Blocking All Paths to an Iranian Bomb: How the West Can Avoid a Nuclear Maginot Line

July 3, 2014
Belfer Center Communications

In Vienna, Iran and the P5+1 begin their latest round of talks to strike a nuclear deal before the July 20 deadline. So far, the U.S. and its five partners have focused great attention on Iran's overt facilities at Natanz, Fordow, and Arak. In so doing, are they risking a nuclear Maginot Line – a fatal neglect of alternatives?

If Iran is found to have a nuclear bomb in the next few years, how will it have succeeded? Will it make the weapon from highly enriched uranium produced at the known facilities the negotiations seek to constrain? Or will the weapon come from an undiscovered covert production line? Or could Iran buy a bomb, or material from which to build a bomb, from North Korea?

The P5+1 partners have understandably emphasized constraints on production at known facilities. Before finalizing any deal with Iran, negotiators must reflect on their central objective – no Iranian bomb – and consider all paths Iran might pursue. An effective agreement is one that provides the international community sufficient opportunities to 1) detect Iranian advancement along all paths, and 2) act to prevent Iran reaching the nuclear goal line.

In a new report, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison and research fellow and Israeli defense technology expert Oren Setter explore the terms of such an agreement.

Belfer Center Director Graham Allison

Graham Allison, Belfer Center director

"Our purpose in this paper is to challenge the analytic community to pause and examine the larger questions as carefully as it has analyzed constraints on Iran's declared nuclear facilities," write the authors.

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