Iran and a Nuclear Weapons Ban

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By Frederick N. Mattis*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

ANNAPOLIS, USA (IDN) - The potential for catastrophe regarding Iran is great. It is Israel, obviously, which most feels and asserts the "threat" of an incipient nuclear-armed Iran. Iran, though, with its animosity toward Israel, is mostly to blame for Israeli alarm at Iran’s potential to build nuclear weapons.

Iran denies it aspires to nuclear weapons, and Iran’s "supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has recently denounced their possession as a "big sin" (Washington Post, February 23, 2012 p. A-8). At various international forums, including the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] Review Conference, Iran has called for a world without nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Iran has not subscribed to the stricter (and voluntary) inspection protocol that, among other aspects, would give International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] inspectors greater access to "undeclared" sites.

Iran is a non-nuclear weapon NPT member and therefore must and has submitted its fissionable material to IAEA "safeguards" for monitoring and accountancy. The much-publicized main geopolitical problem is that Iran is continuing to enrich, and does not deny it, uranium – purportedly for peaceful use such as electricity and medical isotope production. But if enrichment (in isotope uranium-235), which is technically challenging, successfully produces about 100 pounds of 90 percent-enriched uranium, then a state could easily (even without a test explosion) construct a dependable, relatively simple "gun" nuclear weapon, the type detonated over Hiroshima.

Iran seemingly did, at least according to a 2007 U.S. intelligence report, have an active research program on nuclear weapons that was shut down in 2003. However, many skeptics would argue that Iran is at least "keeping its options open," which if turned concertedly to weapons could escalate rapidly into Iranian possession of a bomb – contingent, of course, for a "simple" gun weapon on Iranian attainment of sufficient weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. (Israel, for its part, has an unacknowledged arsenal estimated at 100-300 modern nuclear warheads.) Regarding its uranium enrichment, Iran correctly avers that the NPT does not prohibit such activity, even to easily weapons-usable levels such as 90 percent. To date, Iran has refrained from enriching uranium to 20 percent, the recognized demarcation beyond which weapons-usability begins to take hold and grow – although for a relatively simple, no test-explosion-needed "gun" weapon, enrichment to 80-90 percent would be required, plus attainment of the relatively large amount of about 100 pounds for just one bomb.

Not only the USA, Israel, Britain, and France oppose the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, but fellow predominantly Muslim states too, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey – which may seek nuclear weapons if Iran attains them. But Iran insists that it is not developing nuclear weapons, and that it is simply exercising its sovereign and NPT-permitted right to develop nuclear fuel (enriched uranium) for peaceful use such as in power and research reactors. Certainly, any attack against Iranian nuclear facilities would be widely condemned as foolhardy and unnecessary so long as Iran continues to restrict enrichment to under 20 percent.

The hope at present is that Iran will cease, or perhaps just drastically curtail, further uranium enrichment, plus clear up some other questions, and continue as a non-nuclear weapon member of the NPT (which stipulates IAEA safeguards on fissionable material) – and be rewarded by easing or lifting of sanctions. But even if this occurred, would it necessarily be durable? Assuming, though, that Iran continues its enrichment of uranium, there are no good options to stop it, with military strikes at least holding these dangers: having just temporary effect, uniting Iranians against the "foe(s)," roiling the oil market, depressing the world economy, and spurring Iranian or Iranian-proxy assaults on Israelis and others. The only enduring solution is a nuclear-weapons free world, because with all states having joined a nuclear ban treaty before it enters into force, none such as Iran would dare violate it – and if it is imagined that they perniciously might, let it equally be imagined that any seeming advantage from nuclear ban "break-out" would obviously be outweighed many times, even on just stark military terms, by united opposition of the rest of the world.

Once undertaken, nuclear ban negotiations by states will probably make good headway, in large part due to existence of the meritorious "Model Nuclear Weapons Convention" (see link to MNWC at www.lcnp.org). This document, originated in 1997 through the efforts of fifty volunteer lawyers, engineers, scientists, physicians, and consultants, will likely reduce by 80 percent or more the time that would otherwise be required to set forth a Nuclear Weapons Convention [abolition treaty] for signature by states. When states come to undertake actual nuclear ban negotiations, there will inevitably come to be additions to or modifications of some of the dozens of MNWC provisions. But the MNWC will be both the broad foundation and the "advanced starting point" for remaining needed discussions by states assembled.

An issue still to be resolved is nuclear ban entry into force. If the basic requirement is "all states," then the enacted treaty [Nuclear Weapons Convention] would have unprecedented geopolitical, legal, psychological, and moral force for compliance – and it would be a true, worldwide "abolition" treaty. Further, such a treaty advisedly would proclaim its applicability "everywhere" (to cover space and other non-state areas), and declare that the prohibition of nuclear weapons and of non-safeguarded fissionable materials applies to "future states," which must promptly, formally join the treaty. This encompassing of future states is unprecedented in a treaty – but justified by the unanimous accession of all extant states before entry into force. (For details of proposed entry-into-force provision, see chapter 3 of "Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction" by this writer.)

Iran, as an NPT non-nuclear weapon party and perennial critic of nuclear weapons, certainly or almost-certainly would join a nuclear ban treaty. When all states have joined and it enters into force, Iran would no longer be a credible threat to develop nuclear weapons, and today’s Iran-related nuclear "threat" would be gone – due to the unprecedented geopolitical and related force for compliance of a unanimously joined treaty, and its fairness, i.e., equal treatment of states (with all renouncing nuclear weapons), plus the treaty’s benefits to all states and people (removal of various nuclear threats), and the certitude of worldwide opposition to a pernicious violator of the worldwide nuclear weapons ban.

*Frederick N. Mattis is author of "Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction," pub. ABC-Clio/Praeger Security International [ISBN: 978-0-313-36538-6]. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 07, 2012]

The writer's previous articles:

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2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Frederick N. Mattis

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