The Return of the Brinkmanship Strategy in the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

Joe Biden was officially sworn in on January 4, 2021 as the 46th President of the United States. This election was a relief in many diplomatic citadels with regard to the risk of war caused by the bellicose management of many sensitive international issues by the former US administration. Among these sensitive international issues stands the Iranian nuclear program. Since the unilateral and unjustified withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA in 2018 has led Iran to gradually free itself from all of its obligations under this agreement signed in 2015. Among the retaliatory measures adopted are the decision to resume enrichment of uranium at 20%, which has raised serious fears among Western powers regarding the risk of Iran producing a nuclear bomb. What factors can explain such a situation of animosity? In other words, why has Iran made such a decision with serious regional consequences? How advanced is Iran’s nuclear program and therefore its ability to produce a nuclear bomb?

            Iran Government spokesman Ali Rabie announced on January 4, 2021 the resumption of enrichment activities for its uranium up to 20%. This was done in retaliation by the Iranian government following the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered to be the mastermind of Iran’s nuclear program. Although there have been no official claims from the Israeli government, several experts agree on the responsibility of the Israeli secret service in this assassination. [1] In addition, the Iranian parliament recently adopted a bill inviting the government to stop respecting the additional protocol of the IAEA which authorized unannounced inspections in the nuclear installations and certain military bases of the country. It is important to stress that Iran had already adopted similar retaliatory measures in the context of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani. [2] Therefore, the decision to resume enrichment activities up to 20% appears to be a logical continuation in its policy of counter-attacks against the economic cost of the sanctions imposed on it. Combined with the unilateral sanctions imposed by the previous US administration, the assassination of this eminent scientist had enormous political impact beyond the technical implications for Iran’s nuclear program. What is the state of Iran’s nuclear program? Is Iran already capable of producing an atomic bomb?

The Return of the Brinkmanship Strategy in the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

                        The production of an atomic bomb depends on both technical and political factors. Regarding the technical aspects, it would require centrifuges, fissile material and a delivery system. According to official reports, Iran meets two of the conditions listed above, the most problematic of which is the mastering of the enrichment cycle that produces fissile material. The level of enrichment is critical in the production of fissile material necessary for the production of a bomb. Between 1% and 19%, (LEU) Uranium is enriched for exclusively civilian or peaceful purposes. From 20%, enrichment is problematic because it makes it possible to reach the critical threshold of 90% (HEU) which gives access to the nuclear bomb. [3] Therefore, it is logical that Iran’s decision to enrich its 20% uranium is a source of concern in the West. Regarding the political conditions, the State should resolutely embark on the path of nuclearisation, as North Korea did, which is not yet the case for Tehran considering the Fatwa of  the Supreme Leader which prohibits the production of nuclear weapons. From this perspective, it is too early to panic. Moreover, the compromise recently reached between Iran and the IAEA on a minimum implementation of the additional protocol is a signal that Iran wants the preservation of the JCPOA.[4]

            The preservation of the JCPOA therefore appears to be the keystone likely to resolve the current crisis between Tehran and Washington. However, Iran request beforehand the lifting of sanctions imposed on its economy by the Trump administration. While the Biden administration has also indicated its willingness to return to the JCPOA, they also request Iran’s initial return in the JCPOA, which leads  to a brinkmanship scenario. The solution proposed by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif of a synchronized return of both sides under EU auspices seems a middle-ground approach acceptable to both sides. The upcoming Iranian presidential elections might put the Biden administration in a difficult bargaining position with Iran. A bold political action is therefore urgently required.

[1]          Bunkall, Alistair, The meticulous planning behind assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist, Sky News, 2021.

[2]          Marcus Jonathan,Iran rolls back nuclear deal commitments,BBC, 2020.

[3]          Nuclear Threat Initiative, Civilian HEU Reduction and Elimination Resource Collection, 2020

[4]          Wintour, Patrick,IAEA and Iran strike three-month deal over nuclear inspections, The Guardian, 2021

Ndzana Ndzana Jean Yves

Ndzana Ndzana Jean Yves

a PhD candidate at Leiden University, Netherlands where he conducts a research project on the conditions success of coercive diplomacy in the context of nuclear proliferation.

The post The Return of the Brinkmanship Strategy in the Iranian Nuclear Crisis appeared first on IGTDS.

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