Iran, International Law and Nuclear Disarmament

Article excerpt

Iran has been accused of secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Although Iranian leaders claim to be enriching uranium only for peaceful nuclear energy purposes, these claims have been treated with derision by the West. Despite the fact that most experts believe that Iran is still years away from developing a nuclear weapon, there are media reports suggesting that Israel and the US are making plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, should Iran not give up its uranium enrichment program. Given this possible military scenario, and the recent vote by the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, what is Iran likely to do?

First, Iran will continue to assert its right under Article IV the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program. Article 1V refers to the "inalienable right" of states to nuclear energy. The parties to the treaty are promised assistance from more technologically advanced countries in pursuing this right. While this may be considered an untenable stipulation in the treaty, it is, nonetheless, the way the law stands. In accord with the treaty, in exchange for pursuing this right, Iran must agree to inspections of its nuclear facilities to assure that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials for making weapons. In fairness, if this aspect of the Nun-Proliferation Treaty is to be altered, it must be done for all states, not singling out Iran for special punitive treatment. Currently, uranium enrichment plants are operating in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom and United States. Of these, Germany and Japan are non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and thus have a similar relationship to the treaty as does Iran. Brazil, another party to the NPT, is reported to be close to starting up a uranium enrichment plant.

Second, Iran will assert that under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States and the other nuclear weapons states have not fulfilled their obligations for "good faith" negotiations for nuclear disarmament. It will point to the 1996 International Court of Justice advisory opinion that states: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." And it will point out the blatant refusal by the nuclear weapons states to carry out their Article VI commitments, including the plans by the United States to develop the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a new type of nuclear warhead to extend the viability of the US nuclear arsenal.

Third, Iran will question the unequal treatment that it is receiving as compared to another Middle Eastern country, Israel, which is thought to possess some 200 nuclear weapons. Iran will note that there is not only a double standard between nuclear "haves" and "have-nots," but also a double standard between Israel and other countries in the Middle East. It will rightly point out that there have long been calls for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, including at the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, which have been largely ignored by Israel and the Western countries. …