Both Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush stated in their debate on international affairs that nuclear proliferation is the single greatest threat to American security.
If nuclear weapons ever become accessible to terrorists or to rogue states that support terrorist activities, then the world may very well return to a situation similar to that in the Cold War.
However, unlike during the Cold War, the weapons would be in the hands of terrorists who have political extremism and a certain degree of insanity as their motivating factors. Iran, a country that has the potential to use nuclear energy for less than constructive purposes, has recently been criticized for its enrichment of uranium and building of centrifuges that may be used for weapons purposes.
This summer the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Iran to end its nuclear program altogether. Iran claims that its enrichment of uranium and its building of centrifuges is purely for energy purposes. Iran’s claims that its nuclear ambitions are limited to a nuclear power program are entirely in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation (NNP) Treaty.
This treaty was signed in 1968 and allowed those countries with nuclear weapons, the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, to keep their weapons but did not allow other countries to develop them.
Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, has stated that Iran will comply with the IAEA and all protocols of the NNP Treaty if the international community recognizes his country’s right to develop nuclear technology for energy purposes.
Khatami is entirely correct in his assertion. As a concession to non-nuclear nations, the NNP Treaty called on nuclear countries to aid the non-nuclear nations in their attempts to develop nuclear energy.
Yet, oftentimes the NNP appears to have been used by nuclear nations in order to target suspected rogue states.
Although Iran is currently complying with the NNP, the international community, dominated by the U.S. outcry, has come down hard upon Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Kamal Kharrazi, Iran’s foreign minister has openly stated his nation’s resentment of U.S. policy in the Middle East and has targeted the United States as the most adamant supporter of regime change in his country.
This statement by Kharrazi is not without merit. Iran has charged that the United States is supporting rebel groups to overthrow the government. Although Bush has not made a clear case for regime change, there is talk among conservatives to take some form of action.
The most likely of actions would be financially and logistically supporting exiles and dissidents in Iran.
However, the administration has steered away from this path due to a lack of credible rebel groups. Nonetheless, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has introduced legislation that specifically calls for regime change.
John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for nonproliferation, has made public statements in support of regime change. He has cited the cases of South Africa and Ukraine who both abandoned their nuclear programs after regime changes.
This is, of course, a ludicrous contention on the part of Bolton. He fails to recognize the radical differences between Iran and these two nations. Iran is a Muslim nation with a culture infused with Islamic ideology. They are allied with other Islamic nations in the region and have a particular distaste for any American intervention.
Developing nations on the IAEA have not entirely supported action against Iran. For these countries, it is a matter of the haves versus the have-nots. Other developing nations could benefit greatly from nuclear power.
It would perhaps even be possible for these nations to become energy independent if this technology was available to them.
The foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden have all stated that the NNP Treaty cannot be entirely complied with because the Unied States and other nuclear states have not complied themselves by aiding other nations in nuclear development.
Rather, the nuclear nations have utilized the treaty as a means of retaining their own arsenals while targeting those nations which they consider to be a threat. If the treaty were implemented as it was originally intended the United States would not be promoting action against Iran, but would be aiding Iran in its nuclear power efforts.
In fact, the United States was the initial supporter of Iran’s nuclear program in the late 1960s.
While it may be true that Iran is a security threat to the United States, Iran’s only concrete violation has been in failing to inform the IAEA of its nuclear power plans as well as its initial enrichment of uranium.
Other than this, Iran has neither violated international law nor breached the Nonproliferation Treaty. The problem that the international community has with Iran is not centered on its actual violation, but on its entirely legal claims to nuclear electric power.
The United States and its allies have targeted Iran because of a tradition of mistrust. The Pentagon has issued reports that Iran may be supporting insurrections in Iraq against U.S. forces.
Surely, Iran has taken advantage of the legal loopholes of the treaty. Creating the enriched fuel for nuclear reactors has been a means by which non-nuclear nations can covertly create a nuclear weapons program, a tactic used by India for its own program. Therefore, it is obvious that there are some inherent problems with both the NNP and the IAEA itself.
The treaty’s actual usage has shifted from its original intent, for nuclear nations to both keep their arms and to aid non-nuclear nations in creating nuclear energy. As such, it should be rewritten to account for the changes in the international climate since 1968.
Since the fuel for reactors may easily be converted into fuel for warheads, even the move to nuclear power is a significant step toward weapons capability. With this knowledge, the Nonproliferation Treaty should not endorse future nuclear power programs.
But if this endorsement is removed, then what incentive do non-nuclear nations have for signing the treaty?
Although the original nuclear powers who signed the treaty were allowed to keep their weapons, there was also a tacit agreement to decrease their arsenals.
There has been some progress on this front. Since the treaty was first signed, thousands of warheads have been deactivated. In 2002, Bush and Russian President Putin signed an arms reduction agreement which called for most warheads to be deactivated by 2012.
However, tens of thousands of warheads are currently active and any future deactivation would simply mean that stockpiles would still exist and could easily be reactivated at any time.
Any honest attempt to end the threat of nuclear warfare would have to include a timeline for complete deactivation and disposal of all nuclear weaponry for all signatories of the treaty.
Also, Israel’s inclusion on the 35-member IAEA is a blatant act of hypocrisy. Israel is neither a party to the NNP Treaty nor subject to inspections.
Why should a nation that has completely undermined global disarmament criticize the exact same actions of its neighbors?
Israel is known to have developed a nuclear program as well as a nuclear arsenal. For the sake of credibility, the IAEA should not allow Israel to remain a member unless the nation’s leaders accept the guidelines of the NNP and provide a detailed plan for disarming.
The gist of my argument is incredibly simple and may seem to be too idealistic for a cynical world.
Ideally, the signatories of the original Nonproliferation Treaty would reconvene and create a detailed timeline for complete disarmament and safe disposal of nuclear material.
The treaty would not include the provision for the development of nuclear power programs. It would require regular and thorough inspections by the IAEA, whose members would be required to be signatories of the NNP.
A provision would also be included that would not allow countries to provide nuclear material or other equipment for the production of centrifuges to non-signatories.
Nowhere is the threat of nuclear warfare so potent as in the Middle East. If Iran eventually produces an arsenal to compete with Israel’s, then a serious threat to world peace would exist.
Even now, the threat of an Israeli preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear plants exist. The United States has exacerbated a possible conflict by reportedly supplying Israel with thousands of high-tech bombs, including 500 bunker buster bombs, useful for breaking through walls up to two meters thick.
On Nov. 25, the IAEA may refer the situation to the United Nations Security Council.
If this is the case, it is my hope that the Security Council acts with the benefits of disarmament in mind. Although idealistic, global disarmament is the only real means to ending an impending global crisis.