12/13/2012 - 05:52

Balanced approach, consistent standards

In their essays to this point, Maryam Javan Shahraki and Selim Can Sazak have disagreed about whether Iran poses a security threat to its region and the world, and what the ramifications of that threat might be. However, they seem to express underlying agreement with an idea that I expressed in my first essay -- that a country like Iran, as well as treaty outliers like Israel, Pakistan, and India, must be fully involved in the nonproliferation project if the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is to remain healthy.

In my view, the world community is characterized today by a divide between countries prepared to take strong action against potential proliferators, either unilaterally or via coalitions, and those countries more concerned with whether nuclear weapon states take faster steps toward eliminating their nuclear arsenals. But even if nations around the world fully commit themselves to nonproliferation, the world's two biggest nuclear powers (the United States and Russia) still must set the right example by pursuing disarmament more vigorously.

But it's not merely a matter of setting the right tone. As Shahraki wrote in her first essay, every nuclear-armed state is a potential proliferator, and this includes the nuclear weapon states recognized under the treaty. Though possible Iranian proliferation is a hotly debated topic, the idea that a nuclear weapon state could transfer nuclear technology, materials, or weapons to other countries is frightening too. In any case, if the treaty regime is to survive, progress must be made on both nonproliferation and disarmament. A real framework for abolition must be established -- one that provides for the systematic, verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons and in the process further delegitimizes them.

Sazak and Shahraki's discussion of Iran has raised another issue of concern to the treaty regime: the standards that are used in monitoring the activities of countries that pursue peaceful nuclear energy programs. Because nuclear energy allows for the possibility of nuclear weapons breakout, monitoring programs are crucial -- but as currently carried out, they are problematic.

In his second essay Sazak discusses ways in which Iran is portrayed as resisting inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, we must also remember Iran's official stance that its nuclear activities are already under full agency oversight. Also, Iran has in the past declared itself open to inspections of any atomic facility. And Iran accuses the agency of making inspection demands that go beyond the country's legal obligations. To prevent situations like this from recurring, and in order to garner cooperation from all sides in nuclear disputes, it is essential that a more specific, binding system for monitoring be agreed upon by all countries. That way, the transparency of nuclear programs could be guaranteed and the authority of the verifying organization would not be undermined. That is, if the IAEA implemented inspections according to the same standards in all situations, complaints about its methods and activities would decrease.