Chain Reaction: Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East, Staff Report to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

February 1, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

Iran’s nuclear program remains one of the most serious threats to U.S. interests and Middle East peace, despite the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) conclusion that ‘‘Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.’’ Iran continues to enrich uranium-the most difficult component of a nuclear weapons program-and continues to conduct work that could contribute to nuclear weapons development. As the NIE states, Iran now possesses the ‘‘scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.’’ Consequently, the NIE judges ‘‘with moderate confidence’’ that Iran will have enough highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010–2015. Furthermore, because the motivations inspiring the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons remain unaddressed, Iran remains unlikely to fully abandon its long-term drive to obtain a nuclear weapon capability. If in fact Iran halted the other aspects of its nuclear weapons program in 2003, this action almost certainly represents a tactical pause rather than a strategic change of course. In short, Iran now possesses the means as well as the motivation to develop nuclear weapons. Consequently, it is entirely possible that the United States could confront a nuclear-armed or nuclear weapons capable Iran in the next decade.