Theoretical Iranian Nukes: A Real Threat?


An essay I wrote for a World Politics course. It talks about the NPT’s flaws and how they could be fixed to adjust to the current challenges posed by the Iranian nuclear program.

December 05, 2013

Since the United States’ use of the atomic weapons in 1945, world powers have been divided over the possession of nuclear weapons. Within 20 years of the U.S. attack, four other nations were quick to develop their own nuclear weapons programs as a defensive measure. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 was signed by powers in possession of nuclear missiles with the main purpose of reducing the incentive for other nations to develop their own respective weapons programs. Within the past year, Iran’s enrichment of uranium has alerted nations in the international community, raising questions about the current effectiveness of the NPT. Despite Iran’s insistence that its activities are for peaceful purpose, Israel, among other nations, is most wary of the Iran’s true intentions. This continued uneasiness among nuclear and non-nuclear nations proves that the NPT’s safeguards must be altered slightly and therefore utilized to their fullest potential to address such issues as security assurance and balanced obligation.

Israel and Iran’s unwavering mistrust of each other has largely contributed to the concern surrounding the Islamic nation’s uranium enrichment. The feeling is a mutual one, as Israel (a non-signatory to the NPT) is believed to unilaterally possess around 100 nuclear weapons. While the NPT does not explicitly prohibit any violence involving nuclear signatories, there is a collective assurance that nuclear powers will never attack non-nuclear ones. As a non-signatory, Israel has virtually no obligation to this accepted fact. In other words, Israel’s refusal to sign the NPT shows its concern with being labeled a nuclear power because it theoretically makes itself a target for other nuclear powers. Israel’s Prime Minister President Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed the importance of national security to his citizens, recently stating in an interview, “I am committed to the security of my people and to the future of my state…we have a loud and clear voice among the nations and we will sound it to warn during times of danger.” (Peterson) Much like Israel’s situation, the P5+1 powers are equally as prudent when involving themselves in the nuclear affairs of other nations. Taking sides in an argument over nuclear weapons has the potential to start a nuclear war – a path that no nation wants to take. The Iranian situation proves that the issue of security assurance is a quite fragile one with no guarantee of safety or concrete measures to counterbalance nuclear threats unless slight modifications are made.

The most feasible action to take regarding the NPT and the Iranian case would be to improve on the treaty’s successful aspects. With more vigorous safeguards, the threat of developing nuclear weapons can be mitigated, if not stopped altogether. The International Atomic Energy Agency is one element of the NPT’s safeguards that is heavily relied upon in regards to maintaining security assurance; however, even this agency’s ability to inspect nuclear facilities is limited to civilian plants only. This loophole leaves military facilities (an optimal environment for nuclear weapons development) unchecked. In the case of non-signatories to the NPT like Israel and Pakistan, the IAEA does not have a legal obligation to conduct inspections for potential nuclear weapons, therefore it is the role of the nation itself to officially announce nuclear-weapons possession. Israel’s refusal to admit to its possession of nuclear weapons mocks the integrity of the NPT. As a treaty aimed at promoting a world free from the threat of nuclear fallout, it can only truly work effectively on a global level if every nation is a signatory. President Rouhani of Iran has offered a similar solution regarding Israel and the entire Middle East region, calling for an Israeli signature on the NPT in order to put “all nuclear activities in the region” (Middle East) under the scrutiny of the IAEA. Non-signatory and nuclear weapons holder Pakistan also poses a potential threat, as Iran has “repeatedly emphasized” its need for a way to defend itself during the P5+1 talks. (Eldar) As sovereign states, it would be unreasonable to try to convince non-signatories to sign the treaty, yet precautions can be taken against non-signatories with nuclear weapons. For one, the IAEA should impose a limit on the number of nuclear weapons NPT signatories can possess. Based on scientific calculations, this number should take into account the minimization of civilian casualties and overall risk in the event of nuclear war; the current solution seems to be reckless – that of an arms race, equating security with the possession of more nuclear weapons than another nation. Another suggestion for improvement would include the expansion of IAEA authority to a military facilities of NPT signatories: this should include aircraft carriers and even submarines. Both are obvious, yet ignored methods of covertly transporting nuclear weapons worldwide, the latter adopted recently by Israel by importing German-made submarines. (Der Spiegel)

