Review Conference on Non-Proliferation of
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In order to have any chance of success the negotiations did not address any of the many outstanding political differences that we have with Iran. These include their support of Hamas and Hezbollah, general antagonism towards Israel, the lack of civil liberties inside their country, and its role in the Shia-Sunni conflict. This will require some heavy diplomatic lifting that the Obama administration is already dealing with. In addition, there is a great deal of opposition in Congress which has taken on an unfortunately partisan character and which will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
It is important to step back and take a longer and more fundamental view of what should be accomplished. It is rarely acknowledged in the political commentary, but we are fortunate that Iran seems committed to be part of the NPT treaty and since the interim agreement was reached, have allowed the most intensive IAEA inspections ever conducted of their facilities and some of their uranium mines.
It is also encouraging that Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a FATWA stating that they will not develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, we should not be naive about their intentions. We know that Iran had a nuclear weapons development group and that they probably know how to quickly build a nuclear weapon once they have the required fissionable material. U.S. intelligence estimates that this effort ended in 2003. We also know that in the past they did not completely live up to their NPT inspections obligations, for which they were sanctioned many times.
For their part, Iran is angry about our cyber sabotage efforts on their enrichment centrifuge program and at Israel, who they link to the U.S., for their refusal to join the NPT, for its possession of nuclear weapons, and for assassinations of several of Iran’s nuclear scientists.
These specific nuclear issues are a small fraction of the many contentious issues between our countries, and with our close ally Israel. In my personal view, there is little doubt that Iran has worked hard to position themselves to be able to produce a nuclear weapon without taking the final step. Clearly, it is in our interest to keep them from taking this important last step. It is therefore necessary to successfully conclude the negotiations that will slow down their ability to quickly produce a nuclear weapon and allow a vigorous inspection regime. It is rarely mentioned in the debate that it is in our interest to give them sufficient incentives so that they do not want to take the final step towards making a nuclear weapon. In my view, we should not let the pursuit of the perfect deal prevent the reasonable one that now appears to be possible. As is often the case, the goal should be to minimize risk, since eliminating it is quite unlikely. The alternative to an agreement appears to be escalating conflict, possibly war, and a fractured P5 alliance on this issue, and possibly Iranian nuclear weapons in the next few years. Finally, in my judgment, even though Iran’s nuclear program has attracted intense interest, the more important nuclear arms control issues include U.S.-Russian reductions and taking our missiles out of “hair trigger” alert mode, the dangerous India- Pakistan standoff, and North Korean isolation and nuclear weapons development.
The other nuclear proliferation issue that is likely to generate extensive news coverage is the next five-year NPT review scheduled from April 28 thorough May 9, 2015 at the U.N. The NPT came into force in 1970, and currently includes 189 states. Notably absent are India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea (who withdrew) which have nuclear weapons. The bargain to establish the NPT was that the five nuclear weapons states (the P5) were grandfathered in but agreed to eliminate their nuclear weapons; Article VI that covers this does not specify a specific time scale or process. The rest of the signatories are entitled to utilize nuclear power, subject to IAEA inspections, but are not allowed to have nuclear weapons or to help others obtain them. It is anticipated that the 2015 meeting will be “stormy” (see www.armscontrol.org/act/2014_04/Rough-Seas-Ahead_Issues-for-the-2015-NPT-Review-Conference) with many of the non-aligned, non-nuclear weapons states such as Ireland, Norway, etc., demanding that the established nuclear weapons states get specific about their Article VI commitments. What is anticipated is that there will be a call to establish some concrete guideposts about nuclear weapons reductions. It is also anticipated that the nuclear weapons states will focus on the proliferation issue, particularly for Iran and North Korea. The P5 met in London and issued a bland statement on February 4 (www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/02/237273.htm) that is unlikely to satisfy the critics who want to see some tangible progress on the part of the existing nuclear powers, particularly the U.S. and Russia, making disarmament a priority, not just a distant objective.
In addition to the formal conference there are many non-governmental activities planned around the NPT review with people participating from all over the world. Our Faculty Newsletter Chair, Jonathan King, is actively working on this, serving as Chair of Massachusetts’s Peace Action’s Committee organizing for the Conference.
On this 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a large Japanese delegation is expected to show their support for eliminating nuclear weapons. Many student and university groups are expected from the U.S., including MIT and other local universities. As someone who learned so much from my older colleagues who worked on the Manhattan Project, and who has been long concerned about nuclear weapons, I hope that this attention plays a role in preventing them from ever being used again.
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