Iran’s Nuclear Policy and the IAEA – An Evaluation of Program 93+2
Book Military Research Papers #3, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Author: Chen Zak Kane, Former Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, 2008–2010; Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program, 2005–2007, 2002–2004
In this book, Ms. Zak asserts that the Islamic Republic of Iran provides a good test case for evaluating the implementation of Program 93+2. She examines whether this new verification system would permit the identification of Iranian nuclear weapons development and whether a regional agreement might ultimately prove to be a more effective option for the Middle East.
Thwarting Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weap- ons has been a key focus of nuclear nonproliferation efforts since the early 1990s. These efforts were given new urgency by President George W. Bush's January 29, 2002, State of the Union address, which identified Iranian nuclear weapons development as a threat that the United States would not tolerate.
In addition to Iran, the nuclear arms-control community has faced two other serious challenges since the early 1990s: Iraq and North Korea. In 1991, following the Gulf War, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered that Iraq had developed an advanced nuclear weapons program, although the country was (and still is) a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and was outwardly in full compliance with its safeguards obligations. In 1993, North Korea threatened to withdraw from the NPT while refusing to accept an IAEA special inspection aimed at verifying the discrepancies in its declaration. The need for a more effective IAEA safeguards regime emerged with the revelation that these two NPT parties, each bound by a comprehensive safeguards agreement, had succeeded in developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
This study presents and evaluates the IAEA's strengthened safeguards system known as "Program 93+2," appraising the system's capabilities and limitations as well as its potential for contributing to nuclear nonproliferation efforts in the Middle East generally, and in Iran in particular.
THE STRENGTHENED IAEA SAFEGUARDS SYSTEM
Program 93+2 was designed to strengthen the IAEA's verification capacity with regard to nonnuclear weapons states on two fronts: preventing the diversion of declared materials and detecting undeclared activities in those states. The program was adopted and implemented by the agency in three phases.
The first phase, concluded in 1992, includes a voluntary universal reporting system for transfers of nuclear equipment and specified nonnuclear materials; affirmation of the IAEA's right to conduct special inspections with the full backing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); and the right of the agency to use all available information sources, including intelligence. The second phase was adopted by the IAEA in 1995 and included measures that, although falling under the existing IAEA mandate, had not been implemented by the agency.
In May 1997, the IAEA approved the Additional Protocol, the final stage of Program 93+2, adopted primarily to strengthen the agency's ability to detect undeclared activities in nonnuclear weapons states. All states party to the NPT are asked to adopt this instrument as a complement to their full-scope safeguards agreement. The Additional Protocol imposes additional obligations on these states and enlarges the IAEA's mandate in the following ways:
1. States are required to submit an expanded declaration to the agency. Under the Additional Protocol, all buildings on a particular site must be declared and identified, regardless of use. States are also required to include in their declarations all nuclear-related activities — past, present, and future, peaceful or not, with or without the presence of nuclear materials.
2. IAEA inspectors are granted expanded access rights, including access to nuclear-related locations at which nuclear materials are not necessarily present (e.g., university laboratories). The IAEA also has the authority to conduct location-specific and wide-area environmental sampling to verify the absence of activities that fall outside the scope of a state's declaration.
Program 93+2 represents an important step in strengthening the IAEA's verification capabilities. The program can and should bring about a more reliable verification regime aimed at preventing a recurrence of the Iraq and North Korea experiences. It is therefore important to encourage all IAEA member states, especially those of concern such as Iran, to fully adopt the program's Additional Protocol.
LIMITATIONS OF THE NEW SAFEGUARDS SYSTEM
At the same time, it is important to note some limitations of the new safeguards system that might affect future nonproliferation efforts. First, Program 93+2 and its Additional Protocol address only some of the paths available to a state pursuing the clandestine development of nuclear weapons. Although the existence of unaddressed paths is a serious concern, the related problems (and their solutions) are concentrated at the political and legal — not the technical or safeguards — levels, and thus fall outside the IAEA mandate and the scope of this paper.
Second, the effectiveness of future IAEA verification efforts with regard to the paths covered by the Additional Protocol will largely depend on the agency's decisiveness, as well as the political support it receives from both IAEA member states and the UNSC. Under the old safeguards system, the IAEA conducted verification missions according to nondiscrimination criteria, spending 80 percent of its inspections efforts in states whose highly developed nuclear energy programs did not raise proliferation concerns (e.g., Canada, Japan, and members of the European Community).
Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA can become proactive, conducting verification efforts that focus less on nondiscrimination criteria and more on a country's nonproliferation credentials. If, instead, the IAEA continues to adhere to its traditional, event-driven safeguards policy, states may employ various deception and denial techniques to conceal their attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
Third, it is important to note that even under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA's ability to detect undeclared activities, especially those taking place at undeclared sites, remains limited. Indeed, the new technical tools available to the IAEA under the protocol (e.g., wide-area environmental sampling and satellite imagery) will have limited effectiveness if the agency does not have prior information as to the specific locations of the undeclared activities.
IRAN'S POLICY TOWARD THE ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL AS A TEST CASE
The Iranian challenge provides a fascinating case for proliferation analysts. Iran is the only state in the Middle East that is party to all nonproliferation agreements; yet, many suspect that the country has never abandoned its attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including the long-range missiles used to deliver them. The five leading intelligence organizations (those of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Israel) have warned that Iran is developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Yet, the IAEA has found that country to be in full compliance with its safeguards agreement; the agency has neither detected violations of Iran's treaty obligations, nor exposed any clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Because Iran rejects any allegations that it is developing a nuclear weapons program, its policy toward the Additional Protocol can be viewed as a test case with regard to the country's NPT and other nonproliferation commitments. If Tehran does not intend to develop a clandestine program, it will delay signing by making its signature conditional upon maximizing political gains, technical cooperation, and economic support.
If Iran chooses to embark on a nuclear weapons program, it will avoid signing the Additional Protocol as long as it can resist the consequent political and technological pressure, which is currently limited. Moreover, it will most likely sign (but not ratify) the Additional Protocol only after it overcomes all technical obstacles to the production of a nuclear weapon, obtains all the necessary resources, and, most likely, begins to produce fissile material. Therefore, until Iran fully accedes to and complies with the Additional Protocol, the international community should both press Iran to fully adopt the protocol and prevent the country from receiving any political, technical, or economic benefits in the meantime.
Should Iran decide to sign the Additional Protocol, it will likely avoid ratification. By signing without ratifying, Iran could secure the benefits of a signatory (and be considered a party in good faith) without being obliged to the protocol legally or technically. In this case, the IAEA would not have the right to employ the verification measures provided by the protocol, thus restricting the agency's ability to ensure Iranian compliance. In fact, until Iran ratifies the Additional Protocol, the country's de facto safeguards obligations will remain limited to INFCIRC/153 (the IAEA's full-scope safeguards agreement). Since the Iranian government has not yet incorporated Part 1 measures from Program 93+2, Iran's safeguards status is currently identical to that of Iraq prior to the Gulf War.
Even in the unlikely event that Iran decides to ratify the protocol, it is highly improbable that the IAEA would be able to detect illicit activities in undeclared sites that do not intersect with the country's safeguarded civil nuclear program if no specific information on the violation (a "smoking gun") is provided by IAEA member states. Therefore, if Iran enters directly or indirectly into negotiations with the IAEA for adopting the protocol, any resulting agreement should include a timetable for both signature and ratification. This kind of precaution would reduce, but not fully eliminate, the possibility of Iran misusing the verification regime.
A REGIONAL APPROACH AS AN ALTERNATIVE?
The Iran case provides an opportunity not only to examine the potential role of the Additional Protocol in addressing the problem of nuclear proliferation, but also to compare the effectiveness of the protocol with other alternate systems — specifically, a regional nonproliferation regime.
The regional approach may be a better option for the Middle East than an international verification regime because it offers the flexibility of adopting measures more relevant to the region, such as mutual inspection and lower thresholds for the triggering of safeguards. Given the special circumstances of the Middle East — where a relatively small amount of nuclear material exists and suspicions about noncompliance are high — these kinds of measures would not only increase a regional regime's ability to prevent the diversion of material sufficient to develop a nuclear device, but also strengthen the confidence of member states in the regime's ability to detect violators.
Because today a regional approach in the Middle East seems more hypothetical than ever, the Additional Protocol remains the best available mechanism in the region for restricting a state's ability to develop nuclear weapons. Although no system is foolproof, a stronger IAEA verification regime can build barriers and raise the price that Iran or any other state must pay — in money, time, and manpower — in order to successfully develop a clandestine nuclear program.
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Document Length: 94 pp.