International Affairs Middle East — 04 February 2005

Weapons of Mass Destruction have shaped the post 9-11 debate with respect to international peace and security. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, weapons proliferation continues to occur in countries such as North Korea. However it is Iranian policy and nuclear intentions which is now the central focus of western foreign policy. Sajjad Khan argues that the nuclear bargain explicit within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty has now broken down. If nuclear nations are not going to disarm their own arsenals, then there exists very good security reasons why Iran should not forsake her own program. The author also argues that western ‘democracies’ claim to greater legitimacy in their justification for holding WMD’s needs also to be questioned.

A crisis in the Middle East; a tyrannical Muslim country is accused of breaking international agreements regarding alleged nuclear weapons. An opposition in exile makes sensational claims, intrusive international inspections are sought and denials are repeated. Like a bad old western it has some new characters, but the plot is all too familiar. All we are waiting for is the British Government to issue a dossier and Hans Blix to emerge from retirement and the storyline will almost be complete. Yet ignoring the caricatures, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that in eighteen months time we may witness another violent conflict in the Persian Gulf; this time in Iran.

Despite the increasing entropy in Iraq and Afghanistan, since the re-election of George W. Bush there has been much discussion on what the new focus of his foreign policy will be in the next four years. The issue of Iran has risen to the top of the agenda and speculation is now ubiquitous as to how the administration will attempt to curtail the nuclear ambitions of Tehran. Though the US has until now been prepared to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts of the EU3 the tacit threat of force has led to a sense of disquiet around the world. This unease has been created by the depredation of international law and the neo-conservative vision of global foreign policy that were the hallmarks of Bush’s first term. Though some consider the ascendancy of neo-conservative doctrine as an ephemeron, others consider that if the US project in Iraq proves successful it will be the start of a relentless drive for reform and realignment in the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.

It has become accepted wisdom in the West that coaxing Iran away from its nuclear fixation would help to promote regional peace and stability and bolster the integrity of international agreements. However few people in the Muslim world share these sentiments. People cite what they see as hypocritical double standards and an aggressive Western foreign policy doctrine, which seeks to maintain a de facto nuclear monopoly. This article therefore seeks to address some key issues surrounding the often one-sided debate about Iran (a country the author acknowledges has severe shortcomings) and her nuclear ambitions. Specifically it aims to answer the following:

  1. What obligations does the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) place on nations?
  2. Has the explicit bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, predicated on the balance of commitments between nuclear and non-nuclear nations, broken down?
  3. Is Iran’s acquiring of nuclear weapons really a threat to international peace and stability, or a necessary step in her building a credible deterrent?
  4. Must a country be democratic in order to qualify for membership of the nuclear club?

Obligations under the NPT

Formally known as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the NPT was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The treaty defined Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS) as those who had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1st 1967. By this criterion the nuclear club was limited forever to the United States, UK, France, China and the Soviet Union (and its successor state Russia). By mere coincidence these same nations hold veto power as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Most countries in the world are signatories to the NPT, however there are four important exceptions: India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea, which recently withdrew from the treaty. While the initial duration of the treaty was 25 years, it was extended indefinitely in 1995. As a way of obtaining an indefinite extension, the NWS agreed to a package of non-binding principles and objectives for non-proliferation and disarmament, as well as the instigation of a five yearly review conference. In 2000, the first review set key goals and targets in its closing document, in the form of 13 practical steps for nuclear disarmament. The upcoming May 2005 conference will review progress on the achievement of these goals. Most commentators believe however that despite the progress of the last thirty-five years, the NPT currently faces an unprecedented crisis. Thomas Graham, a former Special Representative of the (US) President for Arms Control, Non-proliferation and Disarmament says,

“If the possession of a nuclear arsenal retains its high political value to NPT nuclear-weapon states, particularly the United States, the ability to persuade states not to acquire these weapons may diminish. Add to that the withdrawal of North Korea from the NPT in 2003 and its likely acquisition of at least several nuclear weapons; the increasingly suspect Iranian nuclear program; and the disclosure of an illegal secret network of nuclear technology supply headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of the Pakistani program; and many are saying that the NPT is broken and must be fixed or, worse, is irrelevant. Heightening these concerns about the NPT is the threat of international terrorism and the possibility that terrorists may somehow come into possession of a nuclear weapon and actually use it against a large city somewhere. The NPT regime appears fragile, and many fear for its long-term viability.”

Iran’s stated programme of enriching uranium, which it has agreed to suspend unilaterally, is specifically allowed under the provisions of the treaty, though of course a nuclear weapons programme would not be. Consequently while we hear a great deal from western leaders on how various nations such as Iran are violating the provisions of the NPT through unproved covert means, very little is said about their own obligations under Article VI of the aforementioned treaty. Article VI states very clearly what these obligations are,

“Each of the Parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

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