Clarification on the NPT

23 January 2011

In the light of the nuclear talks with Iran breaking down, a short summary on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agremeent, or NPT for short.

  • Non-proliferation, aka no new weapons for countries that don’t have them already.* Disarmament, aka no new weapons and destruction of old ones for countries that do have them.* The right to use nuclear energy for peaceful programs, as well as the right for international assistance for the program.Under the Bush administration, the United States clearly showed intent to violate the treaty by proposing new designs for warheads, even if they would replace old weapons rather that add to the pile.

The case with the Iranian nuclear program (for peaceful purposes) is more complex. It was started in the 50’s, with aid from the United States. Shortly halted during the revolution, it was picked up again shortly afterwards, and continued without international assistance (remember the hostage crisis that followed the revolution, the event that made pretty much the entire world hate Iran). The first violation, as everyone is bound by the agreement to lend assistance.

Nowadays, Iran has uranium mines, enrichment facilities, and a reactor that should be operational soon. Existence of these sites are only known for a couple of years, and by keeping them hidden (as well as refusing and expelling inspecting bodies) Iran has violated several “safeguard” agreements in the treaty. There’s a lot of debate if this actually constitutes a breach of the NPT, or only of the safeguards.

It probably doesn’t matter anyway. The position of the government of Iran is clear: they have a right to pursue nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes, as well as a right for international assistance for the program. They correctly point to other members that clearly violated the NPT. They also claim not to be interested in nuclear weapons, a fact backed by the current ayatollah’s 2005 fatwa against their use,construction, and stockpiling.

The position of the world is also pretty clear. Israel is obviously nervous, considering it could be completely destroyed at will with even a small arsenal. And the relations between Iran and Israel are atrocious, at best. The rest of the world (including other predominantly Muslim countries) are also nervous, considering the volatile political situation and lack of stability in the country.

The position of the Iranian people is ambiguous.

On one hand, they want access to the rights safeguarded by the adherence to the core tenants of the NPT. The argument that Iran has no need for nuclear energy due to the massive deposits of oil (2nd biggest after Saudi Arabia) is false. The Iran-Iraq war of the 80’s created massive damage to the oil refinery infrastructure, damage that has never been properly prepared due to high costs and economical embargoes inflating this costs even further. This has created the absurd situation where crude oil is exported, and kerosine/diesel is imported. Almost comically in an oil rich country, the government is trying to enact measures to get people to drive less, and use less energy.

On the other hand, the people recognize the decisions about the nuclear program are made by people who are neither elected, nor representative of the them. And, as history has shown, have made poor decisions in the international theatre (Khomeini’s endorsment of the hostage taking was a surprise internationally, as well as domestically).

My opinion is, of course, of no significance. But I’ll give it to you anyway. The government of Iran is probably too unreliable to safely have even the possibility to produce nuclear weapons. And even if it wasn’t, it’s mandate is very shaky, and it could be overthrown in the near future. But  the country has every right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. If it helps their economy, as well as reduce the ecological impact, I’m all for it. So we’re deadlocked.

We need to move past this, somehow. And once we move past this, we can worry about the next points on the agenda. For example, the fact that both Pakistan and India have a fully operational arsenal, and that the two aren’t exactly world’s best neighbours.