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Reading Jalaladdin Rumi is a diversionary summer-vacation tactic to keep at arm’s length Congressional debate over the Iran deal, where arguments that are demonstrably weak are immune from rebuttal. Rumi knew a thing or two about the human condition – and ways to rise above it. So why not consult this Sufi mystic, born in Afghanistan in 1207, subsequently residing mostly in Anatolia, for counsel?

There are good reasons to be in favor of this deal and to be wary of it. But these reasons fail to explain why so few of America’s elected representatives will cross party lines to vote on an issue of this magnitude. No one has offered a feasible diplomatic plan to negotiate a “better” deal. And the military plans on offer involve short-term holding actions, immediate costs as well as long-term, negative consequences. Even so, the partisan divide is nearly impermeable.

When President John F. Kennedy lobbied the Senate to consent to ratify a treaty banning atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963, only eight Republican Senators voted in opposition. In contrast, President Barack Obama will face nearly a united Republican front against an agreement that is designed to constrain Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon for the next fifteen years.

The reasons for this vast shift over half a century in the Republican Party’s views toward nuclear arms control warrant a subsequent post and a dissertation or two. For now, what’s worth noting that the GOP’s opposition has extended beyond strategic arms reduction to a generalized hostility toward diplomacy as a mechanism to reduce proliferation dangers. If the Iran deal is rejected or undermined on partisan grounds, it’s hard to envision how other non-proliferation diplomatic initiatives – think of North Korea, at the outset – could pass muster on Capitol Hill. The intensity of opposition to the Iran deal is so great within Republican ranks that some are already taking aim at funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be responsible for monitoring the Iran deal.

So what counsel would a Sufi master have to offer when one of the two major parties in America has gone so off-kilter?

Here’s a sampler, courtesy of the translation and interpretation of Coleman Barks:

“Look how the caravan of civilization has been ambushed…

“The hard rain and wind
are ways the cloud has to take care of us.
Be patient…

“Ignore those that make you fearful
and sad, that degrade you
back toward disease and death…

“Constant, slow movement teaches us to keep working
like a small creek that stays clear
that doesn’t stagnate, but finds a way
through numerous details, deliberately…

“Mind does its fine-tuning hair-splitting,
But no craft or art begins
or can continue without a master
giving wisdom into it…

“Listen when I am out of control,
But don’t put anything breakable in my way…

“Your old life was a frantic running from silence.

“Your words are guesswork.
He speaks from experience.
There’s a huge difference.”

To read one who speaks from experience, I recommend Brent Scowcroft’s op-ed in the August 21st edition of the Washington Post.


One way to try to have an influence on South Asia’s nuclear future is to mentor rising talent. Thanks to the Stimson Center’s funders — the Carnegie Corporation, the MacArthur Foundation and the NNSA — we do workshops with this cohort, we’re planning our first open, online course on regional nuclear issues, and my colleague, Julia Thompson, has been overseeing a website, South Asian Voices, to foster civil discourse between Indian and Pakistani bloggers. They own the content; Stimson controls the server and filters out noise pollution. We also offer fellowships for outstanding bloggers so that they can work alongside each other as they get acquainted with Washington. Why should they only be familiar with dysfunction back home?

[Oh, snap! -Ed.]

I recently came across an old email trying to explain why Stimson has chosen this strategy to a colleague at Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division at Joint Staff Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The SPD used to send Visiting Fellows to Stimson, but have stopped, for reasons that are unclear to me. I am reproducing my email below, verbatim.

Let me explain my teaching methods, and then I’ll circle back again to why Stimson is focusing on younger analysts for our programming initiatives.

I taught for ten years at the University of Virginia, which is close to where I live in Central Virginia. The student body of this school is rather privileged and conservative-leaning. I would occasionally find in my seminars the children of very high-ranking officials who were undermining or dismantling the treaties I had worked to construct. This was a challenge to my teaching philosophy. But I held to my philosophy, which is: do not teach people WHAT to think. Teach them HOW to think analytically. Learning doesn’t happen when you tell people what to think — memorization happens.

I have followed this philosophy with Visiting Fellows, as well. I challenge assumptions, I ask provocative questions, I ask for pros and cons, I ask for a rank ordering of pros and cons, etc. This is what I do as a teacher and a mentor. I tried to do this with you when you were at Stimson. This is how one grows intellectually, and how one’s students grow intellectually. You have the opportunity to help your students grow in this way, too.

Now, I wear an additional hat as co-founder of Stimson. I’ve worked on South Asia and traveled to the region for twenty years, and people ask me for my views. They expect me to have views. Foundations who give Stimson funding expect recommendations along with analysis. I wear this hat when giving talks outside the classroom, when writing op-eds, and in meetings with senior officials and military officers. But even while wearing this hat, I try my best not to lecture and not to be didactic. I try to make my case in ways that encourage a fresh look. I also try to listen more than I talk. I advise each new crop of Stimson interns, just as I used to advise my students, that you can’t learn while talking.

