Nations Meet to Discuss International Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
With the debate going on about whether the UK should renew the Trident missile programme or get rid of it, hardly anything is said about what is happening internationally to rid the world of nuclear weapons – which shows how inward-looking Britain can be, despite claiming a prime position on the world stage.
While national media reported on the Stop Trident demonstration in London, it ignored the discussions taking place in Geneva, or their background including:
- three international, government-level conferences, the last in Vienna, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which produced
- the signing and endorsing of the Humanitarian Pledge by a majority of nations
- a vote in the UN General Assembly (voted against by nuclear-armed states which called the Resolution ‘divisive’) but passed by 135 states, to establish an Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations
- the first meeting of which took place in Geneva in February
You’d think that deserved a headline or two, the attention of more than some MPs and loud trumpeting from anti-nuclear campaigners, but no. At the London demonstration, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn did speak about the Vienna conference and the humanitarian issues.
And the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas mentioned the OEWG talks in Geneva. In a New Statesman article she also urged the UK government to take part in those meetings. Take part? They are boycotting them.
But no one mentions that.
Yet the wit, wisdom and yes, the whingeing, displayed in statements from Ambassadors and delegates, the depth of the debates, were in many ways far more worthy of our attention than another march to Trafalgar Square.
The aim was to identify the legal gaps in the nuclear weapons treaties and agreements that prevented genuine progress towards disarmament. Naturally some states insisted that there were no legal gaps and the old ‘step-by-step’ process was working even though the world is no nearer to disarmament.
Delegates from 90 nations were there, as was civil society. In a statement delivered by Beatrice Fihn on behalf of ICAN and its 440 partner organisations, she listed all the legal gaps needing to be filled. And she reminded all those there that “Non-nuclear-weapon states are not merely encouraged to take positive steps towards nuclear disarmament; they are required to do so – regardless of the continued failure of nuclear-weapon states to act.”
From the start, a treaty banning nuclear weapons was mentioned more than any other legal instrument as a path towards disarmament, even by nuclear-alliance states begging for ‘caution’ and ‘we can’t do this without the input of nuclear states’. They can; and a ban treaty seems the best way forward.
“States that ‘rely on nuclear weapons in their security doctrines remain reluctant to consider moving ahead without the nuclear-armed states” reported the daily updates from Reaching Critical Will.
So what are the nuclear-alliance states? They are those states (such as NATO members) which, although they have no nuclear weapons of their own, claim that they base their ‘security’ on those that do. To quote Reaching Critical Will:
“While many states called for urgent action, others, including Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Canada speaking on behalf of a group of states, and Finland, cautioned that security considerations of states must be taken into account… Bangladesh asked what could be a bigger security concern than being the victim of a nuclear attack.” Good question.
Does this second-hand security mean that these states are depending on someone else to blow up the world? Would they not be equally guilty under international humanitarian law?
Still, give these states their due. They are at least taking part. The nuclear-armed states are determinedly boycotting the OEWG. Not being able to control what’s happening, they are relying on their alliance to fling a few spanners into the works for them.
The Netherlands tried. It argued that the nuclear-armed states should take part in the discussions. The majority of the world somehow cannot move forward without their willingness to take part. The OEWG should use its time thinking of ways to tempt the armed states into giving up their toys. And how was this for a circular argument:
… the Netherlands is not against a ‘ban’. We see it as a final element towards a world without nuclear weapons, when nuclear weapons no longer fulfil a function in the security of states. It is clear that we have not reached this stage yet and that starting negotiations on a ‘ban’ would therefore be premature.
So we should only have a ban when nuclear weapons are deemed useless anyway.
But as the Irish Ambassador said, in a very quotable speech:
This is a small planet, getting smaller every day… In such a world, questions of security impact us all… And in such a world there is no place for nuclear weapons… In any area of life, work or governance, if something wasn’t working for 20 years, or indeed for over 70, we would try to fix it.
As all those taking part in the OEWG wanted a world free of nuclear weapons; that, having signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), they seemed to know how to get there; that they were even more aware now of the terrible humanitarian consequences of using such weapons and the inability of any nation to cope with such an event; despite all that, said Ireland:
… the problem is that we are no nearer multilateral nuclear disarmament now than we were 20 years ago, when the NPT was indefinitely extended.
Ah, but look at how the non-proliferation part of the NPT has succeeded, was the reply. South Africa, among those nations that got rid of their nuclear arsenals, made a telling point: “nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes — the disregard of one has a direct impact on the advancement of the other.”
Delegates were coming to realise that working for a ban treaty does not exclude other legal processes towards disarmament. They can work together, but the big gap is the lack of a ban treaty. By the second day they were agreeing that, given the refusal of nuclear-armed states to take part in the discussions, a ban treaty was perhaps the most sensible way forward.
Malaysia explained that as most legal measures proposed are currently blocked by the nuclear-armed states, three not mutually exclusive options remain: a treaty banning nuclear weapons, a framework convention, and increasing verification capacity. They also pointed out that a ban treaty could be negotiated now and be part of a wider framework later, something the nuclear alliance has difficulty accepting, perhaps because they know their ‘security blanket’ will not approve.
New Zealand’s delegate was quite clear:
I have heard some recent suggestion that while a legally-binding prohibition may be necessary for maintaining a nuclear weapon-free world, it is not in fact necessary in order to attain one. However, no clear explanation for why, as a matter of international law, this might be the case has yet to be put forward.
This is surely part of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ game played by nuclear-armed states.
We see no reason why the pathway adopted for the elimination of other weapon systems, including the elimination of both other types of WMD – that of a legally binding prohibition – should not equally be applicable as a pathway for the elimination of nuclear weapons… There is no need to reinvent the wheel…
Indeed no. But we can make it very, very ornate. Australia delivered a fascinating working paper on behalf of itself and 17 other countries – fascinating because nowhere does it mention a ban treaty. Instead it talks of ‘no quick fixes’, ‘addressing the legitimate security concerns’ of nuclear-armed states and ‘incremental but necessary steps that will enhance security for all’.
It is all about ‘means and sequencing’ and identifying “concrete and practical building blocks”. The NPT is brought into play, as is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. There are lists of all the tiny steps we might take, or consider taking, along with a), b), c) and so on to m). There absolutely must be transparency and… well, think of it all as a trust-building exercise.
Mexico took up the challenge of the ‘legitimate security concerns’. This concept was not elaborated enough, Mexico argued, as it is not clear whose security these concerns focus on and if states are for or against collective security. As Austria pointed out, collective security is a very different thing to the security of individual nations.
As for the lack of trust, Austria argued this is due to the failures of states to implement various agreements and commitments that had been agreed to by consensus. The onus is on those countries that have nuclear weapons or rely on them as part of nuclear alliances to diminish that mistrust.
Unable to resist a tiny dig at the pro-nuclear states Mexico pointed out that nuclear-armed states boycotting the meeting would not increase trust. Rather the reverse, one would think.
Austria, a leading light in these discussions, reminded delegates that in the Humanitarian (Pledge now adopted by the UN) it says:
We call on all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons…
A large number of states share the belief that such a legal gap exists, something pro-nuclear states try to deny. Austria’s working paper on this issue is masterly, laying out all the arguments and exposing the legal gaps. The very structure of the NPT requires additional legal (and non-legal) measures for its full implementation. This applies to Article VI just as much as it applies to the non-proliferation obligations.
