Leaning on Iran Not to Make Nukes: A Test for the World
Op-Ed, International Herald Tribune
September 22, 2003
Author: Brenda Shaffer, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 1999–2007; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Program, 2000–2005; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Project, 2005–2007
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Caspian Studies
Cambridge, Massachusetts A recent report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program stated that Tehran had not been forthcoming in its reports to the agency, and that the IAEA had uncovered evidence of the existence of unreported nuclear facilities, covert imports of nuclear materials and - most serious of all - clandestine uranium-enrichment activities.
Despite the well-documented and extensive evidence, the IAEA refrained from turning to the UN Security Council for action and offered Tehran one month to provide convincing explanations for its infractions. The Iranian nuclear program is a crucial test for the existing nuclear nonproliferation regimes that the atomic energy agency is responsible for monitoring. Failure to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold can significantly undermine the credibility of these regimes. The international community can succeed in this important test. There is broad international support for addressing the Iranian nuclear program - especially from Europe, Russia and Japan. In addition, many people within Iran itself have reservations about letting the government have weapons of mass destruction. So far, international organizations have not been successful in finding an effective response to states that decide to go nuclear. Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which ensures that signatories will receive assistance in developing civilian nuclear programs in exchange for their commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. But the treaty has an inherent flaw - states that decide to develop nuclear weapons can simply withdraw. Tehran can still be dissuaded from developing nuclear weapons by applying a number of measures. First, if the IAEA finds Iran in serious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the agency should refer the Iranian infractions to the UN Security Council. The Council could then impose comprehensive sanctions on Iran. Second, a crucial instrument in braking the Iranian nuclear program is continued Russian pressure on Iran to honor their agreement that all spent fuel from the Bushehr reactor must be returned to Russia for storage. Spent reactor fuel can be an important element in a nuclear-weapons program and Tehran's request to retain it is conspicuous. An additional tool is international economic pressure on Iran. In response to recent atomic energy agency reports, the European Union froze negotiations with Iran on a trade agreement, and Japan has slowed its investments. These measures can be highly effective, especially in showing the wider public in Iran the price to be paid for acquiring nuclear weapons. A further nuclear preclusion mechanism is domestic pressure. Agency representatives should weigh in on the debate in Iran over going nuclear by raising awareness of the security consequences and risks inherent in significantly changing the state's military arsenal. On the eve of the release of the IAEA report, the Iranian Parliament conducted a special closed discussion on the state of its nuclear program, and demanded that President Muhammad Khatami report on it at its next session. Iranian reformists want to get a handle on the nuclear issue in part to pre-empt a deal among the United States and other Western powers that would allow the current leadership to remain in power in exchange for it relinquishing its nuclear weapons program. In the event that Iran decides to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, concerned states, the IAEA and the UN Security Council should have a contingency plan. They should clearly articulate to Iran that it would face a serious response. Iran is close to having the technical ability to produce nuclear weapons, but it can still be deterred from making the decision to test and deploy these weapons. Failure to do this will lead many in the United States and elsewhere to call into question the utility of existing mechanisms, and perhaps to seek alternatives. The writer is the Research Director at the Caspian Studies Program at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of the forthcoming book, "Limits of Culture: Foreign Policy, Islam and the Caspian."
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