There are very few Visiting Fellowship opportunities in the US for Pakistanis. This is regrettable, but the truth of the matter is that there are precious few positions in our field for American citizens, as well. When given the choice between someone from Pakistan who has already had this opportunity and someone who hasn’t, to me, the choice is clear. My responsibility as a mentor is to widen the circle.

Now, I expect that many of the new people who are given this opportunity from Pakistan will think more like you than like me. As I’ve said, it’s not my job as a mentor to tell them what to think. It’s Stimson’s job to give every one of them a memorable educational experience, to challenge their assumptions, to have opportunities to learn and to meet with people that are unavailable to them in Pakistan, and to prod them to think analytically.

You seem to have survived this experience. They will, too.

Best wishes,


As numbers-based arms control wanes, norms become even more important. Norms can be clarified in Codes of Conduct or established by customary practice. The most important norm in our field is the non-use of nuclear weapons in combat.

Few expected this norm to exist after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – let alone to last for 70 years. As Nina Tannenwald has written in The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (2007) “It is rare for a weapon found to be useful on one occasion to remain unused in the next.” And yet, this was the case during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as during the Korean, Vietnam, and Kargil wars. So far, the Bomb’s vast destructive powers have been confined by popular demand, wise decision-making, and divine intervention. Some would argue that deterrence also deserves credit for non-use, even though it has failed often enough. There’s some truth to this assertion, but nuclear weapons are more of a hindrance than a help in severe confrontations.

To my way of thinking, we’ve made it to the 70th anniversary of battlefield non-use in large measure because of the mental image we humans collectively hold of the mushroom cloud. Everything in the body of work that we call arms control is built on this collective fear — and the foundational norm that national leaders have adopted because of it.

The image of the mushroom cloud is so evocative that testing as well as battlefield use has been stigmatized, first in the atmosphere and later, after three decades of diplomatic effort, in all environments. The norm against testing, as with the norm against battlefield use, grows stronger with every passing year, even without the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s entry into force. Only one state in the 21st century disregards this norm, and even North Korea doesn’t dare test in the atmosphere. Still, as long as the Bomb exists, in numbers that defy logic other than the open-ended extrapolation of deterrence theory, the specter of the mushroom cloud hangs over us.

Everything we seek as well as everything that has been accomplished in nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament hinges on this foundational norm. We might call this norm “No Third Use,” or “No Next Use,” or “No First Use.” They all amount to the same thing. The Humanitarian Pledge movement and getting to zero nuclear weapons both depend on No Third, No Next, and No First Use. Phased, time-bound reductions in strategic arsenals can be stopped in their tracks by the reappearance of a mushroom cloud. Regional security, the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, and escalation control depend, above all, on No Third, No Next, and No First Use. So why isn’t there more focus on extending this norm in the most probable locales for norm-breaking? Why do we instead place so much effort on end states rather than on near-term circumstances that could trigger third, next, and first use?

My hunch is that the answer lies in part on an understandable human impulse to find mental refuge from the daunting list of problems that besiege us. We can find more refuge in thinking about end states than in working on hard problems of the here and now. Current events are unrelievedly troubling, with the exception of an Iran deal that the Republican Party is up in arms against. The perils of nuclear proliferation, safety, and security remain great. Vladimir Putin is a hard case. China is flexing its muscles at sea and in space. The brash, untested young leader of North Korea is a wild card. We focus on the possibility that Iran could have enough fissile material for one bomb fifteen years from now rather than the 20 warheads or so that Pakistan is producing annually. Then there’s an Indian government that will not engage Pakistan except on its own terms, ISIS, Ukraine, and a hard-right government in Israel that has embraced dead-end policies.

Faced with these real world messes, many resort to an excess of “shoulds,” freely advising those in the trenches on what “must” be done, immediately. Do this; do that. Sign up. Adhere to a timetable. Demonstrate leadership and political will. We all do this from time to time; some do it more than others. There is mental relief in dealing with complex problems by proposing neat and simple “shoulds.” These policy prescriptions amount to an effortless exercise in abstraction.

Almost everybody who works on reducing nuclear dangers or deterring nuclear war finds refuge in abstract reasoning. The nuclear deterrence business is built atop constructs that are as otherworldly as a world without nuclear weapons accomplished on a fixed timetable. Most of us cannot deal with the horrors of nuclear war except through mental abstraction.

There are notable exceptions. The hibakusha — survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — reject abstract reasoning. So, too, do those in the trenches who are too busy for “shoulds,” including the unsung heroes who safeguarded massive stockpiles of warheads and fissile material after the Soviet Union dissolved and the IAEA inspectors who will be monitoring Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Abstract reasoning and war planning go out the window if the foundational norm of non-use is broken and a third mushroom cloud appears on a battlefield. Then everyone will become mired in detail, scrambling, if there is time, to prevent a fourth. All it takes is one mushroom cloud to defeat abstract reasoning.

How might states react to a third use? George Quester’s conclusion in Nuclear First Strike: The Consequences of a Broken Taboo, (2005), was that it depends on context – ranging from mostly bad to unremittingly awful.

