Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Where the Iran Nuclear Deal is Headed

While the world is distracted with the "penis measuring contest" between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, Iran seems to have taken the back seat when it comes to attention from the mainstream media.  That said, with Donald Trump's repeated criticism of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) as shown here (a launch that, as it turns out did not take place):

...a recent document circulating in Washington sheds interesting light on where the Iranian situation will end up.

The memorandum was written by Richard Goldberg, a former Republican House and Senate policy advisor, Deputy Chief of Staff to former Republican Senator Mark Kirk (IL) and a member of the Israeli lobby that works Washington to its advantage and a former Republican House and Senate policy advisor.  In looking through Mr. Goldberg's Twitter account, you can clearly see his anti-Iran stance, a stance that is shared with Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu who has long had a "bug up his butt" about Iran's continued existence.

Before we take a detailed look at Mr. Goldberg's musings and as background, let's look at the key parts of the JCPOA:

Nowhere in the document does it mention that Iran must limit further testing related to its ballistic missile program.  Remember that the key part of the JCPOA was the lifting of international sanctions that were imposed on Iran for the ongoing development of its nuclear program.

Let's now look at how the United States added to the conditions imposed on Iran by the JCPOA.  Here is a key excerpt from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) (H.R. 1191), a separate law which was passed by Congress in 2015 and became law on May 22, 2015:

The President shall, at least every 90 days, determine whether the President is able to certify that: 
1.) Iran is fully implementing the agreement,

2.) Iran has not committed a material breach of the agreement,

3.) Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program, and

4.) suspension of sanctions against Iran is appropriate and proportionate to measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and vital to U.S. national security interests.

The only time that ballistic missiles are mentioned in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act are as follows:

It is the sense of Congress that: 
1.) U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under an agreement; 

2.) issues not addressed by an agreement on Iran's nuclear program, including compensation for Americans held in captivity after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in 1979, the freedom of Americans held in Iran, the human rights abuses of the government of Iran against its own people, and the continued support of terrorism by the government of Iran, are matters critical to ensure justice and U.S. national security, and should be addressed; 

3.) the President should determine the agreement in no way compromises the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, nor its support for Israel's right to exist; and 

4.) in order to implement any long-term agreement reached between the P5+1 countries and Iran, it is critically important that Congress have the opportunity to review any agreement and take action to modify the statutory sanctions regime imposed by Congress.

Notice that INARA technically gives Washington an "out" when it comes to Iran's ballistic missile program and the reimposition of sanctions that were relieved under the JCPOA.  That's a bit on the sneaky side, isn't it?

Now, let's look at the Goldberg document in its entirety, released thanks to Foreign Policy:

Here are the key sections:

"Iran’s refusal to allow inspections at key military sites makes it impossible to fully verify Iranian compliance with the JCPOA. The regime’s accelerating ballistic missile program violates the JCPOA’s related agreements and, given the proliferation nexus between Iran and North Korea, poses a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. Meanwhile, Iran’s exploitation of sanctions relief to build up its military presence in Syria and Lebanon undermines U.S. security interests and puts our closest Middle East ally in grave danger....

The President should determine that he cannot certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA and/or that sanctions relief is vital to U.S. national security – and he should base this determination on a specific list of Iranian behavior that the United States will observe and reevaluate during the following 90-day period. This may include the impossibility of verifying compliance without access to certain sites, testing or development of ballistic missiles, or military activities in Syria and Lebanon." (my bold)

Note that the entire premise of Mr. Goldberg's argument is based on Iran's ballistic missile program, a program that is not even mentioned in JCPOA itself and appears to be changing the basis on which the JCPOA was signed by all parties.

Here is how Mr. Goldberg feels that the Trump Administration could back Iran into a corner:

Since the act of “decertifying” under INARA is itself not a violation of the JCPOA, the moment the President makes his determination, the United States will still remain a party to the P5+1 agreement. A decision by Iran to abandon its JCPOA nuclear commitments would be unwarranted. However, this is the key moment when Iran either views “decertification” as meaningless symbolism or as a credible threat.

To influence Iranian behavior after “decertification,” Iran’s leaders must credibly believe two things: 

1) an immediate U.S.-led economic embargo is possible, and 

2) the regime would not win a race to the bomb if it chose to break away from its remaining JCPOA commitments.

The United States can remain a party to the JCPOA even though it has decertified Iran under INARA based on Iran's ongoing willingness to expand its ballistic missile program, a program that "threatens America's "closest Middle East ally (i.e. Israel)". (my bold and insert)  

With the decertification in place, under its own laws (INARA), the United States would be free to reimpose sanctions.  Under Mr. Goldberg's scenario, Iran would suffer from "regime instability and economic collapse", putting an end to the nation's current dictatorship as shown here:

"A sudden termination of access to its foreign accounts, suspension of insurance across all industries, cutoff from SWIFT and all foreign financial institutions and a dramatic drop in expected oil exports would trigger an immediate currency crisis inside Iran. The bazaars of Iran would be overcome with chaos and fear. A period of regime instability would quickly follow, posing an existential threat to the Supreme Leader far sooner than the 7-12 month timeline needed for Iran to “break out” (based on where the Iranian nuclear program paused under the JCPOA). At the very least, the period of instability triggered by the U.S. sanctions embargo would buy valuable time to explore more creative and effective military options as a last resort.

