economic and trade sanctions against Iran and allows it a robust “peaceful” nuclear program. It hardly helps that Tehran is now enriching uranium to 60 percent — close to weapons-grade. Israel, meanwhile, is also turning up the heat. Israeli military officials publicly oppose President Biden’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal and are planning to take covert and overt military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. How will this story end? The short answer is we don’t know, but one possibility — that Iran will try to withdraw from the NPT — now needs to be taken seriously. Are we ready for this? NPEC thought it would find out. Early in August, it held a week-long diplomatic simulation of a crisis in which US intelligence confirms that Iran intends to withdraw from the NPT. The Israelis fortify this finding in the game by sharing and, subsequently leaking, photographic intelligence that Iran is building several implosion devices. The game featured some prominent players, including a former UN deputy general director for disarmament, a former director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center, a former assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, and players from Egypt and Israel. Rather than spoil the drama of how the game unfolds, I've attached the game’s key takeaways below. The most important of these is that the United States will have to work much harder to develop its own sources of intelligence on Iran and far more closely with key allies and the IAEA if the NPT’s restrictions are to prevail not just in a crisis with Iran, but, with any bad luck, with future Irans.  
Occasional Papers & Monographs
May 27, 2021 Grim Prospect: Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East (Occasional Paper 2103)
As Secretary of State Blinken returns from his trip to Israel after its shooting match with Hamas, the question arises, just how peaceful is the Middle East ever likely to be. The immediate crisis and the shooting may be over in Israel but the long-term prospects for the region include the very grimmest of futures — nuclear proliferation and, with any bad luck, nuclear war. Sound breathless? Maybe, but in the last 36 months, Iran’s, Turkey’s, and Saudi Arabia’s leaders have all threatened to get nuclear weapons and withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. One or more of them might actually follow through. After that, nuclear use in the region is hardly out of the question. How bad might that be? I commissioned a graduate of MIT’s school of nuclear engineering, a contract analyst, Ms. Eva Lisowski, to find out. Using a variety of publicly available computer models, Ms. Lisowski assessed how much harm even a low-yield, nuclear weapon might do in the Middle East. She evaluated how many casualties these weapons would inflict against the populations in five major Middle Eastern cities — Tehran, Riyadh, Dubai, Cairo, and Tel Aviv (for the full report, click here). What she discovered was disturbing: A one-kiloton device detonated at ground level would be at least as deadly as the 15 and 20 kiloton nuclear weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The weapons dropped in 1945 were detonated at 1,600 feet to maximize their blast effects against buildings. One-kiloton ground-bursts, in contrast, maximize prompt radiation and fallout effects against people. The modeled casualty numbers, which ranged from scores to hundreds of thousands, were disturbingly high. Ms. Lisowski's findings have major nuclear control implications. Her study was funded not only by private charitable foundations (Scaife, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and MacArthur), but by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. The question the bureau study asked was what might it take to verify and enforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) over the next two decades. This report suggests that, at a minimum, it will require more nuclear inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) currently assumes that it takes 8 kilograms of plutonium and 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. These numbers (what the IAEA refers to as "significant quantities" or SQs) are a bit on the high side even for a 20-kiloton Nagasaki bomb. They are dangerously obsolete, however, and far too high for a one-kiloton device, which requires not 8, but only 1 to 3 kilograms of plutonium and not 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, but 2.5 to 8 kilograms. This discovery would be academic were it not that the IAEA continues to use its SQ figures to determine how often it should inspect civil nuclear facilities and materials to prevent and deter them from being diverted for military purposes. If, as this study maintains, the agency’s SQs are three to eight times too high, then the agency’s recommended frequency of inspections (what it refers to as their “timeliness detection goals”) are also way too low. None of this makes for pleasant reading. But ignoring or hiding these facts or, worse, lying about them will hardly help. Our government, as well as like-minded states and the IAEA, need to sort this out.   _______________________________________________________________________________________________________ On June 7, 2021, Eva Lisowki gave a presentation on this report. To view her Powerpoint slides, click here. To watch the video recording, see below.  ________________________________________________________________________________________________________    
Occasional Papers & Monographs; Presentations; Audio & Video
May 26, 2021 "India and Pakistan's Next Military Challenge: Drone Warfare," virtual NPEC meeting
On May 26th at 5:00 pm EDT, NPEC hosted a virtual meeting on, "India and Pakistan's Next Military Challenge: Drone Warfare." NPEC secured two of the top experts on this issue, Sameer Lalwani, Senior Fellow and Director of the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center, and General (retired) Feroz Khan, Research Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. The seminar's aim was to clarify how Pakistan and India view the future of drone warfare in South Asia. See below for the recording and slides.    