Nuclear weapons aside, the enrichment of uranium has become increasingly feasible for nations willing to reduce their dependency on oil, coal, and other traditional natural resources. The Middle East is no exception. At its peak in 2007, Iran was competing with Saudi Arabia to produce just over four million barrels of oil in one day (CNN). The P5+1 sanctions against the National Iranian Oil Company have reduced these numbers by 80%, crippling Iran’s domestic economy. Much like the United States, inflation has become a problem for middle-class Iranian citizens, who are finding it rather difficult “to maintain the middle-class lifestyles that they used to”. (CNN) Compared to the current US inflation rate of less than 2%, Iranians are experiencing that of around 40%. (NPR) The Iranian situation provides a perfect situation for the NPT’s safeguards be tested. As a major exporter of energy to several Middle East countries for years, Iran has been seen as “the new electricity hub of the Middle East,” ranking 18th in the world in net electricity generation and 19th in net consumption. (EIA, Trend) The sanctions imposed on Iran’s economy should be lifted to the point where it is allowed some leeway regarding its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This will provide an easy means of monitoring Iranian nuclear activity, allowing the country’s crippled economy to recover from the sanctions put on its oil production with the help of nuclear power to fuel it’s energy needs. With over 1.1 billion in investments towards the construction of three new power plants and nearly 100% of the population with access to electricity, this proposal is not unrealistic. (Trend)

The P5+1 oil sanctions have not only impeded Iran’s economy – they have possibly ruined the country’s chances of returning to former glory among the OPEC cartel members. Saudi Arabia has the capacity to produce almost 12.5 million barrels a day – it is predicted that at this rate, by the end of the decade, “they will be level-peg with the United States”. (Defterios) Iran’s strained relations with the P5+1 over the past years have allowed Saudi Arabia to develop a closer economic and political relationship with the U.S. and the EU. According to London based Facts Global Energy Chairman Dr. Fereidun Fesharaki, “Nobody wants Iranian oil back on the market…if they came in today, the immediate reaction is the Saudis either have to cut back production or the price of oil must fall. It’s not possible to just continue as usual.” (Defterios) Although Middle East leaders are split over Iran’s right to enrich uranium at a higher percentage, allowing it to do so would benefit not only itself, but also the international (and regional) community. The vast amount of electricity consumption needed to fuel Iraq’s oil and gas industry has resulted power outages lasting up to 16 hours a day have been common among citizens. Secular violence has further complicated politics and infrastructure, creating a “shortage of adequate gas feedstock (that) has resulted in idle and sub-optimally-fired electricity generation capacity.” (EIA) Currently, Iraq imports electricity from Iran as well as Turkish electricity barges in the Persian Gulf. By utilizing nuclear power, Iran could consistently supply Iraq with electricity – thus improving its economy – while reserving its own oil and natural gas supply.

P5+1 powers have also suggested using Iranian nuclear energy to continue the “Russian Plan” on Syrian redevelopment, which successfully resulted in the disposal of the warring nation’s chemical weapons stockpile. (Keinon) Choosing this path would appease both the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli and Iranian-Russian parties who are split over the current negotiations. By placing the actions of Iran and Russia under international scrutiny of the time-sensitive Syria crisis, security assurance is at an all-time high – Iran’s actions in regards to its enriched uranium will truly be revealed to nations that are wary of President Rouhani’s intentions. Iran can choose two out of three options: continue its energy generation for domestic use and export, use it to support Syrian redevelopment (ex. stop hospital blackouts and aid problems caused by 2.5 refugees in region), or use it towards the development of nuclear weapons. If it chooses the latter, the lack of prosperous economic change will be a blatant indicator to the world. In addition to security assurance, balanced obligation to reduce nuclear arsenals can also be addressed – recycling plutonium in nuclear warheads “…can virtually eliminate all fission product waste and avoid geological storage,” not to mention its somewhat self-sufficient generation of power. (Steinberg) This – among the economic benefits to be shared from the process – may inspire nuclear non-signatories to join the NPT rather than remain isolationist with their nuclear progress.

