Uranium enrichment

Iran’s “inalienable right”


Iran was one of the 62 states that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the earliest opportunity, on 1 July 1968.  The Treaty came into force on 5 March 1970.  Then, the Shah ruled Iran.  Despite the overthrow of the Shah by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, Iran remained a signatory to the Treaty.


Article IV(1) of the Treaty states:


“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.


So, in developing a nuclear power program today Iran is exercising an “inalienable right” laid down in the Treaty.  As part of this, Iran has an “inalienable right” under the Treaty to establish a uranium enrichment process.


Remember this when you read newspaper headlines about Iran’s defying the “international community” by restarting its uranium enrichment process.


Sharing nuclear technology

Article IV(2) of the Treaty states:


All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”


A plain reading of this is that Parties to the Treaty who possess nuclear technology are obliged to help states without nuclear technology to acquire it in order to “further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.  In other words, to live up to their obligations under the Treaty, the US and the UK, and other states with nuclear technology, should be helping Iran to establish nuclear power plants, if Iran wishes to pursue this course of action.


And so should the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Today, the Agency is best known for its weapons inspectors, that is, for policing the NPT.  But the Agency predates the NPT: it was established in 1957 to facilitate the peaceful uses of nuclear energy internationally.


Article III of its Statute defines its functions today.  In Article III(1), it is authorised:


“To encourage and assist research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful uses throughout the world; and, if requested to do so, to act as an intermediary for the purposes of securing the performance of services or the supplying of materials, equipment, or facilities by one member of the Agency for another; and to perform any operation or service useful in research on, or development or practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes;”


Its policing function in defined in Article III(5):


“To establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information made available by the Agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose; and to apply safeguards, at the request of the parties, to any bilateral or multilateral arrangement, or at the request of a State, to any of that State's activities in the field of atomic energy;”


Unequal treaty

The NPT is an extraordinarily unequal treaty.  States signed up to it either as “nuclear-weapon” states or as “non-nuclear-weapon” states and, under it, “nuclear-weapon” states were allowed to keep their nuclear weapons, but “non-nuclear-weapon” states were forbidden to develop nuclear weapons.  Article IX(3) defines a “nuclear-weapon” state as follows:


“For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967.”


There were at least 5 states – the US, the UK, the USSR, France and China – which qualified as “nuclear-weapon” states by this definition.  They happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  Of these, only three – the US, the UK and the USSR – signed the Treaty in 1968. France and China didn’t sign until 1992.


In Article I of the Treaty, “nuclear-weapon” states undertook not to transfer nuclear weapons to any other state and not to assist “non-nuclear-weapon” states in any way to develop nuclear weapons:


“Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.”


In Article II, “non-nuclear-weapon” states undertook not to be the recipient of such largesse and not to manufacture nuclear weapons themselves:


“Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”


Clearly, the NPT is extraordinarily discriminatory in favour of “nuclear-weapon” states, who are not obliged to give up their nuclear weapons, whereas “non-nuclear-weapon” states sign away the right to acquire nuclear weapons by acceding to it.


The latter is an extraordinary thing to do, since nuclear weapons are the ultimate guarantee of a state’s continued existence in the modern world.  Iraq would not have been invaded and occupied by the US/UK if it had had nuclear weapons in March 2003: the lesson for any state that wishes to avoid Iraq’s fate is to acquire nuclear weapons as soon as possible.


Failing to disarm?

It is often said that the “nuclear-weapon” states are breaking the terms of the NPT by failing to disarm and, on the contrary, constantly upgrading their nuclear weapons systems.  In fact, the NPT doesn’t oblige “nuclear-weapon” states to disarm.  True, Article VI says:


“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.


But that’s a commitment to talk about disarmament, not a commitment to disarm.


No “nuclear-weapon” state has ceased to be one since the NPT came into force in 1970.  Then, there wasn’t the slightest chance that any of them would voluntarily relinquish their nuclear weapons.  And the same is true today.


“Nuclear-weapon” states have veto

What is more, there is absolutely nothing the “non-nuclear-weapon” signatories to the NPT can do about it.  Not only does the Treaty they signed allow the five “nuclear-weapon” states to keep their nuclear weapons forever, and develop others, it also gives each of them a veto over any amendment to the Treaty, including any amendment seeking to dilute their extraordinary privileges.  Thus Article VIII(2) states:


“Any amendment to this Treaty must be approved by a majority of the votes of all the Parties to the Treaty, including the votes of all nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty …”


So the US, the UK, Russia, France and China each have a veto over any amendment to the Treaty.


