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The IAEA's most alarming findings on Iran's nuclear program

The International Atomic Energy Agency released its much-anticipated report on Iran's nuclear capabilities this afternoon, urging Iranian officials "to engage substantively with the agency without delay for the purpose of providing clarifications regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program" (you can find the full report here). Let's take a look at some of the most incendiary passages:

  • Credible concerns about nuclear weapons: "The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme," the report explains. "After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible."
  • Post-2003 development: The report indicates that Iran doesn't appear to have fully halted its weapons research and technology development in 2003, as U.S. intelligence officials once believed. "Prior to the end of 2003, these [nuclear weapon-related] activities took place under a structured programme," the report says, and "some activities may still be ongoing." Since 2002, the agency adds, the IAEA has "become increasingly concerned" about activities in Iran "related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." 
  • Missile development: In documenting the steps Iran has taken to develop a "nuclear explosive device," the IAEA cites efforts to "procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials" by elements of the military, the "acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network," and "work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components."
  • Foreign involvement: The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the IAEA had surfaced new details about the roles played by a former Soviet weapons scientist and experts in Pakistan and North Korea in helping Iran master the necessary steps to build a nuclear weapon (the pictures above shows a reactor building at Iran's Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant). In its report, the IAEA notes that "the Agency has strong indications that the development by Iran of the high explosives initiation system, and its development of the high speed diagnostic configuration used to monitor related experiments, were assisted by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable in these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin ... This person was in Iran from about 1996 to about 2002, ostensibly to assist Iran in the development of a facility and techniques for making ultra-dispersed diamonds ("UDDs" or "nanodiamonds"), where he also lectured on explosion physics and its applications."
  • Nuclear tests: "The Agency has information that Iran has conducted a number of practical tests to see whether its EBW firing equipment would function satisfactorily over long distances between a firing point and a test device located down a deep shaft," the report notes. "Additionally, among the alleged studies documentation provided by that Member State, is a document, in Farsi, which relates directly to the logistics and safety arrangements that would be necessary for conducting a nuclear test."
  • Projects 5 and 111: The report discusses a "Project 5" program in Iran designed to "provide a source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment programme. The product of this programme would be converted into metal for use in the new warhead which was the subject of the missile re-entry vehicle studies (identified as Project 111)."
  • Computer modeling: The IAEA expresses "particular concern" about modeling studies conducted in 2008 and 2009 involving "spherical geometries." The "application of such studies to anything other than a nuclear explosive is unclear to the Agency," the report notes.

The Iranian press is up in arms about the report, calling it "US dictated" and a study based on a "laptop of lies." But the big question is what happens next. As the Israeli media speculates about military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, the U.S. and its allies weigh harsher sanctions  against an increasingly assertive Iran.

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Are spreading identity wars the scariest thing in the world?

Last week, I poked a bit of fun at the tendence of politicians and pundits to label one threat or another the "greatest threat" to America's national security or way of life. Today, Walter Russell Mead goes a step further with a blog post describing what he says is the "scariest thing in the world":

The scariest thing in the world is the prospect that the identity wars are spreading from Europe and the Middle East into the rest of Asia and Africa.

The identity wars started in early modern Europe around the time of the Protestant Reformation.  After a century of genocidal violence that left most of Germany ruined and depopulated, those wars subsided until the French Revolution set off an even greater and more devastating wave.  Closely connected to the industrial revolution and the rise of democracy, nationalism emerged as a dominant political force in 19th century Europe, spreading from northwestern Europe toward the south and east.  Over the next 100 years, more than a hundred million people died in wars as multinational empires in Europe and the Middle East ripped themselves apart in paroxysms of war, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

More recent crises — like the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, the Kurdish conflict, the Greco-Turkish conflict over Cyprus, the violence in the Caucasus and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — are the last reverberating echoes of this horrendous upheaval, and they are bad enough.

One of the biggest questions in world politics today is whether identity wars (conflicts between groups with different cultural, religious and/or ethnic backgrounds who inhabit the same stretch of land) were a special feature of modern European and Middle Eastern history or whether these conflicts will appear in more of Africa and Asia in the 21st century as development spreads. 

Mead uses two current examples to illustrate this trend: the uptick in religious violence in Nigeria and the persecution of the Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan. These are, without a doubt, disturbing developments, but are they really something altogether new in regional history?

Nigerians were fighting over ethnic identity and religion before colonialism arrived. And in the late 1960s fought a staggeringly brutal civil war over an ethnically-based independence movement in Biafra. I also suspect that the argument that "identity wars" are a new phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa might be news to Hutus and Tutsis. 

As for Kyrgyztan, it has a millennium-old nationalist tradition defined by resistance to foreign invaders. The Kyrgyz-Uzbek tensions are also just one of the handful of ongoing ethnic conflicts that have simmered since the fall of the Soviet Union including a few -- Chechnya, Georgia's breakaway provinces, and Nagorno-Karabakh -- that have already broken out into armed conflict.

Other examples noted by Mead, the Sri Lankan Civil War and the communal tensions between India and Pakistan, are also decades-old conflicts. 

Overall, statistics on war casualties have been trending downward in the opening years of this century. That doesn't mean this promising trend will continue or that the current ethnic tensions in places like Nigeria and Kyrgyzstan aren't a prelude to a much larger global calamity, I'm just not sure I buy that ethnic conflict was ever a uniquely European or Middle Eastern phenomenon.