The Non Proliferation Treaty has its loopholes, yet these can be mitigated with modest modifications and creative implication of its rules. Many solutions to the issues raised by the NPT are clearly present within the boundaries of its original intentions. Emotions are high when it comes to talk nuclear weapons; it is only natural for nation-states to formulate their own solutions to the problem. It seems that the biggest issue is one that has plagued the world for centuries – learning to coexist as human beings.

Works Cited

Berliner, Uri. “Crippled By Sanctions, Iran’s Economy Key In Nuclear Deal.” Morning Edition. NPR. 25 Nov. 2013. Radio. Transcript.

“British MPs to Israel: Come Clean on Nukes.” Albawaba News. Press TV, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. <http://www.albawaba.com/news/israel-britian-nuclear–536771>.

Defterios, John. “Iran Sanctions: Why Oil Is Where Tehran Feels the Pain.” CNN. N.p., 25 Sept. 2013. Web. <http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/25/business/iran-energy-potential-defterios/>.

Eldar, Akiva, Columnist. “Israel’s Right of Self-defense Should Not Include Attacking Iran.” Al Monitor. Israel Pulse, 2 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/israel-ambiguity-policy-self-defense-iran-geneva-accord.html>.

Fisher, Max. “Why Is the U.S. Okay with Israel Having Nuclear Weapons but Not Iran?” The Washington Post. N.p., 2 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/12/02/why-is-the-u-s-okay-with-israel-having-nuclear-weapons-but-not-iran/>.

“Israel Seeks Other Allies as U.S. Ties Weaken over Iran.” Al Arabiya News. N.p., 21 Nov. 2013. Web. <http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/11/21/Israel-mulls-allies-other-than-U-S-.html>.

“Israel’s Deployment of Nuclear Missiles on Subs from Germany.” Der Spiegel 4 June 2012: n. pag. Web. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/israel-deploys-nuclear-weapons-on-german-built-submarines-a-836784.html>.

Keinon, Herb. “Netanyahu, Putin and Their So-called ‘chemistry'” The Jerusalem Post n.d.: n. pag. 21 Nov. 2013. Web. <http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Netanyahu-Putin-and-their-so-called-chemistry-332574>.

Mackey, Peg, and Alex Lawler. “Iran to Reassert Authority at OPEC After Nuclear Deal.” Reuters. N.p., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/02/us-opec-iran-idUSBRE9B109N20131202>.

Peterson, Scott. “Rouhani Insists Iran Doesn’t Want Nuclear Weapons.” N.p., 26 Sept. 2013. Web. <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/2013/0926/Rouhani-insists-Iran-doesn-t-want-nuclear-weapons-video>.

Steinberg, Meyer, Head, Process Sciences Division Brookhaven National Laboratory Upton, L.I. “How Nuclear Wastes Can Be Recycled.” Editorial. The New York Times 28 Dec. 1989: n. pag. Print.

United States of America. U.S. Energy Information Administration. N.p.: n.p., 2013. EIA: Independent Statistics and Analysis. Web. <http://www.eia.gov/countries/>.

Zamanov, R. “Iran’s Electricity Exports to Middle Eastern Countries Rise.” Trend. N.p., 8 Oct. 2013. Web. <http://en.trend.az/capital/energy/2198707.html>.

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1 Comment

Filed under Class Work, Journalism, News, Observation

One response to “Theoretical Iranian Nukes: A Real Threat?

  1. Pakistanis are freezing due to fuel shortage. Is this a result of sanctions against Iranian energy production?

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