Iran: The Paradigm of ' Non Weapon Nuclear States '(NWNS)

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Nasser Saghafi-Ameri
05 September 2012

For nearly a decade, the nuclear issue of Iran has turned into a dilemma by the