How to Prevent an Iranian Bomb

The Case for Deterrence

An F/A-18E Super Hornet prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, September 2013. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan R. McDonald / U.S. Navy / Handout via Reuters

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached by Iran, six other countries, and the European Union in Vienna in July, has sparked a heated political debate in the United States. Under the terms of the agreement, Iran has agreed to accept some temporary limits on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of the economic sanctions the international community imposed in response to that program. The Obama administration, a chief negotiator of the accord, argues that the deal will freeze and in some ways set back Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons while opening up the possibility of improving relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic, which have been bitterly hostile ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The administration further contends that the agreement includes robust provisions for the international inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities that will discourage and, if necessary, detect any Iranian cheating, triggering stiff penalties in response. 

Critics of the deal, by contrast, argue that it permits Iran to remain very close to obtaining a bomb, that its provisions for verifying Iranian compliance are weak, and that the lifting of the sanctions will give Iranian leaders a massive windfall that they will use to support threatening behavior by Tehran, such as sponsoring global terrorism, propping up the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and backing Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel (a country that the Iranian regime has repeatedly promised to destroy).

To keep nuclear weapons out of Tehran’s hands will require a credible threat by the United States to respond to significant cheating by using force.

The American political conflict will come to a head in September, when Congress gets the chance to register its disapproval of the accord—although the president has promised to veto a disapproval resolution if it passes and has enough support among Democrats to uphold the veto and perhaps even to prevent a vote on such a resolution in the first place. Still, however the domestic politics play out,

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