Re-Configuring The NPT: The Iran Issue

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 22

May 28,

The NPT: The Iran Issue




Iran issue is now reaching a flash point with a number of reports coming out of
the Bush administration of a military strike and even a possible nuclear
“bunker” bomb to “destroy” Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Even if the
nuclear scenario is discounted, the move to bring Iran under Chapter VII in the
Security Council and then legitimise unilateral military action under the fig
leaf of a UN resolution brings a sense of déjà
to the whole issue. Once again we have unsubstantiated reports of weapons
of mass destruction and ratcheting up of war hysteria on a future threat to the
“civilised world” from a nuclear-armed Iran, followed by another possible US
military misadventure in West Asia.


case against Iran is that it has installed a cascade 164 of centrifuges in
Natanz for enrichment of uranium, which opens the way for an Iranian bomb. This
is the argument that the US and the European Union has been advancing for some
time. What they do not say is that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for
their nuclear power program under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As
we shall see, under the guise of “Iran’s threat to world peace”, the US is
trying to introduce fundamental changes to the basic structure of the Non
Proliferation Treaty itself.


if we accept that Iran may have long-term plans for the production of nuclear
weapons, the number of centrifuges it has installed is too insignificant to be a
real threat. Iran needs at least 1,500-2,000 centrifuges to make enough weapons
grade uranium for a couple of bombs per year. By all accounts, they are at least
5–10 years away from such a scenario. Iran has repeatedly stated that it is
willing to give up uranium enrichment except for laboratory scale and to have
their supply of enriched uranium for the nuclear power program come out of
Russia. Instead of negotiating on this, the US is attempting – in collusion
with the Europeans – to push them to a position where they either walk out of
the NPT or state that they will go ahead with full-scale enrichment. In either
case, the US could then launch a military strike against Iran claiming future
security risks.


a la IRAQ


we look at the last three years of manufactured crisis on Iran, it will become
clear that it has little to do with the actual violations that Iran might have
committed, but to use such allegations to deny Iran of its right under NPT to
the nuclear fuel cycle. Since such a denial would be patently illegal under the
NPT, the case put before the IAEA is that Iran did not make full disclosure
earlier about its nuclear program and therefore the onus of proving that there
is no continuing clandestine program is on Iran. If they cannot prove this, they
should be denied this right.


is important to register here that what the US and its European allies are
asking Iran to prove is impossible. To prove you have done something is simple;
you can always show the evidence of what you have done. But if you are asked to
provide evidence that you have not done something, this is impossible. How do
you furnish a negative proof? What kind of proof will suffice? This is exactly
the strategy that the US adopted in Iraq too. Day in and day out, the demand was
that Iraq should disclose that it had weapons of mass destruction. Denying this
itself constituted proof that Iraq was not cooperating with the weapon
inspectors. In other words, whether in Iraq earlier or Iran now, the only proof
that will satisfy the US is proof they are guilty: they must confess to their
guilt or be bombed. The possibility of not being guilty is not an option and
only proves that they are not willing to make full disclosure. This is what lies
behind the US and its insistence that Iran must prove that it is not in
violation of NPT.


the IAEA resolution referring Iran to the Security Council, the IAEA inspectors
had unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Instead of continuing with
the inspections, which would have made more and more certain that Iran was not
hiding anything, the US and its European allies precipitated a referral to the
Security Council. The provision for such a referral is finding some evidence of
clandestine activity. IAEA chief, El Baredei, instead of presenting such
evidence, issued a report that though such evidence had not been found, Iran had
not been able to prove the impossible negative that it had disclosed everything.
This is in line with the series of reports that IAEA has produced on Iran
earlier that the IAEA is “unable to confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear
material and activities inside Iran”. On the basis of this negative finding,
the matter was referred to the Security Council, with the Indian government also
conniving with what was patently an illegal move. 


again the parallel to Iraq is striking. Contrary to the myth that the western
media has propagated, it is not Saddam who asked the weapon inspectors to leave.
The IAEA inspectors withdrew when the UK and US had decided on a prolonged
bombing campaign in Iraq and explicitly at their request. In Iran also, Iran had
agreed to stop enrichment and voluntarily accepted the much more intrusive
regime of inspections under Additional Protocol of NPT while negotiating with
the EU on the future course of its nuclear program. Iran had also made clear
that any referral to the Security Council would mean that Iran would walk out of
this self-imposed restraint regime it was accepting. It was only after being
referred to the Security Council that Iran resumed enrichment and pulled out of
the Additional Protocol obligations.


