A threshold as a kind of borderline, and given that Iran has no intentions to stop at all, the idea of a nuclear threshold state is not relevant and will never be. The threshold provides some western states a feeling of control over a rogue and raving process that does not care what the West thinks, wants or defines. Iran knows that her true intentions are getting clearer and clearer, that very soon she will lose her oil strength and that the Iranian people won’t take it for much longer. Iran needs to be regarded a nuclear state, whatever it takes.
Let’s take it apart:
Many consider nuclear threshold capabilities as the competence to quickly operationalize a peaceful nuclear program into one capable of producing a nuclear weapon. Others believe that the threshold is a mere idea of constraint and ruling, that its just a further step. In fact, there are just as many definitions as there are opinions about how to handle threshold countries, if at all. This would mean that if you want to be referred to as someone to cooperate with, it is enough to be considered someone who has decided not to walk the path of nuclear weapons, but if you want to be left alone and take over neighboring countries, threshold would best be defined as “a bomb in the basement” as George Quester puts it.
Now, Iran would like to rejoin negotiations not before she acquires the unanimous status of a nuclear threshold country. She is postponing relentlessly while she attempts to cross red line after red line of what she believes will allow her to be defined a nuclear threshold state, never taking her foot down from the pedal. She is taking a big risk, completely mis-interpreting the US and Europe. The thing is, that no-one trusts Iran to stay on this side of the threshold, and for a good reason. Much different from North-Korea, Iran cannot claim she needs a nuclear program to survive. Iran could have prospered greatly over the last decades with oil-dollars and lead the Shiites into a dominant position in the Islam world. Instead, Iran wants to proliferate the Shiite revolution, believes that the survival of the spiritual leadership is the cardinal goal of the Iranian policy. This is not another Japan or Vietnam, that will gladly cooperate with the US and have a permanent supervisor to its’s nuclear program, this is a state that puts its aspirations before the needs of his own people.
Some may argue that under these conditions the west cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state, not only because the intentions are clear, not only because whatever red line is drawn, Iran will cross it, not only because she makes every effort to gain legitimacy as a threshold state without having reached or even come close to that status. The main issue here is that allowing Iran that status will undermine all nuclear understandings with all nuclear threshold states. Should this happen, it will not suffice to promise an ally to back him up with the US nuclear capabilities. There will be too many threats, too much compromise, and the US might lose its leading role. Europe understands that unwillingly, China on the other hand might find this quite appealing, for now. This can open a new era of nuclear weapons race, and for no real reason.
The thing is that there is no real threshold, no red line and no “point of no return”. All of these are instruments of diplomacy, defined to serve a purpose. One should remember that weapons-grade enriched uranium is a clear sign of intention to go for a nuclear weapon, but it is only one step in that direction, and there are many more steps needed. Some of these include the research and development of plutonium and uranium metallurgy; development of chemical and high explosive programs; the use of special high speed cameras or pulsed x-ray generators to conduct and analyze hydrodynamic testing; the presence or use of thousands of pounds of natural uranium and tungsten, or hundreds of pounds of beryllium, which are used to reflect neutrons and tamp the nuclear explosion; criticality tests to understand weapon fabrication; the use of neutron generators and associate electronics to measure effectiveness and more.
The IAEA calls the steps above “possible military dimension” or PMD. If Iran did in fact take these steps, she is in total breech of the NPT and should be halted immediately and pay the price. If not, she should not enjoy the status of a threshold state and force the hand of the West on the negotiation table. The only way to handle the situation is to enforce further sanctions and make Iran understand, that this is not a game she is going to win.
So, without knowing it, Iran has put herself in a Lose-Lose situation: Either she is punishable for breach of the NPT or she should be forced to crawl her way back to the negotiation table without anything tangible to offer.