Let’s assume the appearance of just one more mushroom cloud. This might conceivably be a chastening experience, hastening reconciliation, non-proliferation, arms control, reduced stockpiles and improved nuclear safety and security. But think of the conditions that are required for any of these positive outcomes. A singular mushroom cloud would have to be the result on an accident, inadvertence, or unauthorized use. Or possibly a singular detonation would be purposeful, intended to signal an adversary to stop advancing. The singular mushroom cloud would have to have limited yield. It would need to be detonated on one’s own territory or at sea. Forensics and clarification would have to be accomplished quickly. Third parties would try to intervene, but likely at a distance, fearing prospective nuclear exchanges. And above all, escalation would have to be controlled.

These highly constrained and unique circumstances might possibly generate positive results. Positive outcomes would have to be quite significant to compensate for the breaking of the foundational norm upon which all arms control and nuclear threat reduction efforts rest. Now contemplate how many “ifs” are involved in realizing positive outcomes. Then multiply these “ifs” by the number of mushroom clouds. The Cuban Missile Crisis led to a positive outcome — the ban on atmospheric nuclear testing — because by the grace of God and wise decision-making, this crisis did not produce a mushroom cloud.

The most consequential norm of the Atomic Age is now 70 years old. Everything rides on its continuation.


The European Union’s International Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations got mugged on the Lower East Side during the week of July 27th. The crime, which went unreported, occurred at the United Nations. The ringleaders were Russia and China, who lined up support from Brazil, India, and South Africa (the BRICS), as well as the Non-Aligned Movement. Critics of the EU’s handiwork got what they wanted in New York: At the end of the conclave, the EU conceded the need to pursue “negotiations within the framework of the United Nations through a mandate of the General Assembly.”

This could have been an important moment for the UN. It’s not every day that diplomats have the opportunity to write benchmark rules of the road for a global commons. But Moscow, Beijing, and their NAM supporters were in no hurry to do so. Their opposition was anticipated due to longstanding concerns that the EU drafting process wasn’t inclusive enough.

On this issue, critics were exactly right. The EU was trying to spare the International Code the fate of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, now languishing for almost two decades in the purgatory of the Conference of Disarmament, where the UN’s consensus rule applies.

The good news – for glass-half-full readers of ACW – is that there is now a clear consensus on the utility of an International Code of Conduct for outer space – an important shift from just a few years ago. The bad news is that there is no consensus on its scope or on a few key provisions. The arguments on offer against the International Code at the UN didn’t need to be persuasive, since their purpose was delay. And it could take a very long while for the UN to negotiate an International Code nearly as good as EU’s draft.

Russia and China argued at the UN that an International Code ought to confine itself to ‘peaceful’ uses of outer space, while expressing deep concerns about an arms race in space. Some NAM states, led by Brazil, reinforced this double-speak by suggesting that the Code be negotiated in the UN’s Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, whose mandate does not include military space-related issues.

Russia, China and some NAM states also expressed grave reservations about the International Code’s language reaffirming every country’s inherent national or collective right to self-defense. While this right is enshrined in the UN Charter, critics warned that its reaffirmation in this context would open a backdoor to the weaponization of space.

Capabilities for ASAT warfare have long existed but have not resulted in destroying or disabling another country’s satellites, even during the roughest patches during the Cold War. Why such uncommon restraint during the entirety of the Space Age? Because Moscow and Washington insisted on the right of self-defense and because they knew that warfare in space would not be confined to space.

The haphazard and inadvertent weaponization of space in the form of lethal debris is already far advanced. This clear and present danger received little sense of urgency from the assembled delegates. Instead, critics focused on purposeful, rather than unguided and indiscriminate anti-satellite weapons.

It was déjà vu all over again at the UN. The arguments used against the EU’s International Code reprised the old Soviet diplomatic playbook back when the the Nixon Administration demonstrated an interest in deploying ballistic missile defenses and again during the Reagan Administration’s pursuit of SDI. Moscow always tries to place constraints on U.S. military space programs through public diplomacy and negotiations. This time around, Moscow has Beijing’s company, as well as a good many NAM states.

Concerns over demonstrated space-warfare capabilities are entirely justified. As easily predicted, the Pentagon is in the process of clarifying that if Beijing and Moscow want to play with fire in space, it will be able to compete and compete effectively. But Washington is also willing to accept rules of the road for responsible space-faring nations that include transparency, confidence-building, and consultative measures. So far, Beijing and Moscow are not on board. Whether or not they join an International Code of Conduct, military space capabilities will advance. During this competition, it will be better for all major powers to accept rules of the road.

Russia’s and China’s preference has been a Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). This proposed Treaty, which lacks verification provisions and which does not address ground-based ASAT testing, is widely recognized as a hollow exercise in public diplomacy.

The UN conclave clarified that the playing ground has shifted away from the PPWT to an International Code. If Moscow and Beijing seek to meld the PPWT into negotiations on an International Code, diplomats getting paid by the hour have a bright future.