Presentations; Audio & Video
May 14, 2021 "Offer more for more to stop Iran from going nuclear," Al Jazeera
Given the shooting in the Middle East not only in Israel, but between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, reviving the nuclear deal is getting far more difficult than it was before. Compounding these difficulties is that the Iranian election June 18th is likely to produce more radical, militant rule. This suggests the talks may go nowhere.  But, as NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan and I wrote today in Al Jazeera, this is not the only possibility. As Israel, the Gulf states, and Iran continue to shoot at one another, it’s pretty clear that dialing in their concerns will be essential. As we note in our piece, they now have “more say in whether the bomb spreads throughout the Middle East than Germany, Britain or Russia.” Operationally, what does this mean? Two things. First, if any truly sustainable deal with Iran is to be struck, it will only be credible if it addresses Israeli and Gulf Arab fears that Iran might get the bomb even after signing a deal, and Iranian concerns that Israel might continue to attack Iran even if Tehran agrees not to stockpile any more enriched uranium. Second, the Biden Administration will have to drop its “less-for-less” approach of merely giving some sanctions relief for some Iranian nuclear restraint and instead offer more for more. What that “more” might be is unclear but it would likely have to include Iran dropping enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of spent reactor fuel and Israel and Saudi Arabia agreeing to additional nuclear restraints as well.  These, to be sure, are big asks. But shooting for anything less is unlikely to produce any lasting limits on the nuclear planning now in play in the region. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Feb 23, 2021 Blocking the Gateways to Nuclear Disorder: Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia
 The following presentation was given by Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan at NPEC's Public Policy Fellowship Research Retreat on February 23, 2021.
Presentations; Audio & Video
Feb 22, 2021 NPEC's Public Policy Fellowship Research Retreat 2021
Presentations; Audio & Video
Feb 19, 2021 "Biden Should End U.S. Hypocrisy on Israeli Nukes," Foreign Policy
Wednesday, President Biden phoned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the official read out of the call, no mention was made of Israel’s nuclear program. As a result, it is unclear if Biden committed to pledging not to press Israel to give up its nuclear weapons or to confirm their existence as long as Israel feels threatened. Israel has demanded every American president since Bill Clinton make this pledge in writing. In the attached Foreign Policy piece, “Biden Should End U.S. Hypocrisy on Israeli Nukes,” Victor Gilinsky and I argue Biden shouldn’t. Israel has a triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and was recently rated the world’s eighth most powerful state, just behind Japan. After the Abraham Accords, Israel is unlikely to be pushed into the sea. On the other hand, pressure is mounting on Washington to uphold its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) promise to limit its nuclear forces. Last fall, the United States called on China to abide by this NPT pledge and after extending New START, the Biden Administration announced its desire for China to join in follow-on nuclear reduction talks. The Administration is currently attempting to engage Iran to renew and fortify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Yet, it will be difficult to do so credibly without acknowledging Israel’s nuclear arsenal — something currently forbidden by Executive order of anyone holding a US security clearance.  The same also is true of dealing with Egyptian threats to hold the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference hostage if Washington refuses to participate in talks to establish a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Israel is expanding its nuclear activities at Dimona. All of this suggests its time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands. Washington pretend Israel has no bombs. All of this suggests it's time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Feb 19, 2021 "Turkey's Nuclear Reactor: A Tempting Target?" The National Interest
As the controversy between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s deployment of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft and missile systems continues to simmer, there is a different air defense concern that both the US and Turkey should discuss – the vulnerability of nuclear reactors to accurate missiles and drone attacks. In Turkey’s case, this problem was highlighted last month by a large explosion at the construction site of its first commercial nuclear power plant. In the attached piece in The National Interest, “Turkey’s Nuclear Reactor: A Tempting Target,” Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan and I explain how the construction site explosion set Turkish locals at Akkuyu on edge. According to the building contractor, the explosion, which caused serious damage to surrounding homes and injured two people, was “planned.” Those living near the plant, though, had a different take. They’re concerned that this explosion was no mishap and that it presages a more catastrophic accident in the future. The plant, they point out, sits on a seismic fault. What no one has paid enough attention to, however, is that future disasters could be planned by local terrorists. Recently, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist organization used drones to attack a military base. It could, if it chose, attack the nuclear plant at Akkuyu with its armed drones, which are capable of travelling 60 miles and fast enough to outwit Turkey’s military jamming technology. The possible knock-on effects of such a strike include inducing public panic to igniting a spent fuel fire that could mimic Chernobyl.  What should we do? John and I recommend that the Biden Administration quietly encourage Ankara to drop its controversial nuclear power plans. Turkish critics of the Akkuyu project, including the Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s largest opposition Party, argue it would be far cheaper and safer to kill the reactor project and invest instead in renewables and natural gas. Washington and others should help Turkey with those alternatives. 