(This bears a striking resemblance to the process for amending the UN Charter.  According to Article 108 of Charter, an amendment to the Charter comes into force when it is ratified “by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council”.  So the US, the UK, Russia, France and China each have a veto over any amendment to the Charter, including any amendment to remove their veto.)


Who didn’t sign?

A number of non-nuclear states, notably India, refused to sign the NPT in 1968, giving as a reason that the Treaty discriminated against non-nuclear states, which it does.  Pakistan also refused to sign.  Neither were nuclear states in 1967; both are nuclear states now.


Since they never signed the Treaty, they didn’t break any international obligations by becoming nuclear states, and were not subject to monitoring by the IAEA while they were becoming nuclear states.  Furthermore, Pakistan didn’t break any international obligations when AQ Khan exported nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan. 


Israel hasn’t signed either, and it too broke no treaty obligations by developing nuclear weapons.  It has always operated a policy of neither confirming nor denying that it has nuclear weapons.


None of these three states can now join the NPT without giving up their weapons – which isn’t going to happen.


South Africa didn’t sign the NPT at the outset either, and successfully developed nuclear weapons, but later abandoned development and signed the Treaty as a “non-nuclear-weapon“ state in 1991.


No state has withdrawn from the NPT.  No non-nuclear state has acquired nuclear weapons while a signatory to it.  North Korea, which signed in 1985, is a possible exception to the latter.  Iraq also tried to develop nuclear weapons while a signatory, but was not successful.


Quid pro quo: nuclear technology

The surprise is that so many “non-nuclear-weapon” states signed the NPT in 1968 and since, given that it meant giving up the right to acquire the ultimate weapons of self-defence.  The quid pro quo was the guarantee of access to nuclear technology for non-military purposes, which is enshrined in Article IV of the Treaty (see above).


However, in order to get access, these states had to agree to their nuclear facilities being monitored by the IAEA in accordance with Article III of the Treaty.  Article III(1) says:


“Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement [a so-called Safeguards Agreement] to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agency’s safeguards system, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.


“Procedures for the safeguards required by this Article shall be followed with respect to source or special fissionable material whether it is being produced, processed or used in any principal nuclear facility or is outside any such facility. The safeguards required by this Article shall be applied on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of such State, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere.”


Note that only “non-nuclear-weapon” states are subject to such monitoring of their nuclear facilities by the IAEA.  The five “nuclear-weapon” states, which are signatories to the NPT, are free to do anything they please in their nuclear facilities, including developing new kinds of nuclear weapons, without let or hindrance from the IAEA.


And the same is true of India, Pakistan and Israel, who haven’t signed the NPT.


Shah’s plans

From as early as the late 50s, the Shah had plans for a program of nuclear research in Iran.  In the late 60s, it acquired its first nuclear reactor, a 5 Megawatt research reactor, supplied by the US as part of the Atoms for Peace program, initiated under President Eisenhower in 1953.  The reactor is still in operation.


In the 70s, the Shah announced a grand plan to generate all of Iran’s electricity by nuclear means by the turn of the century.  This was at a time when Iran was producing about 6 million barrels of oil per day, compared with about 4 million today.


The US reaction then was very different to its reaction today to Iran’s much more modest proposals to generate some electricity by nuclear means – which is to say that Iran couldn’t possibly need a nuclear power programme since it’s sitting on a sea of oil and gas and the proposals must, therefore, be a cover for developing nuclear weapons.


But in the 70s Iran was an ally of the US.  Then, Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, rushed to attempt to secure business for US companies: in 1975, he approved National Security Decision Memorandum 292, entitled U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation, which specified nuclear energy equipment worth some $6 billion to be sold to Iran by US companies.  Later, in 1976, President Ford offered to sell Iran a US-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel.


Neither of these projects came to fruition.  However, in 1975 a German consortium was contracted to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf.  Construction of this was stopped with the plant partially built in 1979, after the Iranian revolution, and the plant was damaged by Iraqi air attacks during the Iran-Iraq war.


Russia contracted

It was not until 1995 that the Russian state-controlled construction company, Atomstroyexport, was contracted to supply and install Russian reactors at the site.  These are light water reactors using slightly enriched uranium as fuel.  Russia is to supply the fuel and to take back the fuel after use, so Iran will not be able to extract plutonium from the spent fuel for weapons production.  The plant is not producing electricity yet.