In the end, we must keep in mind the fundamental rule of dictatorship: the regime’s top priority is staying in control. A credible threat to regime stability – a sanctions Sword of Damocles hanging over the Supreme Leader – could incentivize Iranian behavioral change." (my bold)

Let's close with a very recent quote about the situation in Iran from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2 minute 45 second mark):

...and here is an excerpt from his address on nuclear non-profliferation to the United Nations on September 21, 2017:

There are also lessons here for Iran, which was on its own pathway to develop nuclear weapons – in violation of its Non-Proliferation Treaty and nuclear safeguards obligations and multiple, legally binding UN Security Council resolutions. Iran seems keen to preserve for itself the option to resume such work in the future, even while sponsoring international terrorism, developing missile systems capabilities of delivering nuclear weapons, and destabilizing its neighbors in a dangerous quest of regional hegemony.” (my bold)

How dare another nation (other than the United States) attempt a quest for hegemony of any kind!

The writing is on the wall when it comes to Iran and the United States; it is just a matter of time before the hostilities begin.

Thanks to America's substantial investments in both Saudi Arabia and Israel and its long-term hawkish approach to Iran, it appears to matter little whether Iran remains compliant to the terms of the JCPOA (which they appear to be based on the most recent report dated August 31, 2017 from the IAEA).  At the very least it appears that the plan is to create yet another unstable nation in the Middle East, all in the name of regime change that is favourable to Washington.  It's no wonder that Iran's leadership feels a need to protect itself with its ballistic missile program given that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States have long held an anti-Iran war mindset.

And, we all know how well regime change has worked out for the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, don't we?

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Renuclearization of America

While the world focusses on North Korea's growing nuclear weapons capability and the threats from Washington regarding the JCPOA reached with Iran, a deal that seeks to reduce Iran's nuclear capabilities, little attention is paid to the ongoing developments in the American nuclear weapons sector, the world's second-largest nuclear power when measured in terms of weapons in service as shown here:

Thanks to the Arms Control Association, we have a glimpse at what is projected for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, particularly how much these developments will cost American taxpayers.

While the current President of the United States has claimed this in a tweet from August 9, 2017:

...in fact, it was under the orders of President Barack Obama that the plans were set in place to undertake a massive rejuvenation of America's nuclear arsenal.  Under the plans which have been inherited by the Trump Administration, the United States will spend an average of $40 billion annually over the period between fiscal 2017 and 2026 as shown on this table from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO):

As you can see, of the $400 billion in anticipated spending, $286 billion will go towards nuclear delivery systems including $90 billion for ballistic missiles for the U.S. submarine fleet and $43 each for ballistic missiles and bombers.  The $400 billion projection is $52 billion or 15 percent higher than CBO estimates from January 2015, showing a significant ramping up of planned spending on America's triad nuclear capabilities which includes submarines, missiles and bombers.

If we go out further in time, an analysis of Pentagon budget data by the Arms Control Association shows that spending on America's nuclear fleet will continue to grow out to fiscal 2047, reaching nearly $1.5 trillion as shown on this graphic which breaks down the high and low estimated costs for nuclear force sustainment, modernization and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which is responsible for "enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science" as well as maintaining and replacing aging nuclear infrastructure:

This analysis by Kingston Reif assumes that inflation increases at an average of 2.1 percent from fiscal 2018 to 2022 and by 2.1 percent plus a real growth rate of 1.5 percent above inflation for the years beyond fiscal 2022.

The author of the analysis feels that it is quite likely that the projected budget of between $369 billion and $417 billion for the NNSA is likely too low.  The NNSA's most recent budget plans for managing America's nuclear weapons stockpile as shown here:

...suggests that its needs will continue to grow rapidly as shown on this table and graphic:

Over the 30 year period, the NNSA is expecting to upgrade two air-delivered warheads and develop three interoperable warheads for use on both ICBMs and SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles) on which they project to spend between $73 billion and $95 billion.

Let's close this section of the posting with a summary graphic showing how the United States is going to recapitalize its nuclear fleet along with a glimpse back in time showing how much was spent in the past (using constant 2016 dollars):

So, with all of this nuclear weapons-related funding available, thanks in no small part to America's taxpayers, who are the main beneficiaries,outside of North Korea (potentially) and any other nation that stands in the way of American hegemony?  Here are two of the major beneficiaries to this point from a press release dated August 21, 2017:

1) The Boeing Co., Huntsville, Alabama, has been awarded a $349,159,962 contract for Ground-based Strategic Deterrent. This contract is to conduct technology maturation and risk reduction to deliver a low technical risk, affordable total system replacement of Minuteman III to meet intercontinental ballistic missiles operational requirements. Work will be performed in Huntsville, Alabama, and other various locations as needed and is expected to be completed by Aug. 20, 2020. This award is the result of competitive acquisition and three offers were received. Fiscal 2017 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $5,700,000 are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the contracting activity.

2.) Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Redondo Beach, California, has been awarded a $328,584,830 contract for Ground-based Strategic Deterrent. This contract is to conduct technology maturation and risk reduction to deliver a low technical risk, affordable total system replacement of Minuteman III to meet intercontinental ballistic missiles operational requirements. Work will be performed in Redondo Beach, California, and other various locations as needed and is expected to be completed by Aug. 20, 2020. This award is the result of competitive acquisition and three offers were received. Fiscal 2017 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $5,700,000 are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the contracting activity.

There's $678 million committed!  Lockheed Martin, America's largest defense contractor, also bid on the contracts but its bid was rejected.

Given the political power that lies in the military-industrial complex, its not terribly surprising to see that hundreds of billions of dollars will be flowing into the coffers of the main players in America's defense industry.  It is also interesting to see that, despite the nation's $20 trillion debt, that administration after administration feels compelled to spend hundreds of billions of dollars that they don't have on weapons that they will hopefully never use rather than on health care, education and other necessities of life.