Is Iran Employing Nuclear Hedging?


The latest report of the Director-General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program released on 8 November, 2011 reveals astonishing results on the subject. Given the fact that peaceful intentions of Iranian nuclear program have not been established to the satisfaction of the international community, the above mentioned IAEA report has reinforced the suspicion associated with nuclear program of the country. Notwithstanding this, Iran has continued asserting its inalienable right to pursue peaceful nuclear program as a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It has dubbed the report as fabricated and unsubstantiated.

John Carison in his essay “Iran’s Nuclear Issue–Considerations for a Negotiated Outcome” has categorically stated that there are well-founded concerns that the Iranian enrichment and heavy water programs have a military objective–to give Iran the capability to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so”. Such anxieties get reverberated around the world and in particular, the Middle East where Israel’s nuclear capability has always cast a shadow on making the region free of Weapons of Mass Destruction(MAD). The issuance of IAEA report that has lent credence to accusation that Iran is not meeting her obligations of the NPT in which all parties pledge not to manufacture nuclear weapons.

A cursory look at some of the key articles of the NPT will be in order to highlight how Iran defends her right to advance the peaceful intentions of nuclear power program and simultaneously the concerns raised by the international community through IAEA and other relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council regarding the application of military dimensions to the country’s ongoing nuclear program.

Article II of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty prohibits its members to seek to produce nuclear material, technology etc for making atomic bombs. Article III requires all NPT members to enter into safeguards agreements with the IAEA for certifying that the nuclear programs are exclusively for peaceful purposes. Iran has been bound by such agreement which though has recently suspended the implementation of Additional Protocol of IAEA that would have obligated it to apply enhanced verification of nuclear program.

Iran started the nuclear program about two decades or so earlier perceiving existential threat from neighboring Iraq. It believes that Article IV of the NPT legitimizes its pursuit of civilian nuclear program. That article provides a general right to all members of the NPT to use nuclear energy. It also asks other scientifically-advanced members of the treaty to assist the developing members in obtaining nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Some commentators in this regard have said that Article IV does not refer to a specific technology and hence it generates a debate whether a NPT member is in conformity with the treaty provisions viewed against this right to develop nuclear power.

Whether the NPT provides the members the right to undertake enrichment or any other fuel cycle activity as claimed by Iran is not without controversy. The western countries such as the U.S. and the European Union members have not subscribed to Iran’s interpretation whereas those in the developing world are arguing that a country’s right to develop civilian nuclear programs cannot be restrained. This disagreement was reflected in May, 2010 when the NPT was reviewed in New York resulting in a diluted outcome of the five-yearly conference.

While Iran has been under UN sanctions for violating the NPT obligations and facing criticism from the global community, the new revelation from the IAEA that the country’s nuclear program cannot be given clean chit in view of possible military dimension, apprehension seems to rise that there might be more pressure for Israel to go after military pre-emption to degrade Iranian nuclear weapons program. Israel has been depicting Iran’s clandestine nuclear weaponization program as an existential threat to her and the fears are not completely unreasonable because of extremists group like Hezbollah receiving support from Iran. This radical Muslim group is bent on destroying the Jewish nation state.

Interestingly some people in the U.S. are also advocating military action against Iran to stop it from going nuclear but it is doubtful if a military option can resolve the problem. The preemptive military action may delay the development of nuclear weapons but Iran will be more determined to seek rapid acquisition of nuclear weapons against the background of the regime change imposed in Libya under the cloak of humanitarian intervention.

Nuclear program in Iran occupies the international community now though it keeps silence while bigger nations with greater strategic importance make a mockery of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. The critics have accused Iran of nuclear hedging, which means establishing a nuclear weapon break-out capability in the guise of a civilian program.

According to Ariel Levite “nuclear hedging is a national strategy of maintaining a viable option for the relatively rapid acquisition of nuclear weapons, based on an indigenous technical capacity to produce them within a relatively short time frame ranging from several weeks to a few years”.

A nuclear weapon program has three main components such as acquisition of fissile materials, weaponization into a warhead or bomb and development of suitable delivery systems. Those criticizing Iran’s nuclear program have expressed concerns over the country’s expanded enrichment capability which may enable it to manufacture nuclear weapons in a foreseeable future. Their anxiety is that Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold meaning it may enrich its large stockpiles of Low-Enriched Uranium to a level of 20% and thus continue refining to a weapons grade level later.

In 2009 working document of IAEA it has been mentioned that Iran has sufficient information o be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device based upon Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) as the fission fuel.

At a time when tension grows in the Middle East with perceived nuclearisation drive of Iran evidenced by the IAEA report on Iran’s Implementation of NPT Safeguards Agreement and rumor spreads that Iranian nuclear sites might be subjected to missile strikes similar to Syria’s and Iraq’s in 2007 and 1981 respectively, George Kennan’s caution may be worthwhile to mull over. Karim Sadjadpour quotes Late Kennan, as the greatest strategic thinker of the 20th century, who had said ”War has a momentum of its own, and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it”.

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