I’ve been meaning to post this for awhile now, and it’s only now that I’ve found time. But a couple weeks back, Jill Parillo from Physicians for Social Responsibility arranged a wonderful event called “Steps to Zero” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The evening featured a great panel of speakers talking about the nuclear challenges we’ll all face in the coming years and how to deal with them. The wonderful Sharon Squassoni mentioned–nearly in passing–that there are rumors going around that Iran might be chosen to act as the President of the 2010 Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
In her words: “This would be a disaster.”
Every 5 years, the NPT comes up for review. With an intractable Bush administation in 2005, the last RevCon was a miserable failure and produced little to no substantive reforms. And that’s a shame, because the NPT is not doing very well.
There are 189 states party to the NPT. That makes it one of the most successful multilateral conventions in history, with only 4 states refusing to sign on: Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea (who withdrew its signature in 2003). That being said, it’s clearly falling into disrepair.
Article 6 requires the 5 recognized nuclear powers (the US, UK, France, China, and Russia) to take steps toward disarmament. Though there’s no real deadline for this, it’s clear no one is taking this obligation seriously.
In addition, Article 4 outlines every state’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear technology. And this is where things get tricky. Because of this provision, and because of the nature of nuclear technology, a country could very easily pursue a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of peaceful nuclear energy and never break its obligations under the treaty until the last minute–by which time it’s too late for the international community to do anything about it.
So really, if you ignore the 4 Security Council Resolutions against Iran’s nuclear program, under current international law Iran has technically done nothing wrong and its nuclear program is perfectly legal. (Including its uranium enrichment). And with most estimates giving Iran somewhere between a year and two years before it can develop a nuclear weapon, 2010 is really the last chance the international community will have to fix the broken nonproliferation regime before it faces the prospect of irreparable harm.
According to a source at the UN:
The 2010 NPT Review Conference President will be be someone from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It goes in rotation among the different regional groups within the NAM. In 2010 it will be someone from the Asian Group of the NAM.
The NAM is made up of 118 countries that strongly support Iran’s nuclear program, and with the rotation falling to an Asian representative, it’s very likely that Iran could be selected to act as President of this very important conference. Needless to say, it is unlikely the vast amount of badly needed reforms will be enacted if Iran is in charge.
This is not because Iran doesn’t have an interest in strengthening the Nonproliferation Treaty–it clearly does, and has acknowledge so publicly. Rather, it’s because the battle over Iran’s nuclear program is the case study on which the entire debate will hinge. As President, Iran will have a clear conflict of interest, and will be more focused on protecting its rights to develop nuclear technology than finding any long-term solution to the NPT’s ailments. In this example, everybody loses. Because the best thing that could happen for Iran is for the international community to develop stronger safeguards against nuclear weapons development.
See, as Saddam Hussein taught us so effectively (albeit unwittingly): whether or not a country is developing nuclear weapons is unimportant. What matters is whether the international community has confidence that you’re not developing nuclear weapons. That’s why Japan can be one screw-turn away from a nuclear weapon and nobody argues. And that’s also why Iran could be 100% sincere about its desire to never develop nuclear weapons, but until the international community actually believes that claim–and has verification measures in place to be confident about that assessment–its nuclear program will never be recognized as legitimate. (For evidence of this, see how conservatives in American have responded to the NIE from last year. Despite the consensus opinion of all 16 intelligence agencies that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program, it’s still conventional wisdom in Washington circles that Iran is developing a bomb…)
So here’s hoping that we can negotiate a solution with Iran in the near-term, and follow that up with a massive overhaul of the NPT in 2010 to keep other countries from repeating this whole ordeal that Iran has put us all through.