The criticisms of a proposed deal with Iran have been loud and often reckless, but few critics have suggested alternative ideas on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
The primary leverage the United States has in convincing Iran to forgo developing nuclear weapons is economic sanctions. Iran has been reeling since sanctions were imposed, and the hope of getting the sanctions lifted is what brought it to the bargaining table.
Sanctions imposed solely by the United States would have minimal effect on Iran. The sanctions have been effective because they involve not only the U.S., but also the United Kingdom, France, Germany and, separately, the European Union, as well as China and Russia.
These nations support the nuclear deal with Iran. They have made clear they do not favor continuing economic sanctions against Iran if a deal collapses because the U.S. rejects it.
While Americans tend to bristle at the idea we should be in lock-step with other developed nations, this situation is different. The success of the economic sanctions depends on the participation of other nations. If they discontinue sanctions against Iran, we have lost the most powerful non-military leverage we have against Iran.
For years, the U.S. and the rest of the world have been engaged in a guessing game as to how long it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. While there is broad consensus among Americans that a military strike would be appropriate as a last resort to prevent development of such a weapon, the reality is that we are handicapped by a lack of information.
The nuclear agreement would change that. While the proposed international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities may be imperfect, it is a vast improvement over what exists today.
The best estimates are that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon in two to three months. Once the deal is implemented, Iran would need a year to build nuclear weapons. And the world would have plenty of advance notice, because Iran would have to violate the monitoring requirements of the agreement during that year.
Griping about the deal is not productive. Americans want to avoid a war with Iran, a nation that is larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The issue is how best to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons while minimizing the likelihood of war.
Does the deal improve our ability to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon as compared to the status quo? Clearly it does. Unless critics can offer something better — something that is acceptable to the other nations participating in the imposition of sanctions — they should embrace the agreement as being beneficial, if not perfect.
(Published July 30, 2015)