Institutional dysfunction will slow or halt Pyongyang's further progress toward an operational nuclear arsenal. The same is true for the remaining would-be proliferators, all of which suffer from a lack of professionalism and poorly-built political systems.
Last month, Israel's intelligence agency once again quietly indicated that it had downgraded its assessments of Iran's ability to build a nuclear bomb. It is time for Israel and the West to cut down on their alarmism. Crying wolf too early and too often can destroy a government's credibility and leave it vulnerable.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Aly Song / Courtesy Reuters)
The chronic problem of nuclear proliferation is once again dominating the news. A fierce debate has developed over how to respond to the threat posed by Iran's nuclear activities, which most experts believe are aimed at producing a nuclear weapon or at least the capacity to assemble one. In this debate, one side is pushing for a near-term military attack to damage or destroy Iran's nuclear program, and the other side is hoping that strict sanctions against the Islamic Republic will soften it up for a diplomatic solution. Both sides, however, share the underlying assumption that unless outside powers intervene in a dramatic fashion, it is inevitable that Iran will achieve its supposed nuclear goals very soon.
Yet there is another possibility. The Iranians had to work for 25 years just to start accumulating uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is not even weapons grade. The slow pace of Iranian nuclear progress to date strongly suggests that Iran could still need a very long time to actually build a bomb -- or could even ultimately fail to do so. Indeed, global trends in proliferation suggest that either of those outcomes might be more likely than Iranian success in the near future. Despite regular warnings that proliferation is spinning out of control, the fact is that since the 1970s, there has been a persistent slowdown in the pace of technical progress on nuclear weapons projects and an equally dramatic decline in their ultimate success rate.
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