(Article VI commits the nuclear armed states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,” (emphasis added).
All approaches to implementing Article VI should be followed. The ‘step-by-step’ method can sit alongside a comprehensive ban treaty. They are, argues Austria, complementary, and the humanitarian issue is now so serious that all available steps should be taken. Brazil reminded delegates that provisions under the NPT allowed the Nuclear Weapon States only to hold those weapons temporarily, something constantly ignored.
Austria also ripped up the ‘security’ and ‘deterrence’ arguments used by the USA et al. Deterrence rests on the threat of readiness to inflict mass destruction on a global scale, and on the awareness this would be suicidal. Thus, explains Austria:
Ultimately, it is difficult to reconcile this with the underlying foundation of nuclear deterrence that it leads to rational behaviour of all actors involved. The threat is either credible, which requires – in light of the new evidence – readiness to act entirely irrationally. Alternatively, the threat is non-credible since rational analysis cannot lead to the conclusion of risking the use of nuclear weapons.
Not for nothing was Mutually-Assured-Destruction considered MAD.
During 5 days of presentations and debate, many states called for a ban treaty. And key supporters of the Humanitarian Pledge – Mexico, Austria, South Africa, Brazil, and Indonesia – stressed the time has now come to start the negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The OEWG reconvenes in May for another session. Dare we hope that we will see them start negotiating and putting together the text for a treaty that bans these weapons? It’s beginning to look that way.
• (With grateful thanks to Reaching Critical Will)
• See here for an overview of civil society’s campaign which led, finally, to the disarmament talks in Geneva
Lesley Docksey is the former editor of Abolish War.
© atomcentral / YouTube
The Marshall Islands launch a legal campaign against the UK, India and Pakistan this week in a David versus Goliath battle to achieve the goal of a “nuclear free universe”.
The islands accuse the nuclear states of failing to halt the nuclear arms race, and are urging the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to pursue a lawsuit against all three.
The Pacific Ocean territory, used as a US nuclear testing site for 12 years, filed applications with the ICJ in April 2014 accusing the world’s nine nuclear-armed states of not respecting their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
The nine nations possessing nuclear arsenals are the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel – though Israel is the only one which never acknowledged holding nuclear weapons.
The court admitted the cases brought against the UK, India and Pakistan because the three states have already recognised the ICJ’s authority.
The islands’ former Minister of Foreign Affairs Tony de Brum said they commenced “this lawsuit with the greatest respect and the greatest admiration for the big countries of the world, but we think it must be done”.
Hearings will take place in The Hague Monday to examine whether the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is competent to hear the lawsuits against India and Pakistan. Another hearing will take place on Wednesday to examine “preliminary objections” raised by London in the case against Britain, according to AFP.
De Brum has said the people of the Marshalls suffer quietly but they take this suit in “the cause of a nuclear free universe”.
“We are fighting for what we believe is the only solution in terms of peace and prosperity in the world.”
Olivier Ribbelink, senior researcher at the TMC Asser Institute in The Hague says “the case is in a very preliminary stage at this point”, but added: “Either way the outcome, the case has certainly sharply refocused attention on the dangers of nuclear proliferation.”
De Brum and the Marshall Islands legal team have been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
US nuclear test ground
De Brum was nine years old when the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb was dropped by the US on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954 during the Cold War nuclear arms race.
The 15-megatonne bomb was the largest US nuclear test on record at 1000-times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The resulting characteristic mushroom cloud reached a diameter of 7km (4.5 miles) and a height of almost 40,000 meters (130,000ft) within six minutes of detonation.
The US carried out 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.
Bikini Islanders lived in exile since they were moved for the first US weapons test, though some returned in the early 1970s after government scientists declared Bikini safe for resettlement.
However, residents were removed again in 1978 after ingesting high levels of radiation from eating local foods grown on the former nuclear testing site.
The Marshall Islands is appealing to the US Supreme Court after its case against the country was dismissed by a US federal court last year.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has passed a resolution proposed by Iran aimed at bringing about the disarmament of nuclear powers.
On Monday, the Assembly voted 121 against 48 in favor of the non-binding resolution, which had already been cleared by its First Committee, aka Disarmament and International Security Committee. The voting saw 12 abstentions.
The resolution demands practical action by all nuclear-armed countries toward disarmament and the promotion of international stability and security for all.
It also demands unilateral steps by such countries to scale down their nuclear arsenals as well as more transparency regarding their nuclear arms capabilities and implementation of international agreements.
The Islamic Republic had devised the resolution based on the ratifications of the Review Conferences of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, 2000, and 2010.
The majority of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement threw their support behind the resolution. The United States, Israel, Canada, Britain, Russia, France, and Germany were among those voting against it, while China, South Korea, Japan, India, and Italy, among others, abstained.
Speaking after the approval of the resolution, Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Gholam Hossein Dehqani (seen below) said, “It has been declared in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that these countries are obliged to initiate negotiations for the disarmament and have been asked to put into force step-by-step measures for decommissioning nuclear weapons and then destroying them. Unfortunately, though, no effective or serious step has been taken in this direction.”
“The international community is insistent upon nuclear disarmament and the nuclear-armed countries’ implementation of their obligations. The current trend suggests that slowly, nuclear-armed countries and the Zionist regime (Israel), which possesses nuclear weapons, will move toward isolation in the General Assembly’s First Committee and other assemblies, and will certainly end up in worse circumstances every day,” the Iranian official added.
Israel is regarded as the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
An Iranian official says Israel’s policies are the key reason behind the failure of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to fulfill its objectives.
“Non-Aligned Movement countries backed by many other states firmly believe that the Zionist regime [of Israel]’s policies and its opposition to the establishment of a region free from nuclear weapons in the Middle East is the most important contributor to the NPT’s failure to achieve its goals in [the field of] non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Political Affairs Hamid Ba’eedinejad said on Saturday.
Signatories to the NPT are sharply divided over putting Israel under pressure in order to force the regime to sign the treaty and agree to the establishment of a Middle East region free from nuclear arms as well as weapons of mass destruction, he said.
The official underlined that certain Israeli allies oppose the NPT signatories’ unanimous stance on the necessity of Tel Aviv signing the treaty.
The Iranian official noted that the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in New York failed to yield any tangible results over the implementation of the treaty. Ba’eedinejad had headed the Iranian delegation to the event.
Israel is widely believed to be the only possessor of nuclear arms in the Middle East, with an estimated stockpile of 200-400 nuclear warheads. In its Yearbook 2012, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that Israel possesses at least 80 “highly operational” nuclear warheads.
Israel, which rejects all regulatory international nuclear agreements, maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity over its nuclear activities and refuses to allow its nuclear facilities to come under international regulatory inspections.
Listening, on 15 April, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on US policy towards Iran put me in mind of the inscription Dante imagined over the entrance to Hell: “Abandon hope all you who enter here”.
There seemed no notion among members of the committee that territories beyond the borders of the United States of America are not subject to US jurisdiction – still less that reasoned persuasion and reciprocity can be more effective tools for achieving US foreign policy goals than sanctions (how the good Congressmen love sanctions!) and the infliction of pain.
Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs who heads the U.S. delegation in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, must have come away from that hearing with the feeling that she has an impossible task. Congress will howl if the administration makes the slightest concession to secure Iranian agreement to non-proliferation assurances and restrictions on nuclear activities. Yet if Iran is offered nothing in return for measures it deems to be voluntary, because they lie beyond the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it will continue to defy the US and its allies.
Still, it is hard to avoid the thought that the administration could have made more of this opportunity.
Ambassador Sherman’s opening statement contained no reference to the US intelligence community’s confidence that Iran’s leaders have not taken a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, it referred to “Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions” and to the need for Iran to “change course”, which the congressmen could be forgiven for taking as confirmation of their chairman’s opening assertion that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
On top of that, Ambassador Sherman fed the Congressmen’s appetite for a penal approach by stressing that the goal of US policy is to have Iran live up to its “international obligations”. The Congressmen were left undisturbed in their conviction that Iran is entirely in the wrong and most certainly should not be rewarded for mending its ways. The opportunity to start helping their Honours to understand that the reality is more complicated went begging.
I hope LobeLog readers who know what lies behind that last sentence will forgive me for explicating it.
Iran’s “international obligations” come in two forms. One lot of obligations stem from the provisions of the NPT. Iran accepts that these are genuine obligations under international law and is ready to comply fully with them without reciprocity. Indeed some observers believe Iran is already fully compliant.
The other lot stem from the provisions of four Security Council resolutions adopted under article 41 of the UN Charter. Iran refuses to accept the legally-binding nature of these, not unreasonably, given that, when they were adopted, the Council had not determined that Iran’s nuclear activities represented a threat to international peace and security. Instead, Iran offers to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, volunteering the steps specified in these resolutions in return for recognition that Iran has NPT rights as well as obligations, and also for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
The third missed opportunity was ethical in nature. The administration had no need to indulge in misrepresentation and distortion but succumbed to temptation.
The Congressmen were told that Iran is “isolated”. In reality, Iran maintains full diplomatic relations with some 100 states. Iran’s Foreign Minister is received courteously almost everywhere in Asia and Europe apart from the UK and Israel. Just this week Iran assumed the chair of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Currently Iran presides over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement
Ambassador Sherman implied that responsibility for the appalling civil conflict in Syria must be ascribed to Iran, “a destabilising influence across the entire Middle East”. The initial supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia was not mentioned. Some Middle Eastern states are allowed to have interests beyond their borders, it seems, and others are not.
Oh, and in Syria all the violence against “the Syrian people” is being inflicted by the Assad regime, supported by its Iranian ally. Perish the thought that the opposition has shed a single drop of Syrian blood!
Most Europeans yearn for the objectivity and ethical agnosticism that underlay the US opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, and the final flurry of US/USSR agreements heralding the end of the Cold War. That sort of objectivity should come naturally, one might think, when the adversary is Iran, a state so very much weaker than the US. Alas, the opposite seems to be the case!
- Israel says no ‘compromise’ should be made with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- US obstructing global disarmament: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By once again blowing the chance to close a nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. and its western partners have set themselves up for escalating the conflict with the Islamic republic
The most recent round of nuclear talks between the P5+1 were, by any meaningful measure, a failure. Even as she sought to put the best face possible on the non-outcome in Almaty, Kazakhstan last month, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton had to acknowledge that western members of the P5+1 and Iran “remain far apart on substance.”
Western officials blame the failure either on the Islamic Republic’s upcoming presidential election or on that old fallback, Iranian “intransigence.” In reality, talks failed because America and its western partners remain unwilling to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
U.S. strategic culture
As a sovereign state, Iran is entitled to enrich, if it chooses; as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is entitled to do so under safeguards. The NPT explicitly recognises signatories’ “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. That this inalienable right includes the right to enrich is clear from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen non-weapons state parties having developed safeguarded fuel-cycle infrastructures potentially able to support weapons programmes.
If Washington recognised Iran’s right to enrich, a nuclear deal with Tehran could be reached in a matter of weeks. As long as Washington refuses to acknowledge Tehran’s nuclear rights, no substantial agreement will be possible.
Yet the Obama administration is no closer than its processor to accepting safeguarded enrichment in Iran. This is partly due to pressure from various allies — Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France — and their American supporters, who expect Washington somehow to defy legal principle along with political reality and compel Tehran to surrender its indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
But the real reason for U.S. obstinacy is that recognising Iran’s nuclear rights would mean accepting the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity representing legitimate national interests. No American administration since the Iranian Revolution — not even that of Barack Hussein Obama — has been willing to do this.
Washington’s unwillingness is grounded in some unattractive, but fundamental, aspects of American strategic culture: difficulty in coming to terms with independent power centres (whether globally or in vital regions like the Middle East); hostility to non-liberal states, unless they subordinate their foreign policies to U.S. preferences (as Egypt did under Sadat and Mubarak); and an unreflective but deeply rooted sense that U.S.-backed norms, legal rules, and transnational decision-making processes are meant to constrain others, not America itself.
Because these attitudes are so fundamental, it is unlikely that Obama will invest the political capital required to bring America’s Iran policy in line with strategic reality before his presidency ends. And so the controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities will grind on.
The world has experienced such diplomatic stasis before. In 2003-2005, Britain, France, and Germany worked (ostensibly) to prepare a nuclear settlement with Tehran; Iran suspended enrichment for nearly two years to encourage diplomatic progress. The initiative failed because the George W. Bush administration refused to join the talks unless Tehran was willing to abandon pursuit of indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
In 2009-2010, efforts to negotiate the exchange of most of Iran’s then-stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor collapsed for similar reasons. In the May 2010 Tehran Declaration brokered by Brazil and Turkey, Iran accepted all of Washington’s terms for a fuel swap, yet the Obama administration rejected the Declaration because it openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich. Three years later, the administration is once again undermining chances for diplomatic success with its inflexibility regarding Iran’s nuclear rights.
The world has also seen what happens when America and its European partners demonstrate such bad faith in nuclear diplomacy with Tehran — Iran expands its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. When Iran broke its nearly two-year suspension of enrichment in 2005, it could run less than a thousand centrifuges; today, it has installed 12,000 centrifuges, more than 9,000 of which process uranium gas to produce enriched uranium. In February 2010, Iran began enriching uranium to the near-20 per cent level needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) after the U.S. and its partners refused to sell the fuel; Iran consistently offered to suspend near-20 per cent enrichment if it could obtain an adequate fuel supply for the TRR. After the Obama administration torpedoed the Tehran Declaration, Iran accelerated its production of near-20 per cent uranium and began indigenously manufacturing fuel plates for the TRR.
With America and its European partners once again blowing an opening to accept Tehran’s nuclear rights and close a nuclear deal, we are likely to see another surge of expansion in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Certainly, Iran will continue enriching, at the three to four per cent level needed for power reactors and at the near-20 per cent level needed for the TRR, and installing more efficient second-generation centrifuges. Iran also appears to be on track to commission a heavy water reactor at Arak next year.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consistently certifies that no nuclear materials have been diverted from Iran’s safeguarded nuclear facilities, all of these steps will be cited by Israel, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, and other constituencies in the U.S. hankering for military action as evidence that time for diplomacy with Tehran has run out. Additionally, it is possible that the Islamic Republic will find legitimate reasons to begin enriching above the 20 per cent level. While such higher-level enrichment would be done under IAEA safeguards, this would also be interpreted in the U.S. and Israel as provocative Iranian “escalation.”
