Iran and the 2015 NPT Review Conference: Disarmament

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

This is the second of a series of articles by the author on the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

Read the first part here.

As we draw nearer to the month-long 2015 NPT Review Conference, with rising global tensions and the ominous signs of a "new Cold War" between U.S. and Russia triggered by the Ukrainian crisis, gloomy prospects for the outcome of this conference with respect to the thorny issue of nuclear disarmament may be unavoidable. The UN machinery on disarmament has been effectively paralyzed for sometime and the world as a whole has been placed on re-armament instead of disarmament track, in light of the nuclear modernization plans of the nuclear-have nations and their doctrinal reliance on nuclear weapons that run contrary to the de-legitimation of these weapons of mass destruction, as a sine qua non for effective disarmament. 

Unfortunately, the Ukraine crisis has resulted in fresh justifications for nuclear weapons, with many pundits in the West arguing that if Ukraine had not disarmed during the 1990s, it would have been able to stand up to Russia today; in a word, we are now witnessing a re-legitimation of nuclear weapons, with countries such as France openly stating that its nuclear arsenal is for the defense of not just France but also Europe, NATO relying on its past nuclear deterrence doctrine, and the U.S. in its nuclear posture review policy clearly setting forth the rationale for an indefinite reliance on its nuclear capability for its national security. There is no longer even a talk of removing the US's 200 or so nuclear bombs in Europe and, instead, we hear of "strengthening NATO's nuclear deterrence capability" and deployment of US nukes in the territory of new NATO members in Eastern Europe.

In this unhappy juncture,Iran both as an important Middle East nation as well as the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) bears an important responsibility to continue with its anti-nuke historic mission, reflected in the edict, fatwa, of the Supreme Leader banning the manufacturing, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons. The Leader's edict serves as a timely moral and political compass for the global disarmament movement, deserving close attention by the participants at the upcoming NPT review conference. The latter must naturally ask the pertinent question of why 15 years after the adoption of the 13 practical steps on disarmament, adopted at the 2000 review conference, there is such a conspicuous lack of any tangible progress and, indeed, what can be done to remedy this (endemic) problem? The upcoming conference presents a unique opportunity for the non-nuclear weapon states such as Iran and so many other NAM nations to address their concerns emanating from the current trend of development and deployment of nuclear weapons that belie the NPT principles and the obligations toward disarmament by the nuclear-haves, only some of whom are signatories to the non-proliferation regime centered on NPT. Indeed, one of the key problems of NPT is the absence of universalization, with several nuclear-armed states operating outside the purview of the NPT and its melange of rights and obligations with respect to the three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use. As long as NPT is not universalized, any attempt, e.g., setting up a clear timeline for the fulfillment of NPT's Article VI on disarmament, is wishful thinking. Thus, the coming conference presents an opportunity for the world community to apply pressure on those non-NPT nuclear-weapon states to join and begin implementing their obligations under the NPT framework. 

Of course, this is simply one of several major hurdles facing disarmament today, another one is the failure of any major progress for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), irrespective of the 2010 review conference's final document that called for concrete steps in this direction. A clue to the problems facing the CTBT, reports from Moscow indicate that it plans to test the "Next Generation" 100 ton nuclear missile in 2015, which will likely exacerbate the east-west tensions, in light of the current US's complaint that the Russians have already violated the treaty on the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF Treaty). Russia has already walked out of the nuclear security agreement, formed around the fear of nuclear terrorism, and in turn accuses NATO of its

Hence, with nuclear weapons becoming more rather than less relevant, it is doubly difficult to advance the lofty NAM objectives on disarmament, such as setting up new institutional arrangements with decision-making powers, de-alerting the nuclear arsenals, halting R&D and nuclear modernizations, negative security assurance, and implementing the 13 practical steps above-mentioned. With the nuclear-have powers jealously guarding their nuclear prerogatives, they are unlikely to heed the call of non-nuclear weapon states to re-frame their outlook in a new direction in line with the goals and objectives of disarmament, no matter what their rhetoric and fleeting 'speech-acts' at international forums such as the NPT review conferences. 

One important negative ramification of this new anti-disarmament global milieu is that it further distorts the present imbalance between the non-proliferation and disarmament pillars of NPT. The non-nuclear weapon states have, after all, consented to join the NPT and its historic compromises that allow an exclusive club of five nuclear-have nations with special privileges on the condition that the latter would fulfill their disarmament obligations. But, the latter have not only failed this obligation, they have also failed the other requirement of not spreading the nuclear weapons know-how and technology to other nations, particularly those suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons. This double failure is in the long-run a recipe for NPT's failure and the strengthening of proliferation tendencies around the world, as more and more nations might seek to emulate the nuclear-have nations by seeking a nuclear shield and or nuclear offensive capability. 

Notwithstanding the above-said, the world today is in dire need of a new approach toward nuclear weapons that recognizes the serious shortcomings and flaws of the current approaches, and the underlying reasons for the frustration of so many diverse efforts to achieve tangible progress in the path of nuclear disarmament. As is well-known, the various U.S.-Russia arms control agreements, including the New START, represent a poor substitute for disarmament by instead providing for nuclear stabilization without the benefit of including the tactical nuclear weapons, so many of which are deployed in Europe, and without any provision for the destruction of the idled weapons. Needless to say, accelerating the nuclear force reductions, presently slowed due to global crises, is a step forward and the less nukes the better, even though the mere retention of 1500 or 2000 strategic nukes by U.S. and Russia still pose a grave a threat to humanity. 

On the positive side, the recent initiatives focusing on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are a step forward that enhance the de-legitimation of nuclear weapons, and the coming NPT conference is valuable in terms of alerting the world community about the hazards of these weapons for humanity. Yet, such lofty efforts, including those by the "New Agenda" cluster that seeks realistic step-by-step progress on disarmament, can only succeed if there is a global consensus on the impracticality of relying on nuclear weapons as important means of national security on the part of the states possessing them. A new narrative on nuclear weapons is needed that illuminates the fundamental irrationality of this pro-nuke standpoint and the need for an alternative nuclear epistemology, a post-nuclear weltanschauung that is in tune with the human civilization's norms for survival away from the self-destructive impulse discernible in the narrow-minded national security doctrines of nuclear-have nations that rationalize their retention
and even use in conventional theater.  

In conclusion, as stated above, the religious edict by the Supreme Leader has the distinction of serving as the moral compass for a nuclear weapon-free world, which needs to be echoed by representatives of other religions, thus simultaneously providing a more robust role for world's religions in the current discussions on the future of NPT -- and humanity.

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

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*Iran and the 2015 NPT Review Conference:

*Paris Terror, the Policy Ramifications:

*Photo Credit: Nuclear Information Service

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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