Military space programs are non-negotiable. The EU’s International Code does, however, include norms against how these capabilities shall be exercised: All states are enjoined not to engage in harmful interference, to respect the security, safety and integrity of space objects, as well as to refrain from actions that damage or destroy space objects. These norms, if respected, could put an end to “hit-to-kill” ASAT tests and provide other benchmarks for satellite protection.

The EU’s International Code notes three exceptions where damage and destruction of space objects could be justified: if human life or health is at risk, if deemed necessary in order to reduce space debris, and the aforementioned right of individual or collective self-defense. If states remain at loggerheads over this provision, a UN negotiating process can leave these essential norms stranded, waiting for the last passenger on the bus.

So, what to do in the face of delaying tactics? My suggestion is for supporters of the International Code drafted by the EU with help from outsiders to go ahead and informally set up an ad hoc body to begin implementing it — without prejudice to whatever might be negotiated in a UN channel operating under rules of consensus. If an even better International Code can be negotiated by consensus, that would be most welcome.

The argument for operating on two parallel tracks – ad hoc implementation of the EU’s International Code and ad hoc negotiation in a UN channel – is forthright: space deserves protective norms, and these norms will not be advanced by waiting for stragglers. There will always be stragglers, as is evident by the 16-year wait for China to sign up to the Outer Space Treaty. Stragglers that offer disingenuous arguments for not signing up to an International Code and that have very active space-warfare programs bear close scrutiny.

Ad hoc implementation of the International Code drafted by the EU could proceed in complete transparency, with open doors. Any country that wishes to observe or to engage in one or another activity called for by the International Code, such as workshops and consultations, would be free to do so. If, however, states that do not support the EU’s International Code act in ways to defeat its objectives and purposes, then Code-abiding states would be entirely free to take compensatory actions.

Over time, implementation of the International Code drafted by the EU will look better and better in comparison to an endless, fractious UN negotiation.


How much has the Republican Party on Capitol Hill lost its equilibrium? Just hear the histrionics about the Iran deal — a deal which has the unanimous support of the UN Security Council and every U.S. ally and friend around the world save one: the Government of Israel. A deal that prevents Iran from producing nuclear weapons for 10-15 years and perhaps much longer. And a deal that has no support among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

Instead, these leaders are in lock-step with Party insurgents. They’ve signed up rather than be overrun. Even the thoughtful Republican Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, has brought a harsh, new demeanor to these hearings.

Most Republicans will vote to torpedo the deal and can be expected to try repeatedly to block its implementation. Far too few are reserving judgment, engaging in fact-finding, genuinely hearing people out and weighing down-side risks. For all but seven Republican senators (now six, with Corker’s declaration at the outset of the hearings), certainty has come quickly. Very decent and highly capable people in the Obama Administration have tried their best to prevent Iran from getting the Bomb and the United States from fighting another unnecessary, preventive war in the Middle East. In return for their efforts they received invective. Denunciations flowed. Pithy, cutting quotes were at the ready. The auto-da-fé was teed up and the grandstand wasn’t disappointed.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact has gotten a pass. Naysayers, including Charles Krauthammer, are certain that this is the worst agreement ever negotiated. Krauthammer & Co. were equally certain about the need for a preventive war to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. Republican newcomers to Capitol Hill who weren’t present and voting for that historic mistake are leading the charge against the Iran deal. One is Freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has the brains (Harvard, Harvard Law) and combat experience (Afghanistan) to be wary of asking U.S. military forces to fight another preventive war in the Middle East.

Instead, Cotton rounded up all but the aforementioned seven Republican colleagues to send an open letter to the Mullahs seeking common cause to nix the deal. This is what passes for leadership these days in the Party whose Presidents forged strategic arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union, broke the back of the superpower arms race, and opened doors to “Red” China.

Opponents of the deal, taking their cues from Benjamin Netanyahu, say that a “no” vote is not a vote for war. It’s a vote for a better deal. Right. And when a better deal is not forthcoming, when sanctions unravel, and when Tehran carries out activities that are banned by this agreement, then what? The choices are war or a climbdown – just as with Saddam Hussein.

Barack Obama was first elected president on a platform to bridge domestic divides. No longer. Partisanship is worse now than at any other time in U.S. history – even as U.S. forces remain in harm’s way. Is it any wonder why Obama chose to seal this deal as a political compact rather than a treaty? By going this route, and by announcing up front his intention to veto Congressional resolutions of disapproval, he has made reflexive Republican opposition to this deal easier. But had he not done so, would there have been more reflection and less reflexive opposition? Would there have been more serious contemplation about the costs of rejection? Or handing Netanyahu a veto over U.S. national security policy in the Middle East? I seriously doubt it.


A “free” vote on Capitol Hill is one without negative consequences. Republicans and Democrats can line up with party activists and showboat without risk because they will be unsuccessful. Hard decisions can be sidestepped and political posturing is easy when negative consequences are blocked by the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers.