Pressure on Obama
Obama would prefer to avoid another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East. But his unwillingness to revive America’s deteriorating regional position through serious nuclear diplomacy with Tehran will increase pressure on him to order U.S. military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities before the end of his presidency.
Rather than openly abandon the delusion of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, Obama will try to placate more hawkish elements by escalating America’s ongoing “dirty war” against the Islamic Republic — including economic warfare against civilians, threatening secondary sanctions against third countries in violation of U.S. WTO commitments, cyber-attacks, and support for groups doing things inside Iran that Washington elsewhere condemns as “terrorism,” stoking sectarian tensions, and fuelling further violence in Syria to prevent Tehran from “winning” there. But that, too, will only further destabilise the Middle East and bring American and Iran ever closer to the brink of overt confrontation.
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett are authors of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, New York: Metropolitan, 2013. They teach international relations, he at Penn State, she at American University.
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Flynt Leverett: U.S. Is Engaged in A Dirty War against Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation. For this reason, all of the BRICS have much at stake in how the Iranian nuclear issue is handled.
Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); these approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of international order. Which interpretation of the NPT ultimately prevails on the Iranian nuclear issue will go a long way to determine whether a rules-based view of international order gains ascendancy over a policy-oriented approach in which the goals of international policy are defined mainly by America and its partners. And that will go a long way to determine whether rising non-Western states emerge as true power centers in a multipolar world, or whether they continue, in important ways, to be subordinated to hegemonic preferences of the West—and especially the United States.
The NPT is appropriately understood as a set of three bargains among signatories: non-weapons states commit not to obtain nuclear weapons; countries recognised as weapons states (America, Russia, Britain, France, and China) commit to nuclear disarmament; and all parties agree that signatories have an “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. One approach to interpreting the NPT gives these bargains equal standing; the other holds that the goal of nonproliferation trumps the other two.
There have long been strains between weapons states and non-weapons states over nuclear powers’ poor compliance with their commitment to disarm. Today, though, disputes about NPT interpretation are particularly acute over perceived tensions between blocking nuclear proliferation and enabling peaceful use of nuclear technology. This is especially so for fuel cycle technology, the ultimate “dual use” capability—for the same material that fuels power, medical, and research reactors can, at higher levels of fissile isotope concentration, be used in nuclear bombs. The dispute is engaged most immediately over whether Iran, as a non-weapons party to the NPT, has a right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
For those holding that the NPT’s three bargains have equal standing, Tehran’s right to enrich is clear—from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen states having developed safeguarded fuel cycle infrastructures potentially able to support a weapons program. On this basis, the diplomatic solution is also clear: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for greater transparency through more intrusive verification and monitoring.
Those recognising Iran’s nuclear rights take what international lawyers call a “positivist” view of global order, whereby the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. Such a rules-based approach is strongly favoured by non-Western states, including BRICS—for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful.
Those who believe nonproliferation trumps the NPT’s other goals claim that there is no treaty-based “right” to enrich, and that weapons states and others with nuclear industries should decide which non-weapons states can possess fuel cycle technologies. From these premises, the George W Bush administration sought a worldwide ban on transferring fuel cycle technologies to countries not already possessing them. Since this effort failed, Washington has pushed the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to make such transfers conditional on recipients’ acceptance of the Additional Protocol to the NPT—an instrument devised at US instigation in the 1990s to enable more intrusive and proactive inspections in non-weapons states.
America has pressed the UN Security Council to adopt resolutions telling Tehran to suspend enrichment, even though it is part of Iran’s “inalienable right” to peaceful use of nuclear technology; such resolutions violate UN Charter provisions that the Council act “in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations” and “with the present charter.” The Obama administration has also defined its preferred diplomatic outcome and, with Britain and France, imposed it on the P5+1: Iran must promptly stop enriching at the near-20 per cent level to fuel its sole (and safeguarded) research reactor; it must then comply with Security Council calls to cease all enrichment. US officials say Iran might be “allowed” a circumscribed enrichment programme, after suspending for a decade or more, but London and Paris insist that “zero enrichment” is the only acceptable long-term outcome.
Those asserting that Iran has no right to enrich—America, Britain, France, and Israel—take a policy-or results-oriented view of international order. In this view, what matters in responding to international challenges are the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place—not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This approach also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states—those with the resources and willingness to act in order to enforce the rules. Unsurprisingly, this approach is favoured by established Western powers—above all, by the United States.
BRICS need to call Washington’s bluff
All of the BRICS have, in various ways, pushed back against a de facto unilateral rewriting of the NPT by America and its European partners. Since abandoning nuclear weapons programmes during democratisation and joining the NPT, Brazil and South Africa have staunchly defended non-weapons states’ right to peaceful use of nuclear technology, including enrichment. With Argentina, they resisted US efforts to make transfers of fuel cycle technology contingent on accepting the Additional Protocol (which Brazil has refused to sign), ultimately forcing Washington to compromise. With Turkey, Brazil brokered the Tehran Declaration in May 2010, whereby Iran accepted US terms that it swap most of its then stockpile of enriched uranium for new fuel for its research reactor. But the Declaration openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich; for this reason, the Obama administration rejected it.
The recently concluded 5th BRICS Summit in Durban saw a joint declaration Declaration that referred to the official BRICS position on Iran:
“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue.”
At the same time, the BRICS have all, to varying degrees, accommodated Washington on the Iranian issue. Russian and Chinese officials acknowledge there will be no diplomatic solution absent Western recognition of Tehran’s nuclear rights. Yet China and Russia endorsed all six Security Council resolutions requiring Iran to suspend enrichment. Beijing and Moscow did so partly to keep America in the Council with the issue, where they can exert ongoing influence—and restraint—over Washington; at their insistence, the resolutions state explicitly that none of them can be construed as authorising the use of force against Iran.
Russia, China, and the other BRICS have also accommodated Washington’s increasing reliance on the threatened imposition of “secondary” sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic. Such measures violate US commitments under the World Trade Organisation, which allows members to cut trade with states they deem national security threats but not to sanction other members over lawful business with third countries. If challenged on this in the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism, America would surely lose; for this reason, US administrations have been reluctant actually to impose secondary sanctions on non-US entities transacting with Iran. Nevertheless, companies, banks, and even governments in all of the BRICS have cut back on their Iranian transactions—feeding American elites’ sense that, notwithstanding their illegality, secondary sanctions help leverage non-Western states’ compliance with Washington’s policy preferences and vision of (US-dominated) world order.
If the BRICS want to move decisively from a still relatively unipolar world to a genuinely multipolar world, they will, at some point, have to call Washington’s bluff on Iran-related secondary sanctions. They will also have to accelerate the development of alternatives to US-dominated mechanisms for conducting and settling international transactions—a project to which the proposed new BRICS bank could contribute significantly.
- Nuclear warheads in US, Europe threaten all of humanity, Soltanieh says (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On February 22, 2012, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons “a grave sin” from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.
