Nuclear Proliferation in Iran, and the International Threats Posed.
Discuss about Nuclear Profileration in Iran, and the specific international security threats that are posed………..
Nuclear proliferation is a term used to describe the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons- applicable nuclear technology and information to nations which are not recognized as Nuclear Weapon States by the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). Proliferation has been opposed by many countries. This opposition comes even from nations that are without nuclear weapons too. Most nations feel that if more countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons and nuclear technology, then nuclear warfare is a possibility, and many civilians will be the target of such warfare. In addition, it would destabilize international or regional relations or even worse infringe on the sovereignty of states.
During World War II, research into the development of nuclear was undertaken by the United Kingdom, Germany, USSR, Japan and the United States. In August 1945, the United States became the first and the only country to date to use a nuclear weapon in war. It dropped two bombs against Japan in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, resulting to thousands of deaths and massive destruction of property and incomprehensible health risks. This action saw Japan and Germany (who had lost the war) cease to be involved in nuclear weapon research. However, the USSR in 1949, and the United Kingdom in 1952, tested nuclear weapons. This has been followed by France testing a nuclear weapon in 1960, the People’s Republic of China in 1964, India in 1974, Pakistan in 1998 and recently North Korea in 2006. These can be said to be the first nuclear weapons proliferation attempt by some of the Nuclear Weapons States in the world
Iranian nuclear program has been the center of debate and one of the most disturbing foreign policy for the current United States administration. Their nuclear program has been met with constant criticism and a lot of pessimism. The international community has considered diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran to deter it from further pursuing their nuclear ambitions. The international community argues that, a nuclear Iran will be unmanageable and a threat to world peace and security. Iran ties to terrorist groups like Hama and Hezbollah have further assisted in the protest against Iranian nuclear race as it is assumed that Iran could arm such third parties who are always a constant threat to international security. But, how did Iran come to acquire such technology? Moreover, what are some of the dangers of a nuclear Iran? Can the world deal with a nuclear Iran? These are some of the questions that this essay will try to tackle.
By the end of the paper, the following questions should have been tackled and answered:
What is Non- Proliferation?
What is the historical development of Iran’s nuclear technology?
What are the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran?
Can the world live with a nuclear Iran?
What are the necessary steps to avert the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran?
Non-Proliferation (Scoblic 2010)
After the United States dropped the two nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; other nations saw what such a weapon was capable of doing. Therefore, the race to own nuclear weapons and nuclear technology began. As has been illustrated, many states started testing their own nuclear weapons. This created a potential risk of nuclear war. With this danger looming, the idea of Non-Proliferation was born. The earlier efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation involved government secrecy. Unorthodox means including sabotage were used. The wartime acquisition of known uranium stores was also employed. All these activities were done in absolute secrecy.
However, just after World War II, International efforts to promote nuclear non-proliferation began with the proposition of the Baruch Plan. This plan enjoyed international support; however the Soviet Union planned to veto it in the Security Council (it failed to emerge from the UNAEC because of this). However, in 1953, President Eisenhower –the then American president- made the Atoms for Peace proposal before the U.N. General Assembly, this lead to the creation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957. However, plans on an agreement to limit the spread of nuclear weapons never began till the 1960’s. These plans were stalled for a while but when China detonated a nuclear weapon in 1964, the plans were renewed. Since the inception of the IAEA, it has tried to promote and spread internationally the use of civilian nuclear energy. It has also tried to prevent and detect the diversion of civilian energy to nuclear weapons, nuclear explosive devices or other unknown purposes. The IAEA operates a safeguard system as specified under Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enacted in 1968. The main aim of the treaty is to ensure that civil stocks of uranium, plutonium and any other technology associated with nuclear materials are used for peaceful purposes and that they should not contribute in any way to nuclear proliferation . The principle focus of non-proliferation remains to maintain and increase international control over the fissile material and specialized technologies necessary to build nuclear devices.
Nuclear Situation in Iran
Historical development of Nuclear Technology in Iran
Iran is country in southern and western Asia. It is the 18th largest country in the world in terms of area and has a population of around 80 million people (CIA,2012). This country holds important position in International Energy Security and the world economy.