Republicans have proven to the party faithful their sincere opposition to Obamacare by voting against it over fifty times. They were free votes because opponents couldn’t override a Presidential veto. When conservative activists turned to the Courts, Chief Justice John Roberts bailed out Republicans from earning the wrath of millions of Americans left without coverage, facing steep and sudden rate increases. By voting against Obamacare and failing to kill it, Republicans can blame rate increases and public dissatisfaction with health care on the Democrats.

Democrats on Capitol Hill demonstrated their sincere opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact by voting against fast-tracking it, to the satisfaction of the energized, populist wing of their party. These votes didn’t entail the loss of export-related jobs to high hourly-wage countries because the White House was subsequently (and predictably) able to cobble together enough pro-trade Democrats to join most Republicans in reversing course.

Partisan divides on Capitol Hill have become the norm. The rest of the world can look on with bemusement at divisions over Obamacare and other domestic policy issues. But when partisan divides occur on national security issues, America’s friends are not amused and adversaries look for ways to take advantage. The debate on the Iran deal now taking shape is emblematic of what ails Washington. Opposition to the Iran deal, mostly along partisan lines, is sincerely held, but the issue here isn’t sincerity; it’s the herd instinct and the absence of better alternatives.

Voting in favor of an arms limitation agreement with an adversary is hard – even when, as in this case, the arms limitations are completely one-sided in Washington’s favor. Voting to demonstrate distrust of Iran is easy. It’s politically safe to oppose the lifting of sanctions and providing Tehran with a “windfall” as sanctions are lifted. The Revolutionary Guards and other retrogrades can be counted on to act reprehensibly – witness the incarceration of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian – even if Tehran abides by the terms of the agreement. If Iran cheats at the margins or in significant ways, then “nay” votes will look even better. If, alternatively, the deal goes surprisingly well, voters will have forgotten this roll call ten years from now. (Extra credit goes to ACW readers who remember which Democrats voted against authorizing the George H.W. Bush administration’s spectacularly successful military campaign against Saddam Hussein.)

Votes against the Iran deal may be principled and cunning, but they aren’t free – even if those opposed to the deal fail to override a Presidential veto. They are not like votes on Obamacare and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They have great consequence. As I wrote in an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times, nothing would diminish U.S. global leadership, destabilize the Middle East, further exhaust American military forces, and weaken the U.S. Treasury more than the one-two punch of a war to rid Saddam of fictional WMD followed by undermining an agreement that effectively limits Iran’s all-too-real nuclear capabilities.

Republicans, with a few notable exceptions, are nonetheless herding and gearing up to oppose this deal. If they fail to override a Presidential veto, expect a long campaign to place roadblocks against implementation. Also count on a perpetual campaign to declare Iran in violation of ambiguous provisions. And count on efforts to re-institute sanctions lifted by Executive Order. Opponents can vote repeatedly against the deal without taking responsibility for its demise – unless they succeed.

If Tehran cheats egregiously and repeatedly, the deal’s failure and its consequences are on Tehran. If this deal unravels because hard-core opponents on Capitol Hill lay minefields blocking implementation, Tehran will be the principal beneficiary. If Republicans and Democrats aren’t on the same page for retaining some sanctions and lifting others, the world’s focus will be on Washington, not Tehran.

The United States will be the big loser if a Republican Presidential candidate wins in 2016 and follows through on his campaign pledge to walk away from the deal. In this event, don’t count on a unified front by the P5+1. Don’t count on tougher sanctions. Do count on Tehran to re-litigate its concessions – or to blow past them. Also count on proliferation concerns growing. They are manageable with this agreement and worse without it.

The skeptics have spent many months critiquing the Obama Administration. They will continue to do so for the next 60 days.This is the agreement we’ve got, and it’s surprisingly good. Implementation will be challenging, even if all parties are acting in good faith, not just because these constraints are entirely new and complicated, but because irreconcilables in Iran and the United States will favor its demise.


This assessment of the core monitoring provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is necessarily hurried and preliminary. I invite ACW readers to weigh in with their comments. The text of key provisions follows my first-cut assessment.

The agreement’s provisions are extremely complex and detailed. Reading the fine print brings flashbacks of the most detailed nuclear arms reduction provisions negotiated between the Kremlin and the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. All of this is new. At the outset of these negotiations, no one expected constraints this deep or this long.

Detail, complexity and novelty lend themselves to hiccups, even if everyone is acting in good faith. If opponents of this deal decide to legislate their interpretations and preferences of agreed provisions, there will be endless grounds for alleging violations. Even if they do not, there will be repeated charges of Iranian noncompliance, whether warranted or not. Sorting through these issues behind closed doors will not produce prompt rebuttals. If Tehran does not go the extra mile to clarify that concerns over noncompliance are unwarranted, there will be choppy passages ahead. Tehran’s willingness to go the extra mile will depend, in turn, on whether the United States is carrying out the deal’s terms in good faith.

The administration gets high marks for monitoring Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, from uranium mining and milling to its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities for 25 years. The monitoring provisions relating to uranium enrichment, and even more so for plutonium production and reprocessing, are extremely good at declared sites. The monitoring of R&D for Iranian work on better centrifuge designs at declared facilities is also extremely good, but will not assuage critics that oppose any Iranian work on improved centrifuge designs.