The Leader described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “senseless, destructive and dangerous,” adding that the Iranian nation has never sought and will never seek atomic bombs as the country already has the conventional capacity to challenge the nuclear-backed powers.
A former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has dismissed as “overhyped” the Western propaganda over the ‘threat of nuclear-armed Iran,’ saying there is no evidence that Tehran is even interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.
“So far Iran has not violated the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons,” Hans Blix said in Dubai.
He added that no action can be justified against Iran’s nuclear activities on “mere suspicions or intentions that may not exist.”
The former IAEA chief had previously said that Iran has been more open to international inspections than most other countries would be.
Iran has repeatedly expressed its strong opposition to any production, possession or use of nuclear weapons, saying such arms have no place in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear doctrine.
On February 22, 2012, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons “a grave sin” from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.
The Leader described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “senseless, destructive and dangerous,” adding that the Iranian nation has never sought and will never seek atomic bombs as the country already has the conventional capacity to challenge the nuclear-backed powers.
The US, Israel, and some of their allies have repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.
Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the NPT and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Despite the IAEA’s numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, the UN nuclear agency has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.
Israel has rebuffed a UN call to adhere to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and open itself to international inspectors, calling the suggestion a “meaningless mechanical vote” of a body that “lost all its credibility regarding Israel.”
In a 174-6 vote, the United Nations General Assembly demanded in a non-binding call that Tel Aviv join the NPT “without further delay,” in an effort to create a legally binding nuclear-free Middle East.
Washington, Israel’s strongest ally, surprised no one by voting against the resolution – but did approve two paragraphs that were voted on separately, which called for universal adherence to the NPT and for all non-signatory governments to join.
The UN body “has lost all its credibility regarding Israel with these types of routine votes that are ensured passage by an automatic majority and which single out Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying.
The Assembly’s call on Israel comes days after a large majority of its members voted to grant Palestine statehood state status and just weeks after the an escalation of violence between Gazans and Israel’s occupation forces. Palmor stressed, however, that since the NPT vote takes place annually, the Palestinian victory is not connected.
Israel is not a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the main objective of which is to is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Despite near-universal acknowledgement that Tel Aviv maintains a powerful nuclear arsenal, Israeli officials promote a position claiming their government will “not be the first country to introduce weapons into the Middle East.”
The Middle East’s only democracy possesses as many as 400 nuclear warheads, along with various ways to deliver them. It is also one of four countries known to have nuclear weapons that are not recognized as Nuclear Weapons States by the NPT. The others are India, North Korea and Pakistan.
Israel follows a policy known as “nuclear opacity,” which it sees as a deterrent against its neighbors.
The timing of the Israeli dismissal of the call for transparency comes less than two weeks after Washington’s withdrawal from December’s nuclear-free Middle East conference, to be held in Finland and sponsored by Russia, the UK and the US.
State Department officials said the international effort is being postponed because of “a deep conceptual gap [that] persists in the region on approaches towards regional security and arms control arrangements,” and because “states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions” for the meeting, quotes the IPS.
But many blamed Israel’s refusal to accept the terms as the real reason for postponing the regional nuclear drive.
“The truth is that the Israeli regime is the only party which rejected to conditions for a conference,” Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi told the General Assembly on Monday, as he called for “strong pressure on that regime to participate in the conference without any preconditions.”
The meeting is now expected to be held early next year.
There are currently five nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world, according to the UN: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, South-East Asia, Central Asia, and Africa.
- NAM slams nuclear meeting cancellation, urges Israel to join NPT (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- World tells Israel to open up its nukes (morningstaronline.co.uk)
On U.S. Efforts to Take Away Iran’s Rights by (Unilaterally) Rewriting the NPT: And the Complicity of America’s Iran “Experts” in the Charade
One of the more striking passages in President Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly last month presented Obama’s view of Iran’s nuclear rights. Specifically, the President noted, “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United States is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
This is a more restrictive formulation than Obama and senior officials in his administration have deployed in previous statements, which emphasized that Iran has a right to “pursue peaceful nuclear energy.” In normal English usage, the verb “to pursue” implies that, in the official American view, Iran might at least have a right to generate its own “peaceful nuclear energy.” By contrast, Obama’s more recent phrasing implies that, in Washington’s current reading, Iran does not even have a right to generate its own nuclear power, but may have to content itself with trying to “access to peaceful nuclear power” that is generated by others.
Needless to say, all of this is far removed from Iran’s longstanding insistence on its right to enrich uranium if it chooses to do so. And, of course, Iran has long recognized that, as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), it must exercise that right under international monitoring.
Initially, even the George W. Bush administration acknowledged that there was, somewhere in a vague legal ether, an Iranian right to enrich—but it argued that Tehran had somehow managed to “forfeit” this right. Such an argument did not persuade most of the lawyers working on the issue in the Bush administration, much less most of the other nations of the world. Eventually, the Bush administration retreated to a rigid demand that the Islamic Republic obey Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend enrichment before the United States would negotiate with Tehran—and without ever stipulating that a negotiated settlement would include an explicit recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights. Predictably, this stance was diplomatically dysfunctional.
When the Obama administration came in, it dropped the Bush administration’s insistence on suspension as a precondition for negotiations. But it has been even less willing than the Bush administration to acknowledge Iran’s nuclear rights—and it, too, has the diplomatic (non)results to show for its obtuseness.
From a global perspective, the positions of the Bush and Obama administrations on Iran’s right to develop indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities and to pursue internationally safeguarded enrichment of uranium on its own territory make the United States a real outlier. This reality was underscored in August at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, convened in Tehran, where NAM members—including the vast majority of the world’s nation-states—strongly endorsed the Islamic Republic’s right to pursue uranium enrichment. Although hardly covered in the American media, the NAM summit marked a significant international repudiation of U.S. policy regarding the nuclear rights of Iran and, by extension, other non-Western NPT signatories.
In the United States, this prompted defenders of the Bush/Obama line to spring into action. One of them, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, co-wrote a piece for the U.S. government-sponsored Iran Primer last month, see here, which argued that the NAM communique “misconstrues the NPT.” This sparked a vigorous online exchange between Albright—who is not a lawyer or student of international legal regimes—and Daniel Joyner, professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Law and one of the legal academy’s most accomplished scholars of the NPT. That exchange reveals much about the contribution of many Western Iran “experts” to America’s Iran debate.
According to Albright and his co-author,
“Under Article IV [of the NPT], Iran cannot claim the right to nuclear energy production—or a right to enrich at all—while under investigation for possible non-peaceful uses of these capabilities. Iran’s right to nuclear energy is qualified—a long as there are no major lapses in its Article II obligations…the NAM communique failed to acknowledge the need for Iran to fully comply with the international treaty on nuclear weapons. Iran tried to portray that the final communique represented a diplomatic victory for Tehran and its controversial nuclear program. But the summit’s resolution instead undermined the Non-Aligned Movement’s credibility, since it demonstrated that developing nations cannot be counted on to deal seriously with nuclear nonproliferation issues.”