This Russian project went ahead despite fierce opposition from the US, in marked contrast to its support for nuclear power generation in Iran during the Shah’s rule – and contrary to its obligations under the NPT to assist in the spread of nuclear technology.  Remember Article IV(2) of the NPT, to which the US is a signatory, says:


“Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty …”


The US objected to nuclear power generation at Bushehr ostensibly on the grounds that Iran’s nuclear activity was, at the end of the day, geared towards weapons production.  In the case of the Bushehr project, this is a bit of a stretch because (a) the IAEA was fully aware of what was going on there, and (b) there was little or no possibility of Iran acquiring weapons-grade material as a by-product, since the spent fuel was due to be returned to Russia.


Other nuclear activity

Apart from power generation at Bushehr, Iran has been engaged in other nuclear activity at various sites since the days of the Shah.  In August 2002, an Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e-Khalq, revealed the existence of two previously unknown nuclear facilities in Iran, a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water generation plant at Arak.  Their existence was later confirmed by the IAEA.  Neither of them had reached the production stage.


The fact that Iran had embarked on these nuclear activities does not necessarily mean that it had decided to develop nuclear weapons.  Both activities may be geared towards power generation.  Heavy water, that is, deuterium oxide, is used as a neutron moderator in so-called “heavy water” reactors, which use natural uranium as fuel.  Enriched uranium is necessary as fuel for some types of reactor and, since Iran has a plentiful domestic supply of uranium ore, it is understandable that it wants to develop the means to process it into suitable reactor fuel, so that it would be self-sufficient in such fuel, rather than having to rely on, for example, Russia.


[Uranium enrichment involves increasing the proportion of the isotope U235 (about 0.7% in natural uranium) at the expense of U238.  Different designs of nuclear reactor use fuel containing natural uranium, uranium at low levels of enrichment (less than 20% U235, but typically 3-5%), or even high enriched uranium (20% U235 or more). However, the same enrichment technology can also be used to produce “weapons grade” high enriched uranium (generally with a U235 content of over 90%).]


Not known to IAEA

Neither the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz nor the heavy water generation plant at Arak were known to the IAEA.  But, as far as I can see from IAEA documents, under the original Safeguards Agreement between the IAEA and Iran, there was no requirement for Iran to report their existence to the IAEA.


This is certainly true in the case of the heavy water plant at Arak, as the IAEA’s Director General, Mohammed El Baradei, made clear in his report to the IAEA Board of Governors on 6 June 2003.  In a footnote on page 2, he writes:


“Heavy water production facilities are not nuclear facilities under comprehensive NPT safeguards agreements, and are thus not required to be declared to the Agency thereunder.”


The key point, here, is that under the original Safeguards Agreement, states are obliged to report the acquisition and processing of nuclear material, but are not obliged to declare all nuclear facilities or equipment per se to the IAEA.  A state is only required to declare its nuclear facilities and their designs to the IAEA 180 days before introducing nuclear material into them.  Furthermore, a state may import nuclear-related equipment, as Iran seems to have done from Pakistan, without reporting it to the IAEA.


The IAEA Board of Governors issued a directive in 1992 urging members to amend their Safeguards Agreements to include an obligation to declare facilities when a decision is made to build them, but several states, including Iran, did not do so immediately.  Iran agreed to it in February 2003, but before then Iran’s nuclear activities did not fall under its purview.  Iran has now signed a so-called Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, which requires it to declare a wider range of activities and to give the IAEA greater access.


Having said that, the IAEA found that Iran had failed to report a numbers of matters, which it should have done under the original Safeguards Agreement (see, for example, El Baradei’s report to the IAEA Board of Governors on 6 June 2003, page 7).  These were concerned with the importation and subsequent processing of small quantities of natural uranium.


From February 2003 onwards, Iran’s nuclear activities have been under intense scrutiny by the IAEA, as a host of reports from El Baradei to the IAEA Board testify (see here).  The IAEA have not found any evidence of weapons development, and at the time of writing the IAEA seems to be, broadly speaking, satisfied with Iran’s account of its nuclear activities as being geared towards power generation.


There is an outstanding question about particles of enriched uranium found by the IAEA at various locations in Iran.  However, it looks as if the IAEA is about to accept Iran’s explanation that these particles came with equipment imported from Pakistan, and were not the products of an indigenous enrichment program.


US threatens, E3 negotiates

Since Iran’s uranium enrichment plans came to light in August 2002, the US (and Israel) have been threatening military action to force Iran to abandon these plans, and perhaps all nuclear activity.  This is contrary to US obligations under the NPT to assist states with civil nuclear programs (and contrary to its obligations under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”).


However, for now, the US has allowed the UK, France and Germany – the so-called E3 – to seek to persuade Iran to abandon uranium enrichment, and the civil nuclear programmes depending on it, without the necessity for military action.  To this end, the Foreign Ministers of the E3 visited Tehran on 21 October 2003, and persuaded Iran to agree “voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA”, to quote from their joint statement.  The statement also says that the Foreign Ministers had informed Iran that:


“Their Governments recognize the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the NPT.”


