Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

NPT, Where Art Thou? the Nonproliferation Treaty and Bargaining: Iran as a Case Study

Academic journal article Chicago Journal of International Law

NPT, Where Art Thou? the Nonproliferation Treaty and Bargaining: Iran as a Case Study

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

In the past two years, the world has witnessed two significant nuclear proliferation problems unfold. In early 2003 North Korea withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons1 ("NPT")-the legal instrument that occupies center stage in the international nonproliferation regime-and later admitted to manufacturing nuclear weapons.2 Iran poses a different kind of problem. On the one hand, Iran remains a signatory to the NPT, claims that its pursuit of nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes only, and-after some deception-appears to have substantiated its claim by submitting to intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.3 On the other hand, since its revolution in 1979, Iran has been governed by religious clergymen prone to putting ideology ahead of national interests and generally has been hostile to the interests of the United States. It has also been linked to terrorist activity4 and has acquired advanced ballistic missile technology from North Korea (and perhaps China)/1 Furthermore, in the wake of Iran's brutal war with Iraq in the 1980s, high-ranking Iranian officials indicated that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is consistent with Iranian security needs.6

Given Iran's more troublesome attributes, Europe and the United States wish to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons and following in North Korea's footsteps. The Western democracies are particularly worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions because it seeks to control the nuclear fuel cycle7-the process used to convert uranium ore into enriched uranium and, after using the enriched uranium as fuel in a nuclear reactor, to reprocess the spent fuel in order to extract the unconsumed portion of uranium.8 The Iranian government claims that it wants to enrich uranium only for its civilian nuclear reactors and for research purposes,9 and correctly asserts that this right is granted by the NPT. Control of the fuel cycle, however, makes it easier for a state to pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program and makes it more difficult for other countries to "coerc[e] or influencfe]" that state through supply-side disincentives.10 Thus, the Western democracies are left with a choice between relying on the NPT's nonproliferation regime, allowing Iran to control the fuel cycle, or somehow forcing or convincing Iran to forego its legal right to enrich uranium.

Relying solely on the current nonproliferation regime may be undesirable. The NPT and the associated safeguards system created by the International Atomic Energy Agency ("IAEA") make it more costly for a state to develop a clandestine nuclear program, but a country like Iran may be willing to incur this cost in exchange for greater security, regional influence, or national prestige.11 The same country also may wish to develop civilian nuclear power for legitimate economic reasons. Iran, for example, may seek to reduce the opportunity cost of consuming its oil and natural gas domestically-as opposed to exporting themin order to meet its rising energy demand.12 Iran also may wish to develop a robust civilian nuclear sector to diversify and modernize its economy and provide jobs for its rapidly growing workforce.13

In this Development, I argue that the NPT cannot effectively deter nonproliferation on its own terms, nor can it do so by virtue of establishing a "nonproliferation norm."14 Instead, because of its broad language, the security' uncertainties characteristic of the post-Cold War geopolitical landscape, and the desire of nuclear weapon states to maintain their monopoly, the NPT is able to deter nuclear proliferation only insofar as it encourages bargaining between "threshold states"15 and more powerful countries dissatisfied with the NPT's default rule of allowing uranium enrichment. In other words, the NPT's effectiveness does not lie in its legal prohibition on nuclear weapon development; rather, its effectiveness stems from providing a broad baseline against which states can bargain. …

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