Is disarmament to proliferation as spending is to austerity?

The Institute for Science and International Security is dedicated to preventing nuclear proliferation and its president, David Albright, is often quoted in the mainstream media. Much of its energy is spent in raising the alarm about Iran, though — thank goodness for small favors — it doesn’t call for an attack.

For example ISIS declared that the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran contained “the most comprehensive detail and analysis to date [of] evidence of nuclear weaponization-related activities conducted by Iran.” Nevertheless, it concluded, “Notably absent … is any assessment by the IAEA of Iran’s capability to make a nuclear explosive device based on what it learned through these activities.”

Meanwhile, at Race for Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write that in no way does the IAEA report “demonstrate that Iran is ‘developing a nuclear weapon.” Besides, according to Article II of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a party, “non-nuclear-weapon state signatories [are not permitted] ‘to manufacture or otherwise acquire'” nuclear weapons. In other words, write the Leveretts:

The Treaty prohibits the building of actual weapons. It does not prohibit signatories from studying nuclear weapons designs … or even conducting experiments on high-explosives of the sort that could be used in a bomb.

However, in a paper for the “Nuclear Iran” section of ISIS’s website in November of last year titled Iran Nuclear Issue – Considerations for a Negotiated Outcomet, John Carlson begs to differ. The former Director General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office writes: “To ‘manufacture’ cannot be interpreted so narrowly that there is no violation of Article II until a nuclear weapon is fully assembled – this would be an unreasonably rigorous approach that would undermine the practical value of the NPT.” He continues:

Since the purpose of nuclear hedging [the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons as opposed to their actual possession] is to be in a position to make nuclear weapons, at the very least nuclear hedging is not a “peaceful purpose”, hence is not a purpose permitted by Article IV [the general right to use nuclear energy]. … But it is not clear how far preparations to make nuclear weapons can progress before a state will be regarded as being in violation of Article II.

How is whether or not “the real purpose of an ostensibly peaceful program is to establish a nuclear weapon capability” determined? Carlson answers.

The fact that [determining] this might not be straightforward is no justification for accepting hedging as a legitimate activity. A number of indicators can be identified that would help distinguish a peaceful program from one whose purpose is hedging. [Such as] determining whether pursuit of the fuel cycle in question — uranium enrichment or reprocessing — is consistent with the state’s nuclear energy needs.

Carlson concludes:

Any outcome to the Iranian situation that proceeds on the basis that hedging is acceptable will be fundamentally flawed — it would mislead Iran about international tolerance levels, and mislead the international community about Iran’s commitment to non-proliferation. No outcome will provide the necessary international confidence if states continue to think the real purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is to establish a break-out capability.

This disarmament advocate is inclined to agree as long as this argument isn’t used to threaten Iran further. Furthermore, write the ISIS staff (David Albright, Paul Brannan, Andrea Stricker and Andrew Ortendahl) in a January 2012 report titled Reality Check: Shorter and Shorter Timeframe if Iran Decides to Make Nuclear Weapons:

Given Iran’s steady, albeit slow progress, downplaying the threat can end up serving to undermine the development of non-military methods to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons.

In other words, they support continued sanctions. But, from this disarmament activist’s point of view, what “can end up serving to undermine the development of non-military methods to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons” to an even greater extent is failure by Western nuclear powers to show unconditional disarmament leadership — whether it’s likely to succeed or not. Though states that seek to proliferate may either ignore such substantive steps or even gloat over them, there’s no other recourse for the West if, in the long term, it seeks to stay the hand of proliferators.

Though it’s the correct course of action, calling for disarmament to prevent proliferation is as counterintuitive as asking states to attempt to solve financial crises by spending instead of cutting in the cause of austerity. A tough sell, in other words.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Categories: Economy, War/Security

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