While the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is facing many challenges, Iran's nuclear dossier and its eventual outcome may have a strong impact on the trends in nuclear non-proliferation and the future of the NPT -- the only existing international treaty for nuclear non-proliferation. In this article, the effect of Iran’s nuclear case on the NPT will be explored in three different possible scenarios: the "North Korea Model,” the “Libya Model," and the "Japan Model."

The NPT Facing New Problems

The NPT's main inherent flaws -- manifested in its biased approach toward nuclear and non-nuclear member states as a fair international system governing the nuclear non-proliferation order. The dramatic changes in the international environment, especially since the end of the Cold War, requires substantial changes in the Treaty. It is rightly observed by SIPRI that 'Treaties can never enforce and have never enforced themselves. Their aims typically need to be implemented through state and non-state actions at a number of levels, and they need to be safeguarded by continuing, active incentives and disincentives which reflect something more than the merits of the treaty itself.'1

There have been numerous concerns about the performance of the NPT in the past:

-Although the Cold War is over, there are 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, many of which remain on trigger alert. These could go off by accident, as a result of human error, or through unauthorized use, killing millions.

-Despite the US-Russian Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT, or the Moscow Treaty) of May 2002, which called for the reduction of the two leading nuclear-weapon states' arsenals to 2,200 each by 2012, the agreement does not carry the effect of an arms-control treaty that is irreversible and verifiable.

-Despite the existence of the NPT, there are now nine nuclear weapon states, after Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea joined the so-called nuclear club.

-The nuclear weapons’ states, such as the United States, are adopting new doctrines that support proliferation. They are planning new nuclear weapons. Nowadays, in conjunction with new nuclear doctrines of nuclear weapons’ states, nuclear weapons are becoming a tool of fighting wars rather than a tool of deterrence, as they were before.

-Another major development affecting the NPT since the early 1970s and the first oil shock is a growing interest and demand for nuclear energy. Nuclear power has now become a reliable alternative to the technologies based on fossil fuels that damage the climate.2

For many years, there have been complaints about an arrangement that allows five countries to possess the most powerful weapons while banning all others from acquiring them. Such unequal treatment was deemed inevitable during the Cold War, but it has been much harder to put up with since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor is there any binding rule on the five from manufacturing new types of weapons, although that would be contrary to the spirit of Article VI of the NPT. To some, non-proliferation is a Cold War concept that makes no sense now that the Cold War is over. They believe that nuclear proliferation should not be condemned if the countries involved are allies of the West.3 That approach is especially noticeable in the US policy toward Iran's nuclear program, which has consequently seriously damaged the very delicate balance struck when the NPT was written between the so-called nuclear "Haves and Have-Nots.” If that policy succeeds, it would certainly raise questions among many non-nuclear members of the NPT about the merits of remaining in the NPT, while the original incentive -- access to peaceful nuclear technology -- is going to be taken away or denied to them.

Unfortunately, the first Review Conference of the NPT after the collapse of the bi-polar world system in 1995 failed to seize the opportunity to rectify the Treaty’s shortcomings and to make necessary adjustments. As a consequence, India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998. The lenience shown later to India and Pakistan were considered a further step in the weakening of non-proliferation policy and the only existing nuclear non-proliferation regime, enshrined in the NPT.

Thus, despite all its achievements that have been praised over the past 36 years, it is widely perceived that the NPT is in trouble and faces a crisis. For instance, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nobel peace-prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, has said "The present system for preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is at an end is bankrupt."4

It seems that one of the main issues that has damaged the credibility of the NPT in the past is the application of double standards by some established nuclear powers such as the US and Britain. In considering the case of Iran's nuclear program, the contrast is striking when (when nuclear nonproliferation policies are not applied to the nuclear drives of Israel or India) While Beijing has been formally silent on the recent India–US nuclear deal, the official Chinese media sharply criticized Washington for that deal. The People’s Daily said last November that if the United States makes a “nuclear exception” for India, other powers could do the same with their own friends and weaken the global non-proliferation regime. At this juncture, while Iran's nuclear program has come to the world's attention, the approach and outcome of this dossier may have a major impact on the credibility and the future of the NPT. It is therefore important to explore the 3 effects of different possible scenarios for Iran's nuclear dossier and to find its possible impacts on the future of the NPT.