Iran has always considered itself a technological country. The country has strived to revive their golden Persian age. Currently the country is the 7th largest country in production of uranium hexafluoride. In fact it controls the entire cycle for producing nuclear fuel. It has several reactors, a uranium mine, an almost complete nuclear reactor and uranium processing facilities that include uranium enrichment plant.
Iran is a wealthy state in terms of resources. It has invited opposing viewpoints however. There are some individuals who see Iran’s historical civilization, potent trading power, mounting oil wealth from a positive point of view. However, there are pessimists who see Iran as a government set on a full nuclear fuel cycle with the production of nuclear weapons in mind (Patrick,2008) Iran Nuclear effort began no later than the early 1970’s. It began when the Shah acquired the first reactor from the United States (Anthony, 1991). The Shah established the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in 1974 and then began negotiating for nuclear power plants. A French, Belgian, Spanish and Italian consortium availed this and the Shah bought 10% share in a Eurodif uranium enrichment plant, Iran was to have full access to the enrichment technology that the plant developed (Leonard, 1992).
Threats posed by Iran’s Nuclear Proliferation (Edelman, 2011)
Iran’s nuclear ambition has been the subject of serious debate within the international community. Iran has always maintained its stand that, its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and insists that the Nuclear Non – Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. However, the UN has maintained that Iran wants to use its civilian nuclear facilities as a cover for nuclear weapons development. France, Germany and UK engage periodically in discussions regarding Iran’s nuclear program albeit the negotiations often stall. They stall because, there is no clear evidence that Iran really wants to militarize its domestic nuclear program. Israel on the other hand, however, has always maintained its opposition on arming Iran with nuclear weapons. This has led to speculation about Israel’s intention towards Iran. Israel has been quick to defend itself by insisting that no military action has been considered against Iran. However, Israel have not ruled out the possibility of military action against Iran, in fact reports have shown that Israel is thinking of a military strike to quash Iranian nuclear program. Iran sees that by the year 2020, its population (which is rapidly growing), and the overall global demand of oil, will have to be supplemented by the use of nuclear power. However, just like any other laws, there is mischief in the NPT. This can be explained as: countries or nations may sign the treaty and then be seen to adhere to it. However, after a country has acquired the necessary knowledge, infrastructure and money, it can withdraw from the treaty and thus concentrate all its knowledge, infrastructure and money towards developing a nuclear weapon.
For many centuries, security strategies have been based on boundaries, territories relied on walls for instance for their defense. Some territories used religious groupings or other methods to distinguish between an enemy and a friend. However, with advancement of technology, this has changed. Most countries now rely on warplanes, submarines, missiles, and even weapons of mass destruction key among them being the nuclear bomb. The NPT remains the global anchor for nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament. The treaty has got flaws; nevertheless it has provided important security benefits by making sure that nuclear energy is not being misused for weapon building purposes. However, it has not been fully functional to stop the instances in India, Iraq, Iran, Libya and North nuclear Korea as far as nuclear testing is concerned. Much of the testing has continued. The secrecy that the concerned nations operate when it comes to nuclear program issues has made non-proliferation sometimes impossible. The NPT encourages use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes but such as it may seem may not be the case. Consequently suspicion between the nations concerned arises; tough measures are taken so that each nation protects its interest as well as the global interest.
The question of Iran’s nuclear program being recognized as a threat lies squarely on political interests. This is to mean, on who’s side is it likely to hurt. The Unites States has maintained that the Iranian nuclear program is of great threat to its interests. They give various reasons, but I will highlight a few.
Firstly, a nuclear armed Iran would strengthen Iran’s aggressive foreign policy which may result to heightened confrontations with the international community. The United States maintains that, currently, Iran has got the weapon capability to launch a strike against the U.S. and its allied troops. These possess a threat to the troops stationed in the Middle East and elsewhere in Europe. If Iran is allowed to acquire nuclear weapons then it goes without saying that the threat of an attack increases.
Secondly, the U.S. states that, if Iran is to posses a nuclear weapon, then it would directly threaten the U.S. and its inhabitants. Currently, the missiles available in Iran cannot reach the U.S., however, the U.S. Department of Defense, National Air and Space intelligence claim that if Iran gets foreign assistance, they could develop and test an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) that can be able to reach the United States by 2015.