Over the following year or so, there was argument about precisely what activities were to be suspended.  However, the E3 and Iran made a further agreement in Paris on 15 November 2004, which spelt out the activities to be suspended and this was implemented to everybody’s satisfaction shortly afterwards.


(To be precise, this agreement is described as being between Iran and “the Governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, with the support of the High Representative of the European Union (E3/EU)”, but not the EU as such.  The present High Representative, responsible for the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, is Javier Solana.  This appears to be an attempt to throw the EU’s weight behind the negotiations without going through the proper EU processes, whereby the EU presidency plus Solana would handle the negotiations and there would have to be unanimity between the 25 EU states.)


The agreement stated:


“The E3/EU recognise Iran’s rights under the NPT exercised in conformity with its obligations under the Treaty, without discrimination. …


“The E3/EU recognize that this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation. …


In the context of this suspension, the E3/EU and Iran have agreed to begin negotiations, with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on long term arrangements.”


In other words, the agreement appeared to recognise Iran’s right under the NPT to engage in nuclear activities for civil purposes and that the enrichment activity it agreed to suspend was allowed within the NPT.  Apparently, and quite reasonably, Iran thought the suspension was of a temporary nature pending a long-term agreement.


E3/EU proposals

On 5 August 2005, the E3/EU made proposals to Iran for a long-term agreement.  The proposals are 59 paragraphs (and 31 pages) long, but there is only one sentence that matters.  It is:


“As Iran will have an assured supply of fuel over the coming years, it will be able to provide the confidence needed by making a binding commitment not to pursue fuel cycle activities other than the construction and operation of light water power and research reactors.” (paragraph 34)


In other words, Iran must agree to suspend its uranium enrichment activities permanently, and to build and operate light water reactors only, with enriched uranium fuel for them supplied from outside Iran.  The latter is made plain in paragraph 36(d), which says that Iran must undertake to:


“ … agree arrangements for the supply of fresh fuel from outside Iran and commit to returning all spent fuel elements of Iranian reactors to the original supplier immediately after the minimum cooling down period necessary for transportation.”


So, any nuclear power generation in Iran would be dependent on a supply of fuel from outside, which could be cut off at any time, even though Iran has a plentiful domestic supply of uranium ore.  Having experienced the, albeit unsuccessful, efforts of the US to prevent Russia from building and fuelling the Bushehr power station, Iran would be daft to rely on an outside supplier of fuel for any significant amount of nuclear power generation.


In addition, paragraph 37 of the proposals stated:


“… the E3/EU would also expect Iran to stop construction of its Heavy Water Research Reactor at Arak


It was hardly surprising that Iran rejected these proposals out of hand (see 2-page response here), and took steps to restart its uranium enrichment process.


IAEA resolution

The E3/EU responded by calling an emergency meeting of the IAEA Board on 11 August 2005.  The Board passed a resolution urging


Iran to re-establish full suspension of all enrichment related activities …on the same voluntary, non-legally binding basis as requested in previous Board resolutions”


and ordering Director General El Baradei


to provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement and this resolution by 3 September 2005”.


However, there was no enthusiasm on the IAEA Board even for this rather mild resolution.  According to a Guardian report of 12 August 2005, 15 out of the 35 the members of the Board, including India, South Africa, Brazil and Malaysia, voted against.


[Since this was written, I have discovered that it is not strictly accurate.  The Guardian report said that “the EU formula, however, was opposed by the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, and met stiff opposition from 15 members of the 35-strong IAEA board”.  Stiff opposition there may have been, but no votes were actually cast against and, as is usual in the IAEA Board, the resolution was passed by consensus.]


All five “nuclear-weapon” states are members of the IAEA Board automatically, but the other 30 members are necessarily “non-nuclear-weapon” states, most of whom have an interest in maintaining the principle that they have “an inalienable right” to nuclear technology.  The Guardian report says that the 15 states who voted against “fear that the restrictions imposed on Iran could eventually be applied to their countries”, which makes sense.


(Note that a state doesn’t have to be a signatory to the NPT in order to be an IAEA member, or an IAEA Board member: Israel, India and Pakistan are all IAEA members, and India and Pakistan are on its Board.)


Taking Iran to the Security Council

From time to time over the past couple of years, it has been reported that the US is fed up the protracted negotiations being conducted with Iran by the E3 and the IAEA.  The US, it is said, wants to take the matter to the UN Security Council, presumably to attempt to have universal economic sanctions applied to Iran.  The US has applied its own economic sanctions to Iran since 1979, and has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since then.


