On July 14, in Vienna, the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and the European Union signed a 109-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.  The Islamic republic has accepted a comprehensive set of international, legally mandated, and (by implication) militarily enforceable safeguards that “will ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.”  Until 2030 Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium only to 3.67 percent, which is enough for use in a nuclear power plant but nowhere near the 90 percent needed for a bomb.  Iran has agreed to reduce her stockpile of enriched uranium to below 300 kilograms, less than what is needed for a single weapon and a mere fraction of her current hoard of 10,000 kilograms.  She will reduce the number of her 20,000 centrifuges by over 70 percent.

The agreement puts invasive monitoring and verification measures in place that will make it extremely hard to cheat.  “There’s a verifiable gap between their bomb option and an actual bomb,” said Jeffrey Lewis, nuclear-affairs expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

The Administration has maxed out what they could have reasonably hoped to achieve.  You can’t know that Khamenei will be deterred, but I don’t know that there’s any way to make him more deterred than this.

The alternative set of terms would have required Iran to accept that she would never enrich any uranium to any percentage, or generate any electricity from nuclear power; that she would dismantle all of her nuclear facilities; and that she would close all uranium-ore mines and scientific laboratories.  As a sovereign signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has insisted that she had a legal right to enrich uranium and that she would never accept pariah status.  Enforcing such a plan, as repeatedly demanded by Benjamin Netanyahu and his congressional allies, would have necessitated going to war, as they are well aware—this time with a nation of 80 million, which is three times the size of Iraq.  In that doomed endeavor America would have been isolated from her European allies, not to mention Russia and China.

The geopolitical essence of the Vienna agreement is the acceptance by the United States that Iran is a legitimate regional power that needs to come in from the cold.  ISIS is a major problem that cannot be resolved from the air.  Both the Turks and the Saudis are unwilling to act, because for them the removal of Bashar al-Assad tops the list of priorities.  Iran, the Shia militias in Iraq whom she controls, and the Syrian army she supports, are the only ground forces in the region capable of rolling back the Islamic State.  Overall, an Iran free of sanctions will contribute to the development of a regional balance-of-power system in the Middle East, whereby Persians, Turks, and Arabs, Sunnis and Shi’ites, will keep one another in check.  This may prove inherently unstable, but the current situation—in which two key regional Sunni powers stealthily support Sunni jihadism as a means of fighting Shi’ites—is simply intolerable.

Even if Iran were to acquire nuclear capability sometime near the middle of the century—and God only knows what the Middle East will be like by that time—that would not be the end of the world.  The possession of nuclear weapons changes little in the management of specific crises.  The United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel have had nuclear weapons for decades.  None has ever been able to change the outcome of a specific crisis in its favor by threatening to use them (Korea, Suez, Vietnam, Afghanistan).  South Africa’s bomb could not prevent the implosion of white rule in the early 1990’s.  The regional Indian-Pakistani nuclear balance arguably has helped preserve the peace in the Subcontinent after the two countries’ three bloody wars (1947, 1965, 1971).  The possession of a nuclear arsenal makes no difference to China’s efforts to bring Taiwan under her control, and it is not a factor in her attempts to change the regional balance in the South China Sea.  Israel’s possession of the bomb was immaterial in dealing with the intifadas and in averting the military-political quagmires in south Lebanon and in Gaza last year.

For seven decades now, the political effect of a country’s possession of nuclear weapons has been to force its potential adversaries to exercise caution and to freeze the possessor’s frontiers, rather than to enable it to behave recklessly.  Even North Korea, the perennial maverick, has grasped that much by now.  A nuclear-armed Iran would not be an exception to the rule, and no vital American interest would be affected if that were to happen a generation from now.  The Vienna agreement will likely ensure that the subject is closed for at least a decade.