Washington, DC – “Until we have exhausted the diplomatic route, and I don’t think we have, it is not possible to say it won’t work,” said Thomas Pickering, a career U.S. Ambassador and former Representative to the United Nations.
Pickering spoke at the briefing, ”The Military Option for Countering Iran’s Nuclear Program,” the final in a four part series sponsored by the Arms Control Association, “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle.”
Pickering warned of the consequences of the military option, emphasizing that doing so would not end Iran’s nuclear program and would convince Tehran that developing a nuclear weapon is the only guarantee to prevent such attacks in future.
Senior Arms Control Association Fellow Greg Thielman, who moderated the briefing, compared military action on Iran to the Israeli strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. “Saddam’s nuclear bomb program was indeed delayed,” he saidt, “but Iraq’s determination to succeed was strengthened, its commitment of personnel and resources skyrocketed and its success at hiding the activities from the IAEA and Western intelligence collections increased.”
Also speaking at the event was Ali Reza Nader of the RAND Corporation and Jeff White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Nader discussed how strikes would unite a currently divided Iranian populace around the Supreme Leader, provide the Revolutionary Guard the pretext to crush the Green Movement, and further militarize the Iranian political system. He noted that the U.S. intelligence community continues to assess that Iran is developing the “knowhow and infrastructure and technology” but have not made the decision to weaponize.
“I think there is internal debate in Iran,” said Nader. “It’s hard to see evidence of it because the Iranian weapons program is not discussed publicly in Iran. But if you look at the various groups and constituents in Iran, they each have their own interest in the political system.”
White, a former career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, reiterated that strikes against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. “You can’t destroy knowledge and you can’t destroy the basic technology,” he said. “The setback to the program would be measured in years I think — two years maybe three years.”
He also highlighted the number of complications that U.S. and or Israeli forces would face in the aftermath of strikes against Iran, including mobile missiles, strategic missiles, mobile costal defense system, and mining threats in the Persian Gulf.
Pickering urged that a diplomatic solution be pursued that focuses on obtaining greater access for international verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program.
“In terms of the levels of destruction, I think it’s unfair to ask the military – any military – to achieve complete destruction of the Iranian nuclear program or to permanently set it back,” said Pickering. “It’s just not possible. You can’t destroy knowledge and you can’t destroy the basic technology.”