17 May, 2009

Iran’s Nuclear Program and Weapons

In the 2002 State of the Union Address President George W. Bush, used the term “Axis of Evil” to describe three states. These three were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. This speech laid out the goals of “the war on terror”. According to the President “Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.”[1] These three were picked because of their intentions of securing “weapons of mass destruction”. Iran was targeted specifically because, “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.”[2] The government in Iran has made statements which convey the intention to use any weapons of mass destruction on Israel and its allies. Iran has developed their nuclear program with assistance of several foreign powers and has also achieved a method of delivery which can threaten most of the region. Due to current state of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs the pressing issue is; how can they be prevented from expanding their programs further?

The United States has had four goals when dealing with Iran, since the current government took power. They are “limit Iran’s aggressive assertiveness in the region, halt Tehran’s support for terrorism, promote Iranian democracy and human rights, and stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”[3] Iran’s current population and terrain drastically limit any military courses of action. Iran is located in the Middle East, it is bordered by “Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan-proper, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan”.[4] Currently Iran is sandwiched between U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has an estimated population of 65,875,224. The terrain of Iran is “rugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts”[5] This is why Iran has spread out the nuclear facilities.

Iran learned from the mistakes Iraq made in 1981 when Israel destroyed their only nuclear reactor. Iran has done several things to ensure their nuclear facilities remain unharmed. The facilities have been dispersed across the large nation, creating the possibility of a small flight being able to do massive damage impossible. The map below demonstrates how the Iranians dispersed their Nuclear Facilities. Iran has also placed the facilities in densely populated cities when possible. Some facilities due to their purpose are dependent on natural resources.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iran has facilities critical to its program in five different cities. These cities are Tehran, Bushehr, Esfahan, Natanz, and Arak.[6] Tehran has the Kalaye electric company which is suspected to be producing centrifuge parts, Tehran research reactor, radioisotope production facility, Jabr Ibn Hayan multipurpose laboratories. In Bushehr there is a Russian built light water reactor. Esfahan has a miniature neutron source reactor, light water sub-critical reactor, heavy water zero power reactor, fuel fabrication laboratory, uranium chemistry laboratory, uranium conversion facility, graphite sub- critical reactor which has been decommissioned, and a fuel manufacturing plant. Natanz has a pilot fuel enrichment plant and fuel enrichment plant. Arak has the Iran nuclear research reactor. The facilities that make other countries nervous are in Natanz because they produce the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a power plant or bomb.[7] As the image below illustrates Iran did learn from Iraq’s mistake by distributing the facilities around the country.


Iran has developed several missiles capable of launching large payloads. The development of these missiles has been aided by countries such as China, Libya, and North Korea. North Korea has been the one which has provided the assistance for the longer range missiles. “Iran is now on the threshold of developing a missile with intercontinental ranges. One option available to Iran is to develop missiles similar to North Korea’s Taepo Dong-1 or Taepo Dong-2 using technology North Korea has already transferred to Iran or may transfer in future sales.”[9] The Iranian equivalent of these the Shahab-3 and the variant of the Shahab-3.[10] The range of the Shahab-3 is eight hundred kilometers and the Shahab-3 variant has a range of one thousand two hundred kilometers. At this range it is capable of threatening most of the region.[11] Iran is also searching for weapons with an even longer range up to six thousand kilometers. The image below illustrates the countries which will be within range of these weapons. “In the last five years we have witnessed the development of a nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program in Iran that now provides it with the potential to threaten American interests. Iran’s program has been, and remains, dependent on foreign assistance.”[12]


While we can attempt to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, we should also be focusing on stopping the sale of these technologies from nations like North Korea.

Many analysts have been attempting to figure out how to stop the development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, there are others that feel that that is a lost cause. “The U.S. is unlikely to succeed in altering the range of Iranian motivations for acquiring WMD.”[14] There are many different ideas of how to prevent the future development of missiles and WMDs within Iran one of which is; “In Iran, the goal of U.S. direction of policy should be to encourage the evolution of the regime in the greater openness and moderation; in practical terms, this probably means the emergence of a political system in which clerics play a less prominent role.”[15] This is very difficult to do therefore there is little the United States can do to prevent Iran from attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Over the years Iran has developed an elaborate anti-aircraft defense system. In addition to dispersing the nuclear facilities within the country, while placing them near populated areas. There have been many nations which have assisted Iran over the years with building them nuclear power plants such as Russia or selling them engines for ballistic missiles such as North Korea. In order for the United States and the world community to slow or stop Iran’s programs they need to stop giving Iran foreign assistance.

[1] State of the Union Address 2002,President George W. Bush, From the 2002 Presidential Documents Online via GPO Access, January 29, 2002

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael McFaul, Abbas Milani, and Larry Diamond. 2007. "A Win-Win U.S. Strategy for Dealing with Iran." Washington Quarterly 30, no. 1: 121-122.

[4]Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook- Iran” CIA World Fact book. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/iran.html [accessed February 22, 2009]

[5] Ibid.

[6] Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. Iranian Nuclear Sites, Hussein D. Hassan, 2007.

[7] International Atomic Energy Association, Report prepared for Meeting of the Board of Governors prepared by the Director General, Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: 2003.

[8] “Iran Nuclear Sites”, Nuclear Threat Initiative Web site, http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles_pdfs/Iran/iran_nuclear_sites.pdf [accessed February 22, 2009].

[9] CRS Report RS22758, Iran’s Ballistic Missile Programs: An Overview, by Steven A. Hildreth, pg. 5.

[10] Bill Gertz, "N. Korea sells Iran missile engines," Washington Times, February 9, 2000, p. A1.

[11] Bill Gertz, "Tehran increases range on missiles," Washington Times, September 22, 1999.

[12] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Governmental Affairs. 2000. Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. 106th Cong., 2d sess., pg. 36.

[13] U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, January 2001, p. 37.

[14] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Governmental Affairs. 2000. Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs. 106th Cong., 2d sess., pg. 43-44.

[15] Ibid, 43.