we look at what the US has done, it will become clear that its intention was
always to push Iran beyond the brink. It had no intention in a negotiated
settlement in which Iran gives up certain rights it currently has under NPT for
security guarantees as well as assured supply of enriched uranium fuel. From the
beginning, the attempt was to force Iran into a path of confrontation, after
which the US could declare, “All options including the nuclear option are on
the table”.


the agenda is obviously one of regime change in Iran, there is also another
longer term US agenda –– that the current NPT regime should itself be
reconfigured to deny a number of countries their right to the nuclear fuel




we look at the nuclear scenario of the 60’s, it will become clear why the NPT
regime had accepted that all countries would have unfettered right to peaceful
uses of nuclear energy. Negotiating that all non-nuclear weapon countries should
give up nuclear ambitions was not easy. In fact the US used its Atom for Peace
program then as enticement to get more countries to support the NPT regime. The
non-proliferation contract was simple; all countries that had yet not produced
the bomb would give it up in lieu of unfettered access to scientific knowledge,
technology and materials for the nuclear energy program. The only agreement that
they had to make was that they would not make the bomb. This is the compact that
the US and other nuclear weapons states now would like to change.


are not addressing here the other part of the compact that the nuclear weapon
states would negotiate in good faith for total nuclear disarmament. What the US
and its allies are now asking is despite their not fulfilling their part of the
nuclear bargain, the non-nuclear weapon countries should give up their right
also to the nuclear fuel cycle. Only a few countries defined as advanced
countries should have this right. To quote George Perkovitch, one of the leading
US non-proliferation ideologues, “The Non Proliferation Treaty’s vague Article
IV right “to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for
peaceful purposes” should not be interpreted to endorse additional
states’ acquiring uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities” (Yale
, March 21, 2005). This is what underlies the proposal that Iran
give up enrichment completely and rely on Russia to enrich uranium for its
nuclear power program.


US believes that it can continue to keep nuclear weapons for itself in
perpetuity, threaten other countries with pre-emptive nuclear strikes, build new
generation of nuclear weapons and then deny other countries the right to even
manufacture its own fuel. It is currently spending more than 6.5 billion dollars
for nuclear weapons –– 50 per cent more than it did on the average during
the cold war. The new generation of nuclear weapons include low-yield bunker
busters, precisely the kind of weapons being proposed to be used in Natanz.


is comparatively easy today to start manufacturing nuclear fuel. Once a country
has this capability, going the extra distance to convert this to nuclear weapons
is not a major technical challenge. Thus, it is easy for countries to build
nuclear bomb-making capability under the guise of a nuclear energy program. The
process of enrichment is same whether a country wants to make Low Enriched
Uranium (LEU) or Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). Uranium Hexaflouride Gas is
passed through a set of centrifuges in a cascade, each of which produces a
higher concentration of the fissile Uranium 235 isotope. While the power program
requires enrichment to about 3-5 per cent, the bomb program demands an
enrichment level of 90 per cent. As the number of stages that the material
undergoes in this concentration process decides the level of enrichment, once
the requisite number of centrifuges is in place, it is only a matter of time
before a country – if it wants – can acquire weapons grade fissile material.
However, running a large cascade of centrifuges is a complex operation and Iran
will take some time to master this technology, if it wants to use its enrichment
facility to develop the bomb.





strategic shift that the US wants in the NPT regime was that the earlier NPT was
a voluntary giving up of the bomb by the non-nuclear weapons countries: it was a
matter of political will. The new NPT regime contemplated would add a highly
coercive regime to it by which either the technology or the knowledge to make
the bomb would be denied to most of the countries. This also explains the far
more intrusive inspection regime that the Additional Protocols in IAEA call for,
which is now sought to be made mandatory, as also the desire to add clauses by
which NPT signatories cannot walk out of NPT. Ring fencing the fuel cycle is
another element in this new NPT scenario. In lieu of giving up the right to
enrich uranium, these countries then would get the assurance of a supply of
nuclear fuel from the same countries that have not kept their earlier promise to
introduce nuclear disarmament. Interestingly, the interlocutors in the earlier
negotiations with Iran, the E 3, consisting of France, Germany and U.K. would
all be a part of this new monopoly.


