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Iran and the Bomb

By Ilan Berman
Middle East Quarterly
January 1, 2009

Iran and the Bomb
The Abdication of International Responsibility
by Thérèse Delpech
New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 160 pp. $26.95

Is Iran seeking nuclear weapons? For some, despite the mounting evidence, this is still very much an open question. Not, however, for Delpech, director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission and senior research fellow at the Center for International Studies in Paris. "[T]he quest for an atomic weapon is the only credible explanation" for the pattern of delay, secrecy, and obfuscation exhibited by Iran's ayatollahs over their nuclear effort, she writes.

Delpech should know. A veteran French arms controller, she spent years attempting to find a negotiated solution to the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions. The fact that she and her counterparts could not informs the two central theses of her book: One, that the Iranian regime is completely committed to acquiring an offensive nuclear capability, and two, that the international community is far less dedicated to preventing Iran from reaching that goal than it should be.

Delpech's second argument reinforces her first. In chapter after chapter, she details the various attitudes of the main international players—from Europe to China to Russia and the United States—in the unfolding crisis with Iran. The picture that emerges is damning: While each has adopted a different approach to the confrontation, none has been up to the task, and all of them have illustrated to the Iranian regime that the international community is not capable of acting with sufficient unity to stop its nuclear program.

What can be done? Delpech concludes her book with a few "lessons learned," most of which are by now painfully obvious—although no less relevant for being so. "[A]fter having overestimated Iraqi capabilities in 2002 and 2003, we run the risk of underestimating those of Iran," she warns. Likewise relevant is her admonition that "[o]nce negotiations begin, they are hard to stop, both because the negotiators get hooked and because neither side wants to accept responsibility for failure."

Iran and the Bomb's real value, however, is as a historical chronicle. Delpech's work is a devastatingly accurate account of the profoundly unserious way in which the international community has approached the Iranian nuclear issue so far. It is a choice that the world is likely to rue in the near future.

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Related Categories: North America; Europe; Russia; Iran Freedom Initiative; Iran; China

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