The suspect site provisions reflect hard compromises and could involve difficult sledding if put to the test. The White House Fact Sheet on the deal says, that “It ensures both timely and effective International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to any site in Iran necessary in order to verify Iran’s compliance, including military sites such as Parchin.” But implementation won’t be smooth: the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been separated at birth, and getting to know one another at suspect sites won’t be easy. Negotiating these provisions was a significant achievement. Making them work will be possible, but even more remarkable.

Challenge inspections were exercised in Iraq and succeeded in large measure, even against Saddam Hussein’s obstruction. But the Iraqi case, as with the constraints placed on another defeated state — Germany after World War I — was exceptional. Challenge inspections (the term is not used in the text) in Iran would traverse new and difficult terrain. The Chemical Weapons Convention’s challenge inspection provisions have never been exercised. This Convention has not stopped outliers, like Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but the CWC’s norms have helped keep the number of outliers limited – even without exercising the right of challenge inspections.

The Iran agreement’s provisions would permit access of suspect sites within 24 days, following voting procedures that are weighted in favor of the United States and its allies. Delays at several stages in the process could allow Tehran to clean up some kinds of activities, but not others.

The key question underlying suspect site provisions — and the agreement as a whole – is whether Tehran has gone to such great lengths to accept severe limits on its bomb-making capabilities for extended periods of time in order to disregard these obligations. Critics assume this to be the case, during or after sanctions’ relief, even as they argue that there is no need for Iran to cheat because the terms are insufficient and time-limited.

A subsidiary question is where Tehran would try to cheat, if it chose to do so. Inspections at military facilities have been a significant point of contention. Iran’s Supreme Leader has weighed in, ruling them out. The provisions of the agreement do not rule them out, while placing hurdles before ruling them in. One of many challenges to the United States and Iran is, in effect, to resolve questions of compliance before feeling obliged to exercise the right of challenge inspections.

Key Monitoring provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:

Iran will permit the IAEA the use of on-line enrichment measurement and electronic seals which communicate their status within nuclear sites to IAEA inspectors, as well as other IAEA approved and certified modern technologies in line with internationally accepted IAEA practice. Iran will facilitate automated collection of IAEA measurement recordings registered by installed measurement devices and sending to IAEA working space in individual nuclear sites.

Iran will make the necessary arrangements to allow for a long-term IAEA presence, including issuing long-term visas, as well as providing proper working space at nuclear sites and, with best efforts, at locations near nuclear sites in Iran for the designated IAEA inspectors for working and keeping necessary equipment.

Iran will increase the number of designated IAEA inspectors to the range of 130-150 within 9 months from the date of the implementation of the JCPOA and will generally allow the designation of inspectors from nations that have diplomatic relations with Iran, consistent with its laws and regulations.

Iran will permit the IAEA to monitor, through agreed measures that will include containment and surveillance measures, for 25 years, that all uranium ore concentrate produced in Iran or obtained from any other source, is transferred to the uranium conversion facility (UCF) in Esfahan or to any other future uranium conversion facility which Iran might decide to build in Iran within this period.

Iran will permit the IAEA regular access, including daily access as requested by the IAEA, to relevant buildings at Natanz, including all parts of the FEP and PFEP, for 15 years.

Requests for access pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made in good faith, with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities under this JCPOA. In line with normal international safeguards practice, such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities, but will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran’s other non-proliferation and safeguards obligations.

If the IAEA has concerns regarding undeclared nuclear materials or activities, or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA, at locations that have not been declared under the comprehensive safeguards agreement or Additional Protocol, the IAEA will provide Iran the basis for such concerns and request clarification.

If Iran’s explanations do not resolve the IAEA’s concerns, the Agency may request access to such locations for the sole reason to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at such locations. The IAEA will provide Iran the reasons for access in writing and will make available relevant information.

Iran may propose to the IAEA alternative means of resolving the IAEA’s concerns that enable the IAEA to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the location in question, which should be given due and prompt consideration.

If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA cannot be verified after the implementation of the alternative arrangements agreed by Iran and the IAEA, or if the two sides are unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA’s original request for access, Iran, in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed 7 days, and Iran would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days.

The Joint Commission is comprised of representatives of Iran and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), together, the JCPOA participants.

The Joint Commission may establish Working Groups in particular areas, as appropriate.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (‘High
Representative’), or his/her designated representative will serve as the Coordinator of the Joint Commission.

Review and approve in advance, upon request by Iran, the design, development, fabrication, acquisition, or use for non-nuclear purposes of multi-point explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device and explosive diagnostic systems (streak cameras, framing cameras and flash x-ray cameras) suitable for the development of a nuclear explosive device, Review, with a view to resolving, any issue that a JCPOA participant believes constitutes nonperformance by another JCPOA participant of its commitments under the JCPOA, according to the process outlined in the JCPOA…


The text of the nuclear limitation agreement with Iran (AKA “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”) has been released and can be found here [link fixed]. Several key provisions are reprinted below. I’ll post key verification provisions separately, with my assessment of their utility.

Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz at up to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges. Excess centrifuges and enrichment-related infrastructure at Natanz will be stored under IAEA continuous monitoring.

There will be no additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water in Iran for 15 years. All excess heavy water will be made available for export to the international market.

For 15 years Iran will not, and does not intend to thereafter, engage in any spent fuel reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of spent fuel reprocessing, or reprocessing R&D activities leading to a spent fuel reprocessing capability, with the sole exception of separation activities aimed exclusively at the production of medical and industrial radio-isotopes from irradiated enriched uranium targets.

Iran will fully implement the “Roadmap for Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues” agreed with the IAEA, containing arrangements to address past and present issues of concern relating to its nuclear programme as raised in the annex to the IAEA report of 8 November 2011 (GOV/2011/65). Full implementation of activities undertaken under the Roadmap by Iran will be completed by 15 October 2015, and subsequently the Director General will provide by 15 December 2015 the final assessment on the resolution of all past and present outstanding issues to the Board of Governors, and the E3+3, in their capacity as members of the Board of Governors, will submit a resolution to the Board of Governors for taking necessary action, with a view to closing the issue, without prejudice to the competence of the Board of Governors.

Iran will allow the IAEA to monitor the implementation of the voluntary measures for their respective durations, as well as to implement transparency measures, as set out in this JCPOA and its Annexes. These measures include: a long-term IAEA presence in Iran; IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for 25 years; containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years; use of IAEA approved and certified modern technologies including on-line enrichment measurement and electronic seals; and a reliable mechanism to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns for 15 years.

Iran will not engage in activities, including at the R&D level, that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device, including uranium or plutonium metallurgy activities.

The EU and its Member States and the United States, consistent with their respective laws, will refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent with their commitments not to undermine the successful implementation of this JCPOA.

Transition Day is the date 8 years after Adoption Day or the date on which the Director General of the IAEA submits a report stating that the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, whichever is earlier. On that date, the EU and the United States will take the actions described in Sections 20 and 21 of Annex V respectively and Iran will seek, consistent with the Constitutional roles of the President and Parliament, ratification of the Additional Protocol.

If Iran believed that any or all of the E3/EU+3 were not meeting their commitments under this JCPOA, Iran could refer the issue to the Joint Commission for resolution; similarly, if any of the E3/EU+3 believed that Iran was not meeting its commitments under this JCPOA, any of the E3/EU+3 could do the same. The Joint Commission would have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus. After Joint Commission consideration, any participant could refer the issue to Ministers of Foreign Affairs, if it believed the compliance issue had not been resolved. Ministers would have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus. After Joint Commission consideration – in parallel with (or in lieu of) review at the Ministerial level – either the complaining participant or the participant whose performance is in question could request that the issue be considered by an Advisory Board, which would consist of three members (one each appointed by the participants in the dispute and a third independent member). The Advisory Board should provide a non-binding opinion on the compliance issue within 15 days. If, after this 30-day process the issue is not resolved, the Joint Commission would consider the opinion of the Advisory Board for no more than 5 days in order to resolve the issue. If the issue still has not been resolved to the satisfaction of the complaining participant, and if the complaining participant deems the issue to constitute significant nonperformance, then that participant could treat the unresolved issue as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part and/or notify the UN Security Council that it believes the issue constitutes significant non-performance.

Upon receipt of the notification from the complaining participant, as described above, including a description of the good-faith efforts the participant made to exhaust the dispute resolution process specified in this JCPOA, the UN Security Council, in accordance with its procedures, shall vote on a resolution to continue the sanctions lifting. If the resolution described above has not been adopted within 30 days of the notification, then the provisions of the old UN Security Council resolutions would be re-imposed, unless the UN Security Council decides otherwise. In such event, these provisions would not apply with retroactive effect to contracts signed between any party and Iran or Iranian individuals and entities prior to the date of application, provided that the activities contemplated under and execution of such contracts are consistent with this JCPOA and the previous and current UN Security Council resolutions…. Iran has stated that if sanctions are reinstated in whole or in part, Iran will treat that as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.


Now that the negotiating endgame for a nuclear limitation agreement with Iran has been extended to July 7th, critics and kibitzers have had an extra seven days to push, prod and excoriate the Obama administration. It’s far easier to criticize an agreement-in-progress for not being good enough than to defend it – even when the outlines of the deal negotiated in early June were surprisingly good.

Critics and kibitzers fall into various camps. There are “friendlies,” “wary-ies,” and “hostiles.” The Washington Institute issued a public statement by an influential group of “friendlies” and “wary-ies” itemizing details where the Obama administration needed to be bucked up. One friendly, Bob Einhorn, subsequently amplified that none of these benchmarks were “poison pills.” But if they aren’t met, Bob could be wrong.

David Albright has suggested that the Congress underscore Tehran’s obligations under an agreement. This approach would hand over the interpretation of imprecise or purposeful diplomatic compromises to legislative opponents of an executive agreement. This happened after the 1972 SALT I Interim Agreement, when Republicans on Capitol Hill termed every Soviet action on every provision that the Nixon Administration was unable to nail down as a damning violation.

