Saturday, April 25, 2015

What Happens if There's No Deal?

Centrifuges for Uranium separation. That's what all the
Shouting is about...
The hysterical attempts of the Israeli lobby and their congressional lapdogs to derail a diplomatic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is utterly baffling. They say "no deal is better than a bad deal", but no deal is what we have now. If the P5+1 can hammer out a deal with Iran, there will be negotiated limits on Iran's nuclear R&D, and there will be an intrusive inspection regime to assure compliance. Sure, you can imagine a case where they would operate a secret nuclear weapons program in parallel, but they could be doing that now, and they could certainly do that much easier without the limitations in the agreement.

And just exactly how one-sided an agreement do they think Iran would be willing to sign? Their definition of a 'bad deal' seems to be one where both sides get what they want. A 'good' deal, then, would be one where Iran gives up all its rights under the NPT and other treaties in place with a hundred other nations in exchange for perhaps some sanctions relief. Even if Rouhani WANTED to agree to a deal like that, he would very quickly discover that he wasn't President anymore, and couldn't agree to anything on Iran's behalf.

Then there's the question of the sanctions themselves. If the rest of the world wants an agreement, and wants access to the Iranian market, and the US is seen as the intransigent bully who brought down the whole process for reasons of internal politics, there is going to be a very strong incentive to reduce the sanctions anyway. Certainly Russia and China will see no reason not to exploit the American diplomatic failure to reopen the Iran market for export goods and at the same time tweak the US. But beyond that, Germany, and France, along with much of the rest of the EU, are becoming increasingly frustrated with the unreasonable and unbalanced US/Israel position in the middle east, particularly the willingness to use disproportionate aggressive military force whenever they choose.  Certainly, the US unilateral congressional sanctions will stay in place, or even be increased, but they will be utterly ineffectual if they are not supported by the rest of the world.

So if the American political right and their Israeli allies are able to derail the agreement, they would find themselves in exactly the position they were in two years ago, at the outset of the diplomatic process. Iran would be a signatory to the NPT, and Israel and the US would be threatening her with attacks on a daily or weekly basis. Iran could run as many centrifuges, and keep as much stockpiled 20% enriched Uranium as it wanted. It could continue to move forward with the Arak heavy water reactor, a source of Plutonium. Plutonium bombs are much simpler to design, much easier to build and much more reliable than Uranium bombs.

The simple fact is that there is no evidence that Iran is working towards a nuclear weapon, so an actual war to 'prevent' them from developing that putative weapon is unlikely. Always remember that it would be a simple, low tech matter for Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping traffic, thus immediately removing more than 20% of the global oil supply and crashing the world's economies. Even the most bloody minded of corporate leaders would prefer not to see their profits destroyed for years to come.

Ultimately, this position is incoherent in the extreme. There is no way to arrive at the conclusion that the status quo is better than some agreement for ANYONE. If they derail the deal before it goes into effect, or if the deal collapses two or three years down the road, the outcome is exactly the same. Every claim that Netanyahu and Rubio make about the situation as it exists now would be 'true' then. The saving grace for the rest of us is that Iran is very unlikely to ever build a nuclear weapons program. But there is no doubt that Iran's breakout period will be much shorter without a deal - with 10,000kg of 20% enriched Uranium and an unlimited number of 2nd generation centrifuges spinning underground at Fordow, it's hard to understand why that would be seen as an improvement on a negotiated agreement.


  1. The simple fact is that there is no evidence that Iran is working towards a nuclear weapon, so an actual war to 'prevent' them from developing that putative weapon is unlikely.

    Although we can't possibly actually wage a war to prevent a thing that isn't going to happen, the problem is that the neocons have shown once that they can say and act as if they are warring against something that isn't the case (an active Iraqi WMD program) and actually get away with it for some time. What was it Commander Jorge Arbusto said: Fool me once, shame, fool me twice, we won't get fooled again? You look at a dead-eyed bullethead like Tom Cotton and explain to him why dropping bombs on foreigners is wrong. He won't even understand your problem. Try explaining it to John Bolton, and he's probably not actually lucid so who knows what he's like in uncontrolled situations. But just because the reality is that there's no benefit in having 'em, doesn't mean the illusionists won't magic up a reason why Iran is trying to get'em, and behave accordingly.

    The oil producers don't see a problem with a price rise that converts whole national economies to so many vassal states, I suspect. It's why the nimrods will consider it. And if peak oil really is a thing, that might be why they'd force it.

    (But I'm just spitballing.)

  2. It's an interesting consideration, but the question is deeper than binary. What range of oil prices is good for the 1%, and where does it go wrong? At $110/bbl, they're happy, they can exploit alternative sources. At $350/bbl, you have a global depression where nobody can make any money and populations start to transfer into unrest.

    A war with Iran would not be a problem of economic expectations - it would be a genuine supply-side shock. There is currently an 8% surplus - turn that into a 22% shortfall and some economies are going to pay a brutal price, and others are going to just die.

    If you can't make stuff, if you can't keep the lights on, if you have to make deals with Russia and China to get access to energy sources, the world becomes a very different place, and the US turns into a very dangerous power....