There’s obviously been a lot of talk in recent months about Iran’s desire to enrich uranium for the purposes of nuclear power. I honestly don’t see why the West is so afraid. Let me explain why.
First, it must be noted that Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT). Article II of this treaty states that no signatory State that does not possess nuclear weapons has the right to possess them, either through acquisition or production. With that fact in mind, however, Article IV of the same treaty makes it clear that any signatory State, regardless of whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons, has the right to research nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Article III of the treaty provides that safeguards (in practice, the IAEA) are in place to ensure that no State without nuclear weapons is in violation of Article II, while not interfering with the rights guaranteed in Article IV. Okay, now that I’ve covered the relevant parts of the document, let’s look at the situation at hand.
Iran is enriching uranium, and claims to be doing so for the peaceful purpose of establishing a nuclear power station or stations. They have the legal right to do so under the NPT. That really cannot be disputed. The big fear, then, comes from the idea that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
The problem with this idea, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be any real proof that Iran wants to possess nuclear weapons. I’m going to go out on a speculatory limb here and say that the leadership of Iran is not devoid of common sense. Right now, they are justifying their claim to nuclear energy with the NPT. If they built a nuclear weapon, they’d be in direct violation of that agreement. Even if they developed such a weapon in secret, they’d have to do one of two things with it: a) mount it on a warhead and launch it at a perceived aggressor (Israel), or b) more likely, declare to the world that they possess a nuclear weapon in an attempt to gain more political influence. Either one of these options, obviously, would show the United Nations that Iran willfully violated the NPT and is therefore deserving of retribution or sanctions.
There are three big situations or problems that I can see with my theory:
It could be argued that because Israel (most likely) possesses nuclear weapons (they have not ratified the NPT, which I find troublesome), it makes the Iranian leadership feel justified in having them. Even if such a situation were to come about, however, it would create a situation akin to the one existing between India and Pakistan. While this wouldn’t be an altogether good situation, it could lead to an increased desire for diplomacy with the Palestinian Authority on the part of Israel, given the threat of nukes on both sides. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that Iran would be subject to sanctions.
Another issue that would cause the United States concern is the possibility of Iran selling nuclear material to terrorist groups. Honestly, I think the original Bush Doctrine could be used justifiably here (i.e. we will make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them, NOT the idea that war can be started preemptively). I doubt the UN would have a problem with affecting sanctions on Iran, or destroying their nuclear facilities, should they do such a thing.
The third big problem that I can see is the assumption that other Middle Eastern nations will follow Iran’s lead in their desire for nuclear energy. Such a situation would obviously strain the IAEA’s ability to adequately regulate the situation, and create a host of countries that may or may not possess nuclear weapons. This scenario is the scariest, I think. If enough countries have nuclear weapons, what would they care about UN sanctions? They could start World War III in a heartbeat. The main defense against this scenario, however, is the fact that it’s a slippery slope argument, as there are currently no indications of such a thing happening.
Now, given that there seems to be adequate defense against these scenarios at the present point in time, I’d say we should continue to rely on negotiation, and allow Iran to do what they want, for now. Regardless of any crazy offhand statements their president makes about Israel, their Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa some months back declaring any stockpiling of nukes by Iran to be against Islamic law. Even if he didn’t have all of his facts straight (the US is decreasing its level of nuclear capability, not increasing it), I think his word should be taken as the final say on the matter from Iran.
We should keep watching, of course, but President Bush needs to take his finger off the trigger.