The Lausanne accord: a boost for the NPT?

April 3, 2015

The Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of April 2 are a huge step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Four weeks ahead of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the Lausanne agreement is potentially also a shot in the arm for the NPT.

The framework agreed by the six countries often called the E3+3 or P5+1 and Iran is much more detailed and comprehensive than many observers and experts had predicted. It provides for significant restrictions on Iran’s proliferation-sensitive activities as well as intensified monitoring. Provided there is agreement on the timing and conditions of sanctions relief, the understandings reached in Lausanne should be a solid basis for a final Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by June 30.

Somecritics had cautioned that a nuclear deal would fuel, rather than dampen, possible nuclear aspirations of Iran’s regional competitors. The agreements reached in Lausanne should take the wind out of their sails. It is crystal-clear now that any final agreement based on the elements hammered out in Lausanne would greatly reduce the risk of Iran going nuclear, either by overtly breaking out of the NPT or by constructing clandestine facilities for nuclear fuel production. The long duration of a possible accord—10 to 25 years for most measures in the agreement—is sufficient to ensure that international trust is re-established before restrictions are completely lifted.

From a broader non-proliferation perspective, the agreement could provide an urgently needed boost for the NPT. A peaceful resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program would mark the first time that an NPT member that has committed significant safeguards violations returns to compliance, without regime change. Such a success would prove that regimes such as the NPT can deal effectively with even the toughest non-compliance cases, provided there is sufficient support from great powers and enough patience to give diplomacy a chance.

A practical solution of the nuclear conflict is to be achieved through some proven and many innovative instruments. Some of these approaches—such as restrictions on enrichment capacities—will probably remain unique to Iran. Others, such as novel verification approaches, could inspire reforms in the way the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does business. Increased international cooperation on certain proliferation-sensitive research and development activities could serve as a model for multilateral approaches to reduce the risk of the military misuse of peaceful nuclear activities elsewhere.

The E3+3 and Iran have also, in principle, agreed to create a conflict-resolution mechanism to help resolve problems that are certain to arise during the long implementation period. Such a mechanism could be a first step towards a permanent body to help address other NPT compliance concerns. Even though it is the oldest of all weapons of mass destruction accords, the NPT is the only non-proliferation regime that does not have any permanent institutional support structure.

To be sure, the Lausanne accord has shortcomings. These include Iran’s reluctance to commit to a ratification of the Additional Protocol and the fuzzy language on how to achieve greater clarity on a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Overall, however, the hard-won compromise demonstrates that the NPT is and remains an indispensable framework for addressing violations of the treaty’s norms, rules and procedures.

Representatives of NPT member states meeting from April 27 to May 22 in New York should take courage from these achievements. Diplomats at the review conference should urge the E3+3 and Iran to finalize an agreement by June 30, note specific elements such as strengthened safeguards contained in the Lausanne agreement, and use the momentum of the nuclear talks to reach an agreement on strengthened non-proliferation procedures, worldwide.

Clearly, many states will continue to oppose stricter non-proliferation rules as long as more credible commitments by the nuclear weapon states on nuclear disarmament are lacking. NPT members should therefore also encourage the E3+3 and Iran to strengthen the connections between the NPT’s disarmament agenda and any agreement reached with Iran. A final agreement should, for example, highlight the importance of entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Three of the seven states meeting in Lausanne have not yet ratified the CTBT. A pledge by China, Iran, and the United States to accelerate CTBT ratification would strengthen the nuclear order by making clear that any resolution of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program is inherently connected to the global non-proliferation regime.