Op-Eds & Blogs
Dec 06, 2020 "A Biden Plan for Riyadh and its Neighbors," Foreign Policy
Among the foreign policy dogs that are yet to bark, is Biden’s policy toward Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are anticipating a chillier tone, but when asked the Biden team had no comment. Last December, Biden said he’d stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia and make them “the pariah that they are.” Holding Saudi Arabia accountable for pursuing nuclear weapons and committing human rights violations makes sense. The question is how. The attached Foreign Policy piece by NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan supplies an answer: Rather than shunning Riyadh, Washington should afford them tough love. The Saudis believe the US will soon abandon them and that they’ll soon be at the mercy of mullahs from Tehran. Washington and other Western capitals can ease these concerns, which are shared in other Middle Eastern capitals, and in exchange should get them to clean up their proliferation and human rights act. The best way to do this, Spacapan argues, would be to form a league of Western and Middle Eastern states to enhance the region’s security, energy, economic, and social development. “Even if the coalition started somewhat small – just the US, UK, EU, Saudi Arabia, and smaller Arab states such as Jordan, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Tunisia – it would,” he notes, “demonstrate that the US and its western allies will not soon leave Saudi Arabia at the mercy of Iran or other outside powers.” This alone could damper Riyadh’s drive to go nuclear. America’s ties to Riyadh epitomize the dilemma that plagues its foreign policy: Maintaining relations with influential authoritarians is only politically sustainable if you get them to behave better. Ignoring human rights violations and nuclear proliferation would contradict American values, but abandoning states rarely improves matters. The idea of creating a league is surely ambitious. The alternatives, which mostly amount to doing nothing or spending a great deal in reactionary military operations, recommend trying. It is something a Biden Administration should consider.
Op-Eds & Blogs
Oct 15, 2020 "Say No to Enrichment and Reprocessing In the Middle East," Foreign Policy
One foreign policy promise both Biden and Trump have made is to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East by cutting a nuclear deal with Iran. Biden wants to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement Trump pulled out of. Trump says he wants to cut a “better” deal... But as Victor Gilinsky and I explain in our Foreign Policy piece, “To Prevent Proliferation, Stop Enrichment and Reprocessing in the Middle East,” blocking the bomb’s further spread in the Middle East requires more than just “fixing” Iran. The Saudis have threatened to acquire nuclear weapons and have secretly been working with the Chinese on processing uranium. Washington also must soon review and renew the terms of its civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with Turkey (whose president, Recep Erdogan, recently said Ankara has a right to acquire nuclear arms), as well as with Egypt (which once harbored weapons ambitions) and Morocco.   Unfortunately, the United States now has not one, but three different nonproliferation standards in the Middle East.  Each takes a different approach to limiting uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent reactor fuel (enrichment can produce weapons-grade uranium; reprocessing nuclear weapons explosive plutonium).  In the case of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, Iran is allowed to enrich and may eventually reprocess as well. Meanwhile, the deal Washington cut with the UAE requires Abu Dhabi to uphold what is referred to as the nonproliferation gold standard by forswearing both activities. In the case of Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, Washington only prohibits enriching and reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear materials.  As Victor and I argue, this conflicting patchwork is unsustainable. In its place, the United States should promote the Gold Standard from Morocco through Iran, including Israel. This means Iran should give up enriching and reprocessing as the UAE already has and the Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Moroccans, and Israelis should. This would not impact Israel’s current nuclear weapons arsenal. But it would cap it and point the way for [Israel’s] security to depend less on nuclear weapons.  Our proposal for a no-enrichment and no-reprocessing zone in the region also would help address Middle Eastern states’ demands to move towards a nuclear weapons free zone. In fact, it would be more feasible, and if achieved, have more lasting significance since it would preclude the possibility of non-nuclear states in the region making nuclear weapons.    
Op-Eds & Blogs
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The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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