CNU Professor Shares Perspective on Iran Case

Dr. Nathan Busch, photo from

Dr. Nathan Busch, photo from

In the first week of February 2023, the world learned the news of a potential breakout case of nuclear capability by the Iranian nuclear program, published by the IAEA and picked up by professional media. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the chief nuclear watchdog and the unofficial warden for the Iran nuclear program, had inspectors arrive at one of the declared sites of the Iranian Nuclear Program. After these inspectors took environmental sampling of the site, they detected in the environment Uranium enriched to 84%, just 6 points short of weapons-grade material which could be used in a nuclear weapon.

In the weeks since, the arms control community and the United States Government have made it clear – if Iran does not already have a nuclear weapon, they will soon. In reporting by the Associated Press, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, declared before the House Armed Services Committee on March 28 that Iran could “produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks.”

Christopher Newport University boasts a professor with an expertise in this exact area, Dr. Nathan Busch. Busch is a distinguished professor in the CNU Political Science Department, with a specialization in Weapons Proliferation, having written books on the subject and many articles specifically about the Iran Case. It is in the wake of these most recent developments that The Captain’s Log sought out Busch’s experience to make sense of it all, which led to the following interview:


Question: “Who is in charge of Iran, who is their leadership, and then also their motivations for pursuing a nuclear program?”


Busch: “The Ayatollah basically controls everything in Iran. Iran’s long been suspected of having nuclear weapon aspirations, spanning back, at least up to or even prior, to the Iran-Iraq War.”

Busch said, “Iran and Iraq utilized chemical weapons, they had numerous WMD programs, including several unfinished reactors that had been being built under the Shah at a place called Bushehr.”

“So they had nuclear programs prior, but it is believed that the aspirations for a nuclear weapons program really began in that era, and certainly in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war,” he added. 


Question: “Is Iran going nuclear a real and imminent danger to the United States?”


Busch: “An imminent danger? Well they’re not able to strike the United States with an intercontinental range ballistic missile, yet. They’re actively moving forward with long range ballistic missile capabilities. It is believed that they’re acquiring the near-term capability to target Europe with ballistic missiles, but especially owing to collaboration with North Korea and other countries, they’re moving forward with longer range missile capabilities that could, within the next decade or so, certainly be able to target the United States.”


Question: “When can we expect their nuclear capability, and is this going to be different from their official announcement of nuclear capability?”


Busch: “The fact is, they are very much on the nuclear weapons threshold, but given all of their covert activity, and given some of the recent reports of enriching uranium to 84%, and undeclared activities, it may already be that they’ve crossed the nuclear weapons threshold. In other words, enriched enough Uranium for at least one nuclear weapon.”


Question: “To the best of your knowledge, what are Iran’s ambitions in the region?”

Busch: “They want to become the dominant power in the middle east, and nuclear weapons play into these aspirations in numerous ways. For one, there’s the prestige factor; there’s believed to be only one other country in the middle east that possesses nuclear weapons. By developing nuclear weapons themselves, they are already among a fairly elite group of countries, since only nine countries possess, or are believed to possess, nuclear weapons.”

Busch continued, “It would also enable them to project power in the middle east and elsewhere more effectively, because they could be fairly confident that there would not be any major retaliation as they expanded their attacks on oil infrastructure and facilities in neighboring countries, which they are already doing now in Saudi Arabia and carrying out attacks with drones in Israel. Possessing nuclear weapons could enable them to expand those activities and be fairly confident there wouldn’t be a major retaliation.”

“There could be direct attacks by Iran, but they could also very much be involved in expanding their support of proxy terrorist organizations that could do their bidding or simply target adversaries of theirs. They already do that and are one of the leading sponsors of terrorism in the world, this would only embolden them,” said Busch. 


Question: “Is the Iran Case more of a failure of American foreign policy, or non-proliferation as a whole?”


Busch: “Well, it certainly is the case that various non-proliferation mechanisms historically have been fairly limited in what they could do in stopping a country that really wants to develop nuclear weapons and [actively] developing them. 

The non-proliferation regimes enable the international community through diplomacy and establishing norms to not only pressure countries to renounce their programs, but also to provide security assurances to various countries that would otherwise consider developing nuclear weapons that it is not in their interest to do so. It certainly is the case that if a country really wants to acquire nuclear weapons, there is not a lot the international community can do, short of threat of force, to turn them back.

The international levers or mechanisms are limited in their nature: you can use sanctions, you can use diplomacy of course, you can provide various enticements or benefits from joining the international community or being a productive member of the international community, but some countries might always see that their interests don’t align with that, and be tempted to develop nuclear weapons. 

Without significant consequences for violations of these non-proliferation norms, if there is no penalty or punishment for doing so, there’s really no downside for countries choosing to develop them. The issue of enforcement is as big of an issue as detection, and the international community has fallen short when it comes to enforcement.”