the US scheme, the nuclear weapon states plus Japan, Germany and Netherlands,
the three other countries who also have uranium enrichment facilities, would
become the new OPEC with complete monopoly of all nuclear fuel. If nuclear
energy does become more popular, and there is evidence that it is becoming more
attractive with the rise in oil prices and global warming from the greenhouse
gases produced from fossil fuel, then these countries could dictate to the rest
of the world their price for nuclear fuel. This has already made even countries
such as Brazil and South Africa, who have given up nuclear weapons, quite
uncomfortable, a discomfort that India also should share if it were not so
enamoured of a strategic alliance with the US. 


problem with such a duplicitous policy is that not only is it immoral – you
cannot tell the rest of the world to give up nuclear weapons while keeping them
for yourself – but also it is foredoomed to failure. Year by year, the
technology of producing centrifuges and other supportive technologies are
becoming easier and more accessible. As the technologies become easier to
acquire and their costs also drop, ring fencing the nuclear fuel cycle, as a
part of a new NPT regime is unlikely to succeed.


unfortunate part of the current Iran crisis is that IAEA and the UN are
implicitly accepting elements of the new NPT scenario as legitimate objectives
even if they are not in the NPT. The Iran case can then be used as the new
international standard by which all non-nuclear weapon countries would be held
to in the future. This is why most of the non-aligned countries in the IAEA have
opposed the attempt to deny Iran the nuclear fuel cycle, with India proving the
dishonourable exception.


problem with a preoccupation with the non-proliferation agenda is that it does
not address the reason why non-nuclear weapon states are attracted to nuclear
weapons in the first place. If Israel has a monopoly of nuclear weapons in West
Asia and the US demands the right to use nuclear weapons in “preventive”
wars even against countries that do not have nuclear weapons, it should not
surprise any one that nuclear weapons start to look more and more attractive.
With the enormous superiority in conventional arms resting with the US and its
ability to punch through conventional defences in any future conflict, weaker
countries also look to nuclear weapons as “equalisers”. We may condemn them
for doing so, but cannot deny that it is a response to what they perceive as
threats of war. Condemning them is not enough; we need also to address their
legitimate security concerns.


attempt to impose a long-term non-proliferation regime on others without the
nuclear powers disarming themselves is unlikely to hold indefinitely. It is a
matter of time before nuclear weapons technology will be within the reach of any
nation willing to go this route. Armed interventions by the US, local bullyboys
such as Israel will only help to tip the world into the hot bed of nuclear
weapons and make this world an infinitely more dangerous place.




recent revelations coming out of Washington makes it clear that there are plans
being made of a possible military strike against Iran. Such a military strike is
unlikely to be a one-of affair as was Israel’s strike on the Iraq’s Osirak
plant. A simple war game would show that such a strike must be followed up by
continuous aerial bombardment of the type we saw in Yugoslavia and a complete
destruction of Iran’s industrial and military capabilities. Otherwise, Iran
could inflict heavy damage to the US interests in West Asia and on Israel.


the sane, this is a horrifying scenario. The world is already dealing with the
collapse of Iraq as a country, a major humanitarian disaster, along with the
loss of oil that it used to supply to the world economy. An attack on Iran could
conceivably lead to Iran blocking the straits of Hormuz through which 70 per
cent of world’s oil passes. At the very least, it will mean Iran’s supply
dwindling for the foreseeable future and oil prices climbing well beyond $100
per barrel. The global economy, already on a knife-edge, could go into a
catastrophic tailspin causing untold miseries to the people all over the world.
In all such economic downturn, as so often happens, the poorer countries and the
global poor would be hit the hardest.


record on the Iran issue has been one of hypocrisy and subservience to the US.
Already, the Indian government is visibly dragging its feet over the Iran
pipeline, while jumping on to the US initiative over a new pipeline through
Afghanistan. The Indo-US nuclear deal also seeks to tie India permanently to the
US strategic interests. There is real threat that if there are military strikes
on Iran, the Indian government will be seen to be complicit in such an attack,
with long-term consequences for India. Even now it is not too late. India must
join other non-aligned countries to stop this madness of military action that
the US is contemplating. It must intervene positively so that Iran’s slide
towards nuclear weapons is stopped as well as its rights to security and the
nuclear fuel cycle retained. It is not only a moral necessity but in our
national interest that such a confrontation and possible military action are