One veteran of these negotiations, Al Carnesale, has weighed in by suggesting a simple question when evaluating the final agreement: “Compared to what?” Advocates will certainly do this, but “wary-ies” and opponents will have different metrics of measurement.

There’s a slight groundswell on Capitol Hill, including Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, in favor of the status quo rather than a negotiated deal – but this assumes that Tehran would be willing to continue a policy of weapon-related restraint absent the prospect of sanctions relief. The safest position for nay-sayers to take, as exemplified by Presidential candidate Marco Rubio and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is to advise the Obama Administration to “just walk away” while toughening up sanctions. But then what? No deal would satisfy critics who take their cues from Benjamin Netanyahu.

Which leads us to the non-negotiation-from-strength camp. This school of punditry argues that we wait for a regime’s collapse, or actively assist in its demise, or set conditions for a negotiated settlement that won’t happen, thereby holding the high ground and not being tainted by compromise. For much of its tenure, the George W. Bush administration adopted this stance, with minor variations, toward North Korea and Iran, while watching their nuclear capabilities grow.

Matt Kroenig, a member of the non-negotiation-from-strength camp dressed up as the negotiation-from-strength camp, has written that “the only way to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran would be to eliminate its uranium enrichment capability.” I, too, would prefer this outcome, but I understand that it won’t happen. Since Matt is a very smart guy, I presume he does, too. This leaves three options: watching dangerous stockpiles grow, limiting Iran’s capabilities through a negotiated agreement, or bombing Iran’s nuclear production complex.

Matt and a few others from the non-negotiation-from-strength camp get high marks for candor in acknowledging support for the military option – a tough sell for a war-weary American public and overburdened U.S. military forces that have been tasked with tidying up messes made by elected officials in the Middle East while gearing up to counter a revanchist Russia and the rise of China.

Secretary of State Colin Powell once invoked, regrettably without much emphasis, the “Pottery Barn rule”: you break it, you own it. Powell was prescient but still wrong about Iraq. The George W. Bush Administration broke plenty of pottery, but never owned Iraq, despite spending a trillion or so dollars there. It rejected the possibility of a negotiated settlement that could assuage concerns over Iraq’s WMD programs after Saddam sent feelers out: The Bush Administration didn’t want to negotiate from strength; it wanted regime change.

Regime change by use of military force in Iran is out of the question. Waiting Iran out isn’t an option, either, leaving periodic aerial sorties to keep Iran from acquiring the means to make nuclear weapons. Tehran’s countermoves will place even more burdens on U.S. military forces, and are likely to include blowing past the nuclear constraints that opponents rail against as being insufficient. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates estimated the time bought by bombing runs as perhaps two to three years. Compare this to provisions the Obama Administration is negotiating that would extend limitations on Iran’s bomb-making capability from ten to twelve years and perhaps longer. Those calling for military strikes are, in effect, arguing that extending limits on Iran’s nuclear program for ten or more years is insufficient, while delaying it for two to three years is good enough.


Aspiring Wonks: Time once again to whet your appetite by dipping into a classic text waiting for you online or at the library – one that applies to the P-5+ 1 negotiations with Iran. These passages are from the first chapter of Nobel Laureate Thomas C. Schelling’s Arms and Influence (Yale University Press, 1966).

“Diplomacy is bargaining; it seeks outcomes that, though not ideal for either party, are better for both than some of the alternatives. In diplomacy each somewhat controls what the other wants, and can get more by compromise, exchange, or collaboration than by taking things in his own hands and ignoring the other’s wishes… Whether or not there is a basis for trust and goodwill, there must be some common interest, if only in the avoidance of mutual damage, and an awareness of the need to make the other party prefer an outcome acceptable to oneself.”

“The purely ‘military’ or undiplomatic’ recourse to forcible action is concerned with enemy strength, not enemy interests; the coercive use of the power to hurt, though, is the very exploitation of enemy wants and fears.”

“Opposing strengths may cancel each other; pain and grief do not. The willingness to hurt, the credibility of the threat, and the ability to exploit the power to hurt will indeed depend on how much the adversary can hurt in return; but there is little or nothing about an adversary’s pain and grief that directly reduces one’s own… With strength they can dispute objects of value; with sheer violence they can destroy them.

And brute force succeeds when it is used, whereas the power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve. It is the threat of damage, or of more damage to come, that can make someone yield or comply. It is latent violence that can influence someone’s choice… Whether it is sheer terroristic violence … or cool premeditated violence… it is the expectation of more violence that gets the wanted behavior, if the power to hurt can get it at all…”

“The victim has to know what is wanted, and he may have to be assured of what is not wanted. The pain and suffering have to appear contingent on his behavior; it is not alone the threat that is effective – the threat of pain or loss if he fails to comply – but the corresponding assurance, possibly an implicit one, that he can avoid the pain or loss if he does comply. The prospect of certain death may stun him, but it gives him no choice.”