The IAEA Statute provides for matters to be referred to the Security Council.  Article III B(4) says:


“… if in connection with the activities of the Agency there should arise questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, the Agency shall notify the Security Council …”


and Article XII C says:


“The Board shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations.”


According to the Guardian report of 12 August 2005, “European diplomats admit that they cannot muster the necessary support [18 votes] to take the dispute to New York”, that is, to the Security Council.


This is not surprising.  Since Iran is not breaking the NPT and is, broadly speaking, fulfilling its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, there don’t appear to be any grounds for reporting the matter to the Security Council.  It is unlikely that “non-nuclear-weapon” states would want to set a precedent by voting to indict a party that wasn’t breaking any rules.


If the matter was referred to the Security Council, or was brought to the Security Council by the US directly, it is not clear that the US would get its way.  It is impossible to believe that China would tolerate the imposition of economic sanctions that would prevent it buying oil from Iran, which is its largest supplier.


NPT extended indefinitely

Article X(2) of the NPT states:


“Twenty-five years after the entry into force of the Treaty, a conference shall be convened to decide whether the Treaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. This decision shall be taken by a majority of the Parties to the Treaty.”


The conference was duly convened in 1995 and it voted to continue the NPT indefinitely (see Decision 3 here).  The “non-nuclear-weapon” states voted to continue the extraordinary privileges of the five nuclear-weapon states indefinitely.


It is true that the nuclear five had to make some empty promises in order to induce them to do so.  They set out a “programme of action” for their disarmament (see Decision 2 here) and, on the proposition of the US, UK and Russia, a resolution was passed calling for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, in which they promised:


“… to exert their utmost efforts with a view to ensuring the early establishment by regional parties of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems”


The resolution doesn’t specifically name Israel as a possessor of nuclear weapons, since it has been US policy since 1970 not to comment on Israel’s nuclear weapons.


As this resolution mentions, the first Security Council resolution calling for the disarmament of Iraq (687 passed in April 1991) also had a theoretical commitment to a nuclear free zone in the Middle East – paragraph 14 of it said that its disarmament provisions “represent steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery”.


However, it is probably unrealistic to expect that, now that the US/UK has disarmed Iraq of the “weapons of mass destruction” it didn’t have, they will turn their attention to disarm Israel of the “weapons of mass destruction” it does have, and implement the NPT resolution they proposed in 1995.


More empty promises

Article VIII(3) of the NPT provides for a review conference every five years, and there was another one in 2000.  In the very long document agreed at the end of this conference, the “nuclear-weapon” states made another series of empty promises about getting rid of their nuclear weapons.  This time, they set out no less than 13 “practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement article VI of the Treaty” (page 14-15), including:


“An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties are committed under article VI.”


They also reaffirmed the importance of the 1995 resolution on a nuclear free zone in the Middle East (page 17), which for some unknown reason had not been implemented in the intervening five years.


Another review conference was scheduled for 2005.  But, in advance of it, the US made it clear that the empty promises of 1995 and 2000 were just that – empty.  One virtue of the present Bush administration, as opposed to the previous Clinton administration, is that is has a tendency to call a spade a spade.  As a result, the conference failed to agree a further series of empty promises.


The “non-nuclear-weapon” states seem to have finally got the message that the “nuclear-weapon” states haven’t the slightest intention of abandoning their nuclear weapons, and that their only interest in the NPT is to prevent the other states getting nuclear weapons.  That was the case when the NPT came into force in 1970, and it is equally true today.


And “nuclear-weapon” states have no scruple in denying nuclear technology to “non-nuclear-weapon” states in order to prevent them getting nuclear weapons, even though that runs counter to their obligations under the NPT.


Withdrawing from the NPT

If Iran had followed India and Pakistan (and Israel) and refused to sign the NPT at the outset (or had withdrawn from it since), it would have much more freedom of action now in nuclear activities, be they civil or military.  It would now be in the same position as the “nuclear-weapon states” in having complete freedom to engage in whatever nuclear activities it liked without any obligation to report any of them to the IAEA.


Article IX of the NPT allows a state to withdraw:

“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”

By any objective standard, Iran and other neighbours of Israel in the Middle East, have good grounds for withdrawal, because of the build up over the past 30 years of an Israeli nuclear arsenal directed at them.  There could hardly be a better example of “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty”, which “have jeopardized [their] supreme interests”.


If Iran withdrew now, it would be free to develop nuclear weapons without breaking any international obligations, as India and Pakistan (and Israel) have done.



David Morrison


Labour & Trade Union Review

6 September 2005