Leaving aside the patronizing tone of the last sentence—in effect, Albright and his co-author are positing that responsible Americans and Europeans (the rightful masters of the universe) cannot possibly think non-Westerners are “dealing seriously” with important international issues unless those non-Westerners simply accept, uncritically, the views advanced by their Western superiors—this statement is wrong on several substantive points. Among other things, it is wrong as an interpretation of the NPT and in its assertion that there have been “major lapses” in Iran’s Article II obligations. These features prompted Daniel Joyner to offer the following observations on his blog, Arms Control Law, see here:
“Why is it that in the nonproliferation area everyone, including engineers, physicists, chemists and general policy wonks, think they can do legal interpretation? You won’t find me writing articles about the technical aspects of missile capabilities, or the internal physics of a warhead core. I know these things are outside of my training and qualification to do. But apparently everyone thinks they can do legal analysis. With respect, I think David should stick to obsessing over satellite pictures of tarps at random military bases in Iran.”
On our own, we found Joyner’s comment mildly amusing. But it clearly touched a nerve in David Albright, see here, who responded with a remarkable broadside characterized by ad hominem invective and fallacious arguments from authority:
“I have belatedly read Joyner’s rant about our Iran Primer article with amusement and likewise find his chorus of lackeys a pathetic bunch. Now I understand that Joyner’s blogging is supposed to be an ego trip for him and a safe haven for commentators, but Joyner’s blogging is particularly egotistical and, with respect, off-the-wall. In the comments and in Joyner’s writings, I can see the deep ignorance of the NPT. I certainly see no need to revise our analysis and statements in our Iran Primer article. We have consulted with many lawyers who find Joyner’s analysis deeply flawed and agenda driven… I would recommend that Joyner have his work reviewed by competent lawyers. He would need to revise most of his work.”
Joyner responded vigorously, see here, making the point, among his other rejoinders, that he has published two peer-reviewed books, with Oxford University Press, on interpreting the NPT. But, for our purposes, the most important part of his response concerns the public posture adopted by too many Washington, DC-based policy “experts” and the motives for their adoption of such a posture. Joyner’s analysis focuses on nonproliferation specialists, but, in our view, it also applies very well to many who claim expertise on other Iran-related issues:
”A colleague in D.C. once said this to me about the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community—and by this community we both meant the entirety of the various NGOs and think tanks and the few University based centers that focus on nonproliferation studies in the U.S.: that the community is very D.C. centric, cliquish, incestuous and self-referential, to its detriment. These words have really stuck with me, because I find them to be absolutely true, and both insightful and parsimonious as I’ve observed the community over the years.
I would take it even further and say that in addition, in my opinion, the whole U.S. based nonproliferation experts community—with few exception—is systematically biased toward support of USG positions on all the top nonproliferation issues. They maintain an essentially common narrative and set of emphases that is in line with, and that provides support for, the narrative and emphases of the USG, with only the smallest amounts of quibbling around the edges (Albright will talk all day long about his “aluminum tubes” work). I think that there is in the work of the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community far too little real, independent evaluation and criticism of USG positions. As I see it, the U.S. nonproliferation community almost acts as a second wave of apologists for U.S. policy, after the USG itself—though it sometimes shrouds this effort in a lot of technical and sometimes academic-looking jargon. But in the end what the U.S. nonproliferation community ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT DO is serve in the role of an independent, rigorous, analytical check on USG nonproliferation positions, as it could and should do, and as the nongovernmental nonproliferation community in other countries does. And I think there are some clear reasons for this. Much more so than in other countries, the members of the U.S. based nonproliferation community tend, with very few exceptions, to
1) have been employed by the USG in the past;
2) want to be employed by the USG in the future;
3) be funded by or hope to be funded by the USG; and/or
4) want to maintain the access and good favor they have with USG officials, for the sake of information and for the sake of invitations to cool events, etc.
Basically what I’m saying is that they are biased towards the positions of the USG, because of their overly close personal and institutional associations with the USG, and because they see their own professional success as being tied to the favor of the USG.
I think there’s also a significant degree of media whorishness at work here as well. As a colleague once wrote to me while we were discussing this topic: ‘I think there is another—very important—aspect you may be missing that may even over-ride the ones you mention: aside from taking USG positions, the non-proliferation community likes the high-media profile allotted it, when it loudly tut-tuts 3rd world nuclear arms capacities (or enemies of the west’s nuclear arms capacities), whether or not such capacities are consistent w/ NPT and/or CSAs. People like being quoted, appearing on TV, and generally feeling important. The Non-proliferation community “loves” the attention and basks in this glow, and though they would “privately” acknowledge that Iran is not so far outside bounds (if at all), they nonetheless pass on statements and innuendo to media indicating the alleged dangers and thus wittingly or not, fan the flames. Others like ISIS simply pass on opinions dressed as expert findings. It just would not do for Non-proliferation types to tell the media: “well, no, Iran’s program is actually not a threat to world peace yet” like the DNI did.’”
Not surprisingly, Joyner sees David Albright as embodying this description, as he points out in criticizing some of Albright’s analysis on Iran’s nuclear activities:
“All [Albright] really does is make provocative speculations about what “could” be happening at locations in Iran, and what “maybe” Iran will do in the future. And it’s so clear that he’s working on the basis of a set of unproven, but firmly held assumptions about Iran—the same assumptions he had about Iraq, for which his work has been widely discredited—that they have a nuclear weapons program, and he is ginning up all the evidence he can that might support that assumption, speculating about what that evidence may mean, but only in a direction that would tend to support his preexisting assumption. There’s no rigor here in thoroughly considering and evaluating other possible explanations for the same observations—like a real academic or even a real, quality NGO analysis would. Maybe it’s because David has never done PhD level academic work, and so he doesn’t understand what is expected of quality scientific analysis. But this is an assumption-driven piece of provocative speculation that serves only to provide support for the USG’s contentions about Iran’s nuclear program. That’s just what he infamously did in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war too. That’s not rigorous and independent analysis. That’s biased and low quality work…
I know very well how the D.C. nonproliferation crowd feels about me… They think my work is pro-Iranian and generally pro-developing country, and anti-U.S. They say I’m biased and agenda driven… Am I personally sympathetic to or biased towards the policies of the Iranian government? Absolutely not… However, do I think that the legal arguments of the current government of Iran deserve a fair and independent and rigorous hearing and analysis by the international community, just as the legal arguments of any other government do? Yes I do, for many reasons, not least of which is the prevention of unnecessary and unjust economic sanctions and possibly war against the Iranian people, and the fairness and perceived legitimacy and relevance of international law. I don’t see anyone else stepping up to make these arguments, and make sure that they are taken seriously in the West, and that’s why I keep doing it.
Am I sympathetic to developing countries’ positions in the nuclear energy area generally? Yes I am. I admit that freely. And it’s because I genuinely think that they are bullied by the West in the nuclear area, as in many other areas, for a whole range of political and economic reasons, and that the legal advisors of Western governments have concocted erroneous legal arguments to give perceived credibility to these policies. I can’t change the policies and the politics they’re based on, but I think there is a real need to lend whatever professional abilities I have to making sure that their legal arguments are made at a high level of competence and sophistication, and are given due consideration by the international community. Again, no one else seems to be doing this in the West, and so I keep doing it. But I maintain that my legal analysis is independent and essentially objective, and that I follow the proper analysis of a legal source to its most persuasively correct conclusion, no matter what that conclusion is.