When in 2003 Iran's nuclear program was criticized, mainly by the same nuclear powers that in the past have infringed upon the principles and the spirit of the NPT, Iran stepped forward to show its commitments to the NPT, and with a spirit of cooperation indulged in negotiations with Britain, Germany and France. In the course of those negotiations, Iran accepted certain voluntary measures that went far beyond its commitments and obligations under the NPT and its additional protocol as well as its Safeguard Agreement with the IAEA.

The joint British, French and German initiative was to create a kind of informal model unlike what was seen in North Korea, and to that end trade and financial components were devised to lure Iran away from enrichment toward light water nuclear systems. The EU3 sought to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table by offering economic incentives in the form of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in exchange for compliance with the IAEA, and a new deal emerged in November 2004. Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and the EU's External Relations Council Conclusions on 24 November welcomed the suspension of enrichment processes and reaffirmed that negotiations for a TCA would resume after IAEA verifications.

In August 2005, Tehran resumed uranium conversion work, a precursor to enrichment, because of a lack of cooperation by the EU3, which was coming increasingly under US influence and accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons secretly, although it did not introduce any convincing evidence. In that strategy, the US stayed in the background with the threat of force if progress was not made. As the situation stands today, three scenarios could be envisaged with regard to Iran's nuclear dossier. Each of those scenarios will obviously have different outcomes, not only for Iran and other concerned parties, but also for the NPT. To simplify the issue, we shall consider Iran's nuclear dossier under three models of behavior: the North Korean model, the Libyan model and the Japanese model.

North Korea Model

North Korea first announced its withdrawal from the NPT on March 12, 1993 but later backtracked. On January 10, 2003, North Korea issued a statement announcing, "The DPRK government declares an automatic and immediate effectuation of its withdrawal from the NPT" and "is totally free from the binding force of the Safeguards Accord with the IAEA." North Korea attributed its action to its belief that the International Atomic Energy Agency "is used as a tool for executing the US hostile policy towards the DPRK."5

Some experts believed that withdrawal from the NPT by Pyongyang was intended to improve its negotiating leverage by heightening the precarious atmosphere crisis atmosphere on the Korean peninsula, with the aim of engaging the United States to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear crisis on a bilateral basis and to obtain meaningful security guarantees from Washington. Despite that demand, negotiations on  North Korea's nuclear program have taken place in a six- party forum, which includes China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United Statse.

On 9 February 2005 (see note about formatting dates above), North Korea announced that it possessed nuclear weapons and would "increase its nuclear arsenal to defend the ideas, system, freedom and democracy that were chosen by the North Korean people.” North Korea said it required a nuclear deterrent because of the hostile policies of the United States. The United States was quick to dispel the prospects of military action against North Korea. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 10 February 2005 (see note on dates): "The North Koreans have no reason to believe that anyone wants to attack them. The president of the United States said in South Korea, that the United States has no intention to attack North Korea.”

With that precedent and some existing similarities such as Washington’s manipulative approach to Iran's dossier at the IAEA, some experts suggest that should negotiations with the European Union and the United Nations fail, Iran would follow a "North Korea model". 6

Others who believe that Iran might follow the “North Korea model" use a different logic. They say one of the reasons the United States went into Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power but has treated North Korea differently is that North Korea has a bomb. They assert that Iran, which is facing similar threats from Americans, would be compelled to follow that model. 7

