Citing Iran’s nuclear non-compliance, U.S. sidesteps its own obligations
Last week, the United States and three other Western powers formally accused Tehran of breaching a UN Security Council resolution related to Iran’s nuclear program.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice expressed concern about reports that Iran is preparing for the spinning of centrifuges at the Qom facility, which she called “a flagrant and blatant violation of existing sanctions.”
Security Council members Germany, France and Britain joined the U.S. in charging that Iran was failing to abide by United Nations prohibitions on the weaponization of its nuclear program, specifically stating that the Persian Gulf state appears to be pursuing ballistic missile technology which could serve as a delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons.
Iran had allegedly breached the rule in June by deploying its Rasad 1 satellite, “which is dependent on ballistic missile technology,” British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant said. On Aug. 23, Iran unveiled a new domestically manufactured cruise missile, adding to the nation’s growing arsenal and fueling concerns of the international community.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s top official on Sept. 12 joined the Western leaders in expressing alarm over Iran’s potential to prepare a nuclear-capable missile. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said he wanted to “set out in greater detail the basis for the agency’s concerns so that all member states are fully informed.”
“Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” the IAEA chief said.
Tehran has denied allegations that its atomic activities are geared toward weapons development. Iran’s development of ballistic missile technology is intended as deterrence against enemies who may be considering an invasion, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said.
Iranian state television reported that a new missile dubbed “Ghader,” showcased at a ceremony in Tehran on Aug. 23, is designed for sea-based targets, with a range of 124 miles and is capable of destroying a warship.
“The best deterrence is that the enemy does not dare to invade,” Ahmadinejad said during the ceremony. “The enemy should be crippled on its own ground and not over the skies of Tehran.”
Despite Iran’s claims that its weapons programs are intended for self-defense, the U.S. and its allies are insisting that the ballistic missile technology places Iran in breach of Security Council Resolution 1929.
“We were among those that reported to the committee our view that the ballistic missile launches that we have seen of late is a violation of paragraph nine” of the resolution, Amb. Rice said. The paragraph prohibits Iran from “undertak[ing] any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”
But even as the U.S. Ambassador accuses Iran of violating Resolution 1929, the U.S. seems to be violating it as well. Specifically, the second paragraph of the resolution’s preamble states,
Reaffirming its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the need for all States Party to that Treaty to comply fully with all their obligations, and recalling the right of States Party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes the right of five countries — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States — to possess nuclear weapons, conditional upon eventual disarmament, and the right of other signatories to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, conditional upon their non-acquisition of nuclear weapons. Entering into force in 1970, the NPT explicitly requires that
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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.
Forty years later, there has been only incremental progress in this regard, although moves in recent years have provided some hope for realizing the promise of eventual disarmament. Coming on the heels of the adoption of the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty as well as Barack Obama’s 2009 speech embracing a nuclear weapons-free world, last year’s NPT Review Conference was hailed as a success by observers such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
In the disarmament section, for the first time, a world free of nuclear weapons is articulated as the goal of nuclear disarmament. Acknowledged nuclear weapon states also committed themselves to continuing to work together to accelerate concrete progress on disarmament. Efforts to include a timeline for a negotiated nuclear weapons convention failed, but the disarmament action plan does includes a timeline whereby the nuclear weapon states should report on their disarmament activities at the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting. They are also encouraged to develop a standard reporting form as a confidence building measure.
But while celebrating the progress made in recent years, it is clear that the nuclear weapons states continue to balk at disarmament. In 2000, the five nuclear powers committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking … to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” But for now, the five continue to retain the bulk of their nuclear forces.
The U.S., the first country to attain nuclear weapons and the only one to have ever used them, continues to lead the world in stockpiling them.
While China has about 240 total warheads, France fewer than 300 operational warheads and the United Kingdom with a total stockpile of up to 225, the United States has 5,113 active and inactive nuclear warheads and approximately 3,500 warheads retired and awaiting dismantlement. Russia has approximately 2,400 operational strategic warheads, approximately 2,000 operational tactical warheads, and approximately 7,000 stockpiled strategic and tactical warheads.
In its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. essentially admitted that it has no intention of ever ridding itself of nuclear weapons, but instead is attempting to demonstrate that it is making symbolic progress toward its NPT obligations:
“As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the Review states,
the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces. …But fundamental changes in the international security environment in recent years – including the growth of unrivaled U.S. conventional military capabilities, major improvements in missile defenses, and the easing of Cold War rivalries – enable us to fulfill those objectives at significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. Therefore, without jeopardizing our traditional deterrence and reassurance goals, we are now able to shape our nuclear weapons policies and force structure in ways that will better enable us to meet our most pressing security challenges.
By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons – meeting our NPT Article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament – we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.
It is clear then that moves by the United States to eliminate some nuclear weapons are not good faith efforts at disarmament – as mandated by the Non-Proliferation Treaty – but rather minimalistic efforts intended to portray an image of compliance with the Treaty, in order to advance geostrategic goals. Indeed, as the Arms Control Association points out, under the New START Treaty with Russia,
The United States will retain up to 420 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 60 nuclear-capable bombers, and 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) … This new force structure was provided to the Senate as part of the materials transmitted with New START for ratification. In addition, as part of the administration’s effort to show progress on disarmament at the May review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the Department of State announced April 27 that the United States had 1,968 “operationally deployed” warheads at the end of 2009, and the Pentagon announced May 3 that as of last Sept. 30, the U.S. nuclear stockpile stood at 5,113 warheads.
While the Obama administration may deserve credit for pushing new arms control initiatives with Russia, from the perspective of non-nuclear states that have been waiting 40 years for the nuclear powers to fulfill their promise of disarmament, the efforts surely appear more symbolic than real, with the U.S. and Russia still capable of ending all life on earth many times over.
This is especially the case for a country like Iran, which is completely surrounded by U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet stationed off the coast of Bahrain. While the U.S. has expressed alarm over Iran seeking nuclear weapons, the Obama administration has failed to repudiate the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war which arguably has forced Tehran to adopt a strategy of deterrence.
Obama’s widely heralded 2010 Nuclear Posture Review may have renounced the development of new nuclear weapons such as the “bunker-busters” proposed by the Bush administration and ruled out a nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states who are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this rule pointedly excluded Iran.
Indeed, the Review even singled out Iran as a particularly hard case, calling its behavior “provocative.”
From the perspective of Tehran though, the actions of the United States may be considered provocative. In the last decade, the U.S. has invaded two of its neighbors, and continues to intervene militarily in countries such as Libya without even invoking the casus belli of self-defense or “preemption.”
If the U.S. is serious about non-proliferation in the region and around the world, a fundamentally new approach is needed – one that includes U.S. compliance with its disarmament obligations, as well as the renunciation of nuclear first strikes and preemptive war in general. Symbolic half-measures are obviously not doing the job.