I think that the U.S. nonproliferation community, linked so closely as it is to the USG itself, generally takes a negative view of my work for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that they are so used to being able to effectively tell the rest of the world what to think about the NPT regime, and how to interpret the law associated with it, that when someone independent comes along and poses a genuine intellectual challenge to the warped and USG driven legal views of the NPT regime that they’ve been spouting for decades, they genuinely don’t know what to do about it. With the errors and intellectual bankruptcy of their legal arguments laid bare, they make only feeble attempts to defend themselves substantively because, honestly, they don’t have very good substantive arguments to make and they never have. The only argument they have left to make is to argue in desperation that the challenger is biased and agenda driven—which is in the end the ultimate irony, because it’s precisely their own bias and USG-centric agenda that has made their arguments so weak, and has provided the legal errors that the challenger now corrects, to the persuasion of everyone else in the world.”
Our compliments to Prof. Joyner.
- NAM demands that Israel join the NPT without further delay (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- IAEA resolution casts doubt on benefit of NPT: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran Urges Israel to Join NPT (en.rian.ru)
- NAM calls for total nuclear disarmament (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- What If Iran Leaves the NPT? (nationalinterest.org)
TEHRAN – In a statement read out at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday, Iran and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement called for total nuclear disarmament in the world.
The statement was read out by the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, on behalf of the NAM member states, during a meeting of the First Committee on all disarmament and international security agenda items.
Following are the main points of the statement:
– NAM reaffirms its principled positions on nuclear disarmament, which remains its highest priority. The movement reiterates its deep concern over the threat to humanity posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use and expresses its concern over the lack of progress by the Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS) to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
– NAM reaffirms that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms further that all Non-Nuclear-Weapon States (NNWS) should be effectively assured by the NWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
– The movement remains deeply concerned by the strategic defense doctrines of the Nuclear-Weapon States and NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review adopted at its summit in May 2012 that set out the rationales for the use of nuclear weapons. NAM strongly calls for the complete exclusion of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons from their military doctrines.
– The movement also calls on the NWS to immediately cease their plans to further modernize, upgrade, refurbish, or extend the lives of their nuclear weapons and related facilities.
– NAM calls for convening a high level international conference to identify ways and means of eliminating nuclear weapons, at the earliest possible date, with the objective of an agreement on a phased program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, to prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.
– NAM recognizes the need to enhance the effectiveness of the UN disarmament machinery. NAM notes that the main difficulty of the disarmament machinery lies in the lack of genuine political will by some states to achieve actual progress, including in particular on nuclear disarmament.
– NAM considers the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones as an important measure, and, in this context, NAM continues its strong support for the establishment in the Middle East of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Pending its establishment, NAM demands that Israel, the only country in the region that has not joined the NPT nor declared its intention to do so, renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, accede to the NPT without precondition and further delay, and place promptly all its nuclear facilities under IAEA full-scope safeguards. The movement also calls for the total and complete prohibition of the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices and the extension of assistance in the nuclear related scientific or technological fields to Israel. NAM also supports the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
– NAM reaffirms the inalienable right of each state to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy, including the sovereign right to develop full national nuclear fuel cycle, for peaceful purposes without discrimination. The movement once again reaffirms the sovereign right of each state to define its national energy policies, including the inalienable right of each state to develop a full national nuclear fuel cycle.
– NAM is of the firm belief that non-proliferation policies shall not undermine the inalienable right of states to acquire and access material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
– NAM expresses its deep concern at the continued imposition of and/or maintaining limitations and restrictions on exports to developing countries of nuclear material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
– NAM once again reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities – operational or under construction – poses a great danger to human beings and the environment, and constitutes a grave violation of international law, principles of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA.
– While noting that considerable progress has been made in developing and applying the latest information technologies and means of telecommunication, the movement expresses concern that these technologies and means can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure of states to the detriment of their security in both civil and military fields. NAM emphasizes that these technologies and means should be utilized by member states in a manner consistent with international law and the principles and purposes of the UN Charter.
– NAM stresses the need for a multilaterally negotiated, universal, comprehensive, transparent, and non-discriminatory approach toward the issue of missiles in all its aspects, as a contribution to international peace and security.
– NAM stresses the importance of the sovereign rights and security concerns of all states at regional and global levels in any approach to the issue of missiles in all its aspects. NAM further stresses the importance of contribution of peaceful uses of space technologies, including space launch vehicle technologies, to human advancement.
– NAM states parties to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions call for their balanced, effective, and non-discriminatory implementation.
– NAM reaffirms the sovereign right of states to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms and their parts and components for their self-defense and security needs.
- NAM demands that Israel join the NPT without further delay (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- NAM calls for total abolition of chemical weapons (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran FM Salehi: NAM Should Oppose Sanctions, Foreign Intervention Unacceptable (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iranian defense minister: Israel should set red lines for itself (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
Gingerly Pussyfooting Around the Third Rail: Semi-Brave Washington Post Ombudsman Mentions Israel’s Nukes
For a number of years the mainstream media and politicians have been in an uproar about Iran’s nuclear program, alleging that the Islamic state is developing a nuclear weapons program, or at least the capability of developing nuclear weapons, and thus threatening the peace of the world. But no reputable source claims that Iran actually possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal. In 2009, the then-dean of the Washington White House Correspondents, Helen Thomas, was so intrepid as to ask President Obama in his inaugural press conference if there were any Middle Eastern countries that currently possessed nuclear weapons. President Obama was caught flat-footed, uttering that he did not want to “speculate” (somehow America’s varied claims about Iran’s nuclear program do not count as speculation), and then, resorting to the verbal gymnastics common to American politicians, dodged the question as best he could. (A little over a year later, Thomas would be hounded out of journalism for what were widely regarded as anti-Semitic remarks about Israel, which were made in private but were video-recorded by an individual unknown to Thomas who turned out to be a an ardently pro-Israel rabbi, and then publicized by the major media.)
On August 31, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, dared to touch on the taboo subject of Israel’s nuclear-weapons program in a piece titled “What about Israel’s nuclear weapons?” The Post’s ombudsman is supposed to deal with complaints about the newspaper and he began by noting: “Readers periodically ask me some variation on this question: ‘Why does the press follow every jot and tittle of Iran’s nuclear program, but we never see any stories about Israel’s nuclear weapons capability?’”
Pexton then offered some ostensible reasons for such a state of affairs. He wrote: “First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons. [Israel’s policy is known as “nuclear ambiguity.”] The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program.” But the very purpose of a purportedly free media is to ferret out and mention things that governments don’t acknowledge. And the fact that Iran actually denies trying to develop nuclear weapons does not prevent the U.S. media from charging it with that very activity.
Then Pexton glommed onto the idea that since Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) its nuclear weapons are not ipso facto illegal and that it is under no legal obligation to have them inspected, whereas since Iran did sign that treaty it is not allowed to develop nuclear weapons and must allow for full inspections of all of its nuclear facilities. Pexton maintains that “the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors] have unfettered access to all of the country’s nuclear installations.” It is not apparent that the NPT actually allows inspectors to have “unfettered access” to go wherever they want. And while the IAEA has found some faults with Iran’s adherence to the NPT, Israel and the United States go beyond the letter of the Treaty in demanding that Iran be prohibited from developing a “nuclear weapons capability” or engaging in the enrichment of uranium to high levels that could lead to nuclear weapons. Such demands would inhibit the promotion and sharing of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which is one of the fundamental “pillars” of the NPT and a significant reason why countries lacking nuclear weapons would be motivated to become Treaty members. Iran thus has some justification in claiming that its treaty rights in this area have been violated by existing sanctions.
