So unsurprisingly, the Iranians now have enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb. I say unsurprising because, well, the U.S. has been wringing its hands over it for years now. While apparently the 2007 intelligence assessment that they aren’t actively designing a bomb was accurate, it’s now within their physical capacity to build one if they get that design work started again. The real news in this story is that the Iranians have done the smart thing and basically put their building project on hold such that they can build one if they need one.
The American response to the Iranian nuclear threat has been kind of odd. It’s fairly obvious that if they set their mind to it, they would be able to build a bomb. After all, America did it 60 years ago, and the hardest part of doing so was just figuring out whether it could be done. A bright kid with a hundred pounds of enriched uranium and some machine tools could build a nuclear bomb in his garage. The only meaningful barrier to preventing “bad guys” from acquiring nuclear weapons is a non-proliferation regime which makes the consequences of acquiring one nuke worse than the advantage gained from it, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not that.
So, the U.S. (and the rest of the “nuclear club”) has, through its tacit toleration of the nuclear programs in South Africa, Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, Libya, etc., has decided it would rather lose the non-proliferation regime than either engage in illegal aggression or risk a weapon going off anywhere. This is, let me stress, a pretty sensible position given the lack of enforcement mechanisms in the law as it stands. Especially given that on the one occasion we did decide to intervene, we kind of got egg on our face. Anyway, it’s been clear as a result pretty much from the get-go that if the Iranians wanted to develop a bomb the U.S. would have to learn to deal with it. The last decade of people saying that Iran would “under no circumstances acquire a bomb” just makes us look weak and stupid, since that is very obviously an empty threat.