If you want to look at a timeline of Iran’s Nuclear Programme, I assure you it is lengthy and has yo-yo tendencies, with nothing truly resolved. In over three decades, despite suspension for a short while in the past, Iran still has maintained its Uranium Enrichment facilities which the US and its allies have been so keen to stop. It is also still labelled as a threat to international peace and stability by the West, with recent WikiLeaks claims that the Gulf States share US sentiments, albeit focused on the Middle East.
Iran no doubt has nuclear capabilities, however they insist that they are within their rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and thus in no way violating the Non proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which sets out to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Talks between Iran and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany were held last week with the hope to review Iran’s nuclear developments, and stop their enrichment programme, but to no avail. The world powers wanted to suspend enrichment and in return Iran would get many sanctions lifted and would be given help with a civil nuclear power system, including a guarantee of fuel. Iran wanted to discuss other matters on nuclear proliferation, and refused to comment on its own enrichment programmes, again with the firm belief that they are not doing anything wrong. The nuclear powers walked away highly disappointed.
The UN has imposed four sets of sanctions which seek to make it more difficult for Iran to acquire equipment, technology and finance to support its nuclear activities. However they do not stop the trade in oil and gas which is the major source of Iran’s income – in which the US and EU Sanctions have imposed.
Of the 189 states party to the NPT; 5 are recognised as nuclear-countries – US, France, UK, China and Russia – coincidently also the members of the Security Council. So, should this not mean that these five countries should be disarmed also? Well in fact, Article VI of the NPT commits them 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”. Although the nuclear powers claim they have done this by reducing their warheads, critics argue they have not really moved towards nuclear disarmament at all. Many argue that the US and UK have broken the treaty by transferring nuclear technology from one to another – which the US and UK claim is not affected by the NPT.
This highlights one of the main problems with the NPT: widespread double standards. Barack Obama provided an ambitious vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. He said he would not support introducing “new” nuclear weapons. However, the modernisation and upgrading of his own US warheads could be interpreted as introducing new ones. It is widely known that Israel is, and with assistance, developing nuclear weapons. Although they are not part of the treaty, and thus have every right to develop them, they still pose a threat – so why does the US supporting Israel in there nuclear efforts?
On 18 September 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Israel to join the NPT and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. The resolution said that the IAEA “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities, and calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards… ” However, Israel refuses to join the NPT or allow inspections. There are various reports which state that Israel have between 200- 400+ warheads, yet It seems that the closer countries are to the US, the greater their violations, and the less the West focuses on them.
So why is the spotlight on Iran? There is the obvious lack of trust in which the West maintain their view that Iran’s nuclear developments are highly controversial, and without a doubt unclear as Iran are adamant not to divulge any information about their nuclear capabilities. However, they seem more than happy to offer alternatives. They proposed other areas for co-operation such as a fuels swap (which the West has dismissed as too little, too late) and international nuclear disarmament and prevention of nuclear proliferation, taking the focus off the West’s demand for information.
Where other states cave into international pressure, Iran insist that they’re doing nothing wrong – but in order for their statement to have some weight they need to prove it. Iran’s refusal to allow UN inspectors on their nuclear grounds only increases suspicion and distrust. Although the US and allies may have ideas and assumptions on Iran’s nuclear developments and are clearly able to lay down sanctions against Iran, the bottom line is, they don’t really know what Iran is up to – you have to hand it to the Iranians here.
So why doesn’t Iran just leave the NPT like North Korea has, and announce that it has acquired a nuclear weapons capacity? In theory Iran could leave the NPT with three months notice and it would then be free to do what it wanted – Just like Israel and India. However, by doing that it would raise suspicions, even more, and leave itself open to attack.
Following the recent talks it is stressed that world powers remain committed to pursuing a diplomatic solution to the dispute. When looking at solutions, it should be considered that Iran should not be seen as the only problem in the nuclear race. The problem of double standards had led global powers to take advantage of and to exploit the nuclear question to underline their own strategic role, such as with Russia’s relationship with Iran and China’s with North Korea. The core problem of double standards has compromised non-proliferation efforts among those outcast by the US.
The nuclear problem raises the issue of defence strategies, and how much capabilities a state should have to defend itself. For example, a new and previously secret enrichment plant being built underground near Qom was revealed in 2009. The IAEA is demanding that the constructions stop as it believes it should have been informed earlier, despite this Iran says it broke no rules. It states that it is constructing the plant in order to safeguard its technology from an air attack.
Furthermore, questions on security arise, such as how far a state should go in securing itself from external threats. The problem here though, is that there is no true and viable method of enforcement, which in turn raises question on who has the authority or legitimacy to exercise it as one of the problems of a lack of mechanisms in the NPT for violators is that it allows the West to improvise.
Iran says it is simply doing what it is allowed to do under the treaty and intends to enrich only for power station fuel or other peaceful purposes. It says the UN resolutions are politically motivated. Ahmedinijad states that “the Iranian nation will not succumb to bullying, invasion and the violation of its rights,” and I argue that so long as Iran abides by international laws and treaties it has signed up to, and shows evidence of its insisted innocence, then they have nothing to worry about. This though, will only work if the West looks at achieving a realistic solution to the nuclear crises, which are all encompassing, and fair to all. Is this likely? With each state having their own security interests being their priority, it doesn’t look likely to happen in the near future, thus we can expect that Iran’s response to the world powers will continue to be “bravado on full throttle”.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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