Thirdly, the Middle East remains an essential source of energy source for the U.S. and the whole globe. Therefore should Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, it would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would make the region very politically unstable and very volatile, which in return would cause interrupted energy supplies which will threaten the viability of the world’s economy.
Fourthly, some of the Unites States allies in the Middle East like Israel are at risk. With Iran’s stand of eliminating Israel, then it means that, it can make this threat a reality. Furthermore, it would create instability in the region as most of the countries in the region are alarmed by the regional aggression of Iran. Should Iran have nuclear weapons, then total dominance over these countries will be inevitable.
Fifthly, the United States maintains that Iran is a leading sponsor of terrorism through its sponsorship of terrorists groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. In the long run, it would not be hard for Iran to share its nuclear technology and expertise with these groups which are hostile to the United States and many other countries.
Can the World Live With a Nuclear Iran
The debate that arises from all the reasons given by the United States is, can the World still live with a nuclear Iran (Barry, 2006)? After all, the world has lived with other countries that have got nuclear weapons. It is true that the outcomes presented by the United States are inevitable. Some have argued to the affirmative, while others support that a nuclear Iran is as dangerous as the nuclear technology they are pursuing. Those who argue on the affirmative say that these threats are not so immense that the United States and its allies cannot defuse. Furthermore nuclear energy and nuclear technology is expensive to start and even manage. If Iran was to acquire the technology very few of its neighboring countries have the resources and financial capabilities of running such a program too. For instance, only Israel amongst Iranian neighbors has got nuclear technology. Therefore, the fears that there could be a Middle East nuclear rush are not valid. Those who oppose a nuclear Iran say that, Iran has signed the NPT yet it has failed to honor all the requirements required for non-proliferation. Therefore being allowed to fully posses nuclear weapons would not deter them from fully implementing their “hidden” ambition of converting the domestic nuclear program to making nuclear weapons or from militarizing their nuclear program. The question of whether the world can live with a Nuclear Iran is a tricky one. As mentioned earlier in the essay, secrecy and absolute secrecy is the main principle that nuclear countries profess in their quest to strengthen their nuclear programs and weapons. Therefore, for us to understand whether the world can live with a nuclear Iran would largely depend on the reasons why Iran is pursuing the nuclear technology. For instance, is it just for prestige that it wants to acquire the nuclear technology? Or, do they want to use it for peaceful purpose, key amongst, to use it as an alternative energy source for its increasing population? Or, just as suspected, do they want to use it for domestic purposes and then later on militarize the nuclear program once they have acquired the appropriate technology? If we are to know whether a nuclear potential Iran is possible, then the country has to come out very clearly and state the purpose of its nuclear technology, moreover, it should start by respecting the NPT if the international community is to believe the purpose of its nuclear program. Otherwise, the potential hazards that come with a nuclear Iran are far too dangerous.
What is the Way Forward?
Since it has been established that there is a problem posed with a nuclear Iran, what then should be done? Some have suggested that a potential attack on the country by the United Sates because they view Iran as a producer of weapons of mass destruction (Kronieg, 2012). A military strike is considered as the least bad option. What is proposed here is forceful disarmament. But can such forceful disarmament work? This is a subject of on going debate (Blair, 2011), only time can tell the best strategy available to achieve ground zero.
Anthony, C. (1991), Weapons of Mass destruction in the Middle East, London, Brassey.
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Patrick M, C. (2008). Double Trouble: Iran and North Korea as Challenges to international Security. Greenwood publishing Group p11
 Iran was known as Persia up to 1935. Later on in 1979 it became an Islamic state after Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi was exiled and the monarch toppled. A learned religious scholar who is referred to as Supreme Leader –who is accountable to the Assembly of experts- has the ultimate political authority of the theocratic system of government.
 Due to the fact that it has got large reserves of petroleum and natural gas, in fact it has the second largest proven natural gas reserve in the world and the fourth largest proven petroleum reserve.
 Also known as Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980), king of Iran (1941-1979). See, Iranian Chamber Society, March 5, 2012.
 During 1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq that eventually expanded into the Persian Gulf and led to clashes between US Navy and Iranian military forces between 1987 and 1988. Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism for its activities in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world and remains subject to US, UN, and EU economic sanctions and export controls because of its continued involvement in terrorism and its nuclear weapons ambitions.
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