Furthermore, the NPT does not give the United States the right to enforce its provisions—even if they were being violated—by attacking Iran, and still more outrageous would be the claim that it would be legal for Israel to enforce a treaty to which it is not a party.
And, finally, Iran could withdraw from the NPT, which it could legally do according to Article X of the Treaty, which allows such a move if “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” To do so, Iran would simply be required to give the reasons for leaving and three months’ notice. In sum, the clear-cut legal distinction between Israel and Iran on the nuclear weapons issue made by Pexton does not actually seem to exist.
Next, Pexton points out that Israel “has military censors that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel’s nuclear forces.” But is Iran without such censorship? If this were the case, then all the charges that the Islamic Republic is an oppressive government, which is the fundamental argument for “regime change,” would have to be abandoned. And if Iran does have censorship, then its existence cannot be a reason for the failure to discuss Israel’s nuclear program.
Then Pexton attributes the failure to discuss Israel’s nuclear program to the fact that Israel and the United States “are allies and friends.” This explanation obviously contains much truth, but it is insufficient. It is not the whole truth and is certainly not a justification for the existing situation. It is an admission of bias, while most people, even government leaders and media officials, profess to believe in truth. An obvious question would be: why can’t the light of truth shine through on this issue?
This same critique could also apply to Pexton’s next exculpatory explanation: “not being open about Israel’s nuclear weapons serves both U.S. and Israeli interests.” More than this, while it obviously serves Israel’s interests, to be seen as biased in favor of Israel does not benefit U.S. interests in regard to the rest of the Middle East or, for that matter, the rest of the world. This has been a concern of U.S. diplomatic officials from the time of the creation of Israel.
Then Pexton tells an obvious, but rarely mentioned, truth: criticizing Israel “can hurt your career.” He quotes George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel.”
But Pexton ends up his article by trying to show that he really identifies with the best interests of Israel, and thus implies a benign intent, and even justification, for the current blackout and double standard on Israel’s nukes, while simultaneously chiding the lack of press coverage of the subject. In exonerating Israel, he avers: “I don’t think many people fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. If I were a child of the Holocaust, I, too, would want such a deterrent to annihilation. But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t write about how Israel’s doomsday weapons affect the Middle East equation. Just because a story is hard to do doesn’t mean The Post, and the U.S. press more generally, shouldn’t do it.” Note that in his effort to show his identification with Jewish suffering, Pexton plays the obligatory, and often debate-ending, Holocaust card.
The problem with what Pexton asserts is that the Jews of Israel are not facing annihilation, whereas, as a result of Israel’s nukes, its neighbors do confront such a possibility. And it is quite understandable that they do not like that situation and there is no moral reason why they should have to face annihilation any more than the Israeli Jews.
Moreover, contrary to what Pexton claims in his above statement, many people around the world do fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. For example, the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement in its 16th global summit recently voted for global nuclear disarmament, with no exception for Israel. And the Arab states for a number of years have advocated that the Middle East become a nuclear weapons-free zone. Even a majority of Israeli Jews in a November 2011 poll favored the idea of a nuclear weapons-free zone, though it was made known to them that this would entail Israel giving up its nuclear arsenal.
Finally, many Americans might oppose the nuclear double standard, too, if its stark reality were often thrust before them in the same way that the alleged misdeeds of Iran are placed in the media’s spotlight. It is quite understandable that an issue ignored by the mainstream media would not attract widespread public attention.
What Pexton leaves out in his discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal is also of the utmost significance. First, while Pexton invokes legalistic arguments in his quasi-apologetic for the status quo, it is not apparent that the United States government is following federal law on this issue. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended by the Symington Amendment of 1976 and the Glenn Amendment of 1977 prohibits U.S. military assistance to countries that acquire or transfer nuclear reprocessing technology when they do not comply with IAEA regulations and inspections. For the United States to provide aid in such cases requires a special waiver from the office of the President, and it has issued such a waiver for Pakistan, another non-signatory of the NPT with nuclear weapons. But, in line with Israel’s wishes, the United States government does not want to publicly recognize Israel’s nuclear weapons, and thus eschews this approach. Hence, it directly violates federal law in its provision of aid to Israel, America’s foremost foreign aid recipient.
United States actions regarding Israel’s nuclear weapons program may also run afoul of the NPT. There is considerable evidence that Israel has relied on material and technology from the United States in order to develop its nuclear weapons arsenal. Grant Smith, who has been studying recently declassified U.S. government documents on Israel’s nuclear weapons program, wrote in response to Pexton’s article: “The ongoing clandestine movement of material and technology out of the U.S. may mean America has violated Article 1 of the NNPT, since according to the GAO it has never apparently taken successful efforts to stem the flow.”
Moreover, it is not apparent that Israel would only resort to nuclear weapons to prevent the annihilation of its populace; rather, it might use its weaponry to prevent any type of significant defeat. The Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, revealed this mindset in an interview with British commentator Alan Hart in April 1971 for the BBC’s Panorama program. Hart queried Meir: “Prime Minister, I want to be sure that I understand what you are saying . . . . You are saying that if ever Israel was in danger of being defeated on the battlefield, it would be prepared to take the region and the whole world down with it?” And Meir replied: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” (Alan Hart, “Zionism The Real Enemy of the Jews,” volume 2, 2005, p. xii)
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it has been argued by analysts such as Seymour Hersh that Israel used the threat of launching nuclear missiles to blackmail the United States to begin an immediate and massive resupply of the Israeli military. It was correctly perceived in Israel that American strategy intended to delay any resupply in an attempt to let the Arabs achieve some territorial gains and thus force Israel to be more pliable and trade the occupied land for peace.
Grant Smith pointed out in his response to Pexton that blackmail of the United States government was not simply restricted to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but has been a major purpose of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. “As understood by the CIA back in the early 1960s,” Smith stated, “Israel’s nuclear arsenal is primarily used to coerce the United States to provide enough benefits that they will never have to be used.”
Since the United States government has given in to this blackmail it would seem that it believes that Israel is not simply bluffing.
In sum, Pexton offers a rather tepid and incomplete account of Israel’s nuclear program and its ramifications, one that often verges on the apologetic. Still, given the limited parameters of permissibility in the American mainstream on anything concerning Israel, even broaching this subject is courting danger, and for this Pexton has been lauded by Phil Weiss as having “some spine,” especially for noting that to give Israel negative publicity on its illegal settlements can lead to the destruction of one’s career.
And that fact underscores how unfree American society is on the whole subject of Israel. Grant Smith, however, after pointing out the shortcomings of Pexton’s article, writes: “The Washington Post in particular seems to want to play a role in shoring up the decrepit policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ [rather] than enlighten readers about the true role of Israel’s arsenal in US and Iranian relations.” It is apparent that in the mainstream the full truth about Israel’s nuclear weapons remains strictly verboten.