Eight Ways You're Wrong About Iran's Nuclear Program

"Let's examine some of the current false Iran nuclear memes before we’re led down the yellow-cake road again."

Even now, after the interim agreement with Iran has been signed, elite US analysts and commentators are yawning at the prospect of an Iranian bomb and actually urging a lackadaisical approach to negotiations with Iran. For example, Mitchell Reiss and Ray Takeyh argue that "to succeed in nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Western powers should be mindful...[that] Iran needs an agreement more than the United States does...There is no reason for Washington to seem more eager than Tehran to reach an agreement..." Yes, if one chooses to dismiss the issue of an alleged nuclear weapons capability in Iran, then indeed the advice of such commentators may be worth heeding. But one needs to decide: is the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons capability a serious issue or not? If not, then why place such draconian sanctions on Iranian civilians to begin with? The sanctions are causing tremendous harm to the weakest civilians in Iranian society while enriching the Revolutionary Guards who profit from sanctions-busting. If, as these commentators suggest, the West does not need a deal urgently they cannot simultaneously pretend that the issue is important enough to launch military action.

If stopping an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons capability is worth going to war, it's certainly worth taking the issue seriously and undertaking serious sanctions relief.

Meme 4: “ The P5+1 is extra-tough on Iran because Iran signed the NPT, whereas other nations like Pakistan, India, and Israel did not, and so it's okay to tolerate nuclear weapons in the latter states and even help them with nuclear know-how and technology.”

If the P5+1 nations want to invoke the NPT to try to limit nuclear know-how in signatory states like Iran they need to at least first show a firmer hand with the nuclear-armed NPT non-signatories. For instance, because Iran is being sanctioned for its past violations of its nuclear safeguards agreements—which were somewhat gratuitously interpreted as a “threat to the peace” by the UN Security Council (UNSC)—then certainly Pakistan, India and Israel should be similarly sanctioned.

After all, the sanctions are applied to Iran only because the “trigger” of the IAEA nuclear safeguards violations raised the issue to the level of the UNSC. The only reason such triggers have not gone off for India, Pakistan and Israel is that, since they are outside the framework of the NPT, their safeguards agreements are watered-down and similar triggers simply don't exist. But since these nations already have nuclear weapons and are outside the NPT they are objectively a bigger “threat to the peace” than Iran, which is an NPT signatory and has been determined by the US DNI has having no current nuclear weapons program with a “high level of confidence”. [The UNSC sanctions are applied under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Article 39, in which the Security Council can determine a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and may recommend, or decide what measures to take...to maintain or restore international peace and security.”]

Under no circumstances should nations who have signed the NPT—whether or not they are currently seen to be in good standing—be sanctioned and treated more severely than those that haven't signed on to the NPT and have nuclear weapons. Such heavy-handedness with signatory nations will undercut the desire of many nations to sign on to new arms control initiatives, like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In fact, the actions of some of the P5+1 nations, namely China and US, go against the spirit and intentions of the NPT. US and China are helping the nuclear-armed NPT non-signatory states India and Pakistan, respectively, with their civilian nuclear programs. (And before it signed the NPT in 1992, France helped Israel with its nuclear program.) But the 'firewall' between civilian and military nuclear sectors in Pakistan, India and Israel is somewhere between porous to non-existent. And, at the least, civilian nuclear assistance frees up nuclear resources—scientists and materiel much of which are dual-use—which can be applied to the military nuclear programs in these non-NPT nations. Thus the nuclear assistance given by China and the US to Pakistan and India can legitimately be seen as a violation of the NPT.

As Daniel Joyner puts it in his book, “Interpreting the NPT”: “Many NPT Non Nuclear Weapon States see this granting of nuclear technology concessions to India by an NPT Nuclear Weapon State as a positive reward for India’s decision to remain outside the NPT framework, and develop and maintain a nuclear weapons arsenal, which is the precise opposite to the incentive structure which the NPT sought to codify into international law.”

Meme 5: “Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations.”