Libya Model

In 2003, Libya abandoned its nuclear program and allowed (all materials related to uranium enrichment?) to be boxed up and carted out of the country. Meanwhile, the Libyan policy to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs was extensively used by Bush administration to justify the Iraq invasion, which was carried out with the supposed intention of eradicating the threat of weapons of mass destruction and to rationalize its foreign policy on countries like Iran and North Korea. Flynt Leverett, a scholar at the American think-tank Brookings Institute who worked for the Bush Administration until early 2001, strongly criticizes the current foreign policy of the United States. He says that "by linking shifts in Libya's behavior to the Iraq war, the president misrepresents the real lesson of the Libyan case." Leverett, who personally participated in the negotiations between Libya and the United States while working at the US State Department during the early stages of the Bush Administration, emphasized in an opinion piece he contributed to New York Times on January 23, 2001 that "the roots of recent progress with Libya go back not to the eve of the Iraq war, but to the Bush administration's first year in office. Indeed, to be fair, some credit should even be given to the second Clinton administration.”

Thus, Libya's policy towards the United States had already changed prior to the US invasion of Iraq. The United States and Libya had started building up trust through the process of negotiations by mutually fulfilling promises made to each other since the late 1990s. However, the Libyan model of nuclear disarmament cannot be applied to a country like Iran, which enjoys quite a different regional stature than Libya. Also, unlike Libya, a deep sense of mistrust prevails in the Iran–US relationship. Astonishingly, regardless of those facts, some officials in the United States are still under the illusion that the manipulative role the United States played in certain countries such as Iraq or Libya will work the same way on Iran.

Japan Model

Japan's nuclear standard offers an ideal model for a civilian nuclear fuel cycle program in a Non-Nuclear-Weapon State (NNWS). Japan has proved that non-proliferation norms are compatible with a civilian nuclear fuel cycle and that a full-scope nuclear fuel cycle program with excellent compliance with nonproliferation norms can be achieved. In fact, Japan started its implementation of the Integrated Safeguards since 15 September 2004, as the first NNWS with a full-scale nuclear fuel cycle.8 Implementation of the Integrated Safeguards is now considered proof of the success of the original objectives of the NPT regime. Some experts believe that this model could constitute the basis for a new “Nonproliferation Culture.”

According to some observers, Iran is following the “Japan model” in its pursuit of its nuclear program. This postulation is perhaps derived not only from deep desires in Iran to adopt a Japan model for its economic and technological development programs, but also as an appropriate model best suited to address the needs of its nuclear program in full compliance with the NPT. Besides that, both Japan and Iran are victims of weapons of mass destruction, and therefore they are avowedly opposed to these abhorrent weapons. Iran considers itself a faithful member of the NPT and sees itself as Japan and other members of the NPT who are entitled to acquire the technology needed for the peaceful production of nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants.


While the NPT is facing many new challenges, and according to some experts it is in a state of a crisis or perhaps on the verge of it, Iran's nuclear program has come under the focus of international attention. No matter what direction Iran's nuclear program will take under the present international pressures, undoubtedly it will have some ramifications for the future of the NPT. (Depending on which of the three scenarios that might develop in relation to Iran’s nuclear dossier, there could be various consequences.)

The probability of the adoption of the "North Korea Model" by Iran is rather slim because Iran has repeatedly insisted on its commitments to the NPT. However, in a very drastic situation such as a military attack against Iran, the possibility of Iran following the “North Korea Model” cannot be completely ruled out. If this happens, it would have the most unfavorable impact on the NPT, encouraging more withdrawals (by other member states), perhaps even leading to its practical abolition.

The "Libya model,” although greatly favored and pursued vigorously by the Bush Administration, has a very bleak chance of being applied to Iran because the 6 country has already succeeded developing an indigenous nuclear capability.

However, if this model by any chance could be imposed on Iran, it would amount to a serious setback for the NPT and would deal a great blow to the rights of Non-Nuclear-Weapon States enshrined in the Article lV of the Treaty.

The final scenario could take shape based on the "Japan Model.” It seems that this model not only suits Iran's nuclear program but it could also serve as a new model in the non-proliferation regime that can address many new challenges and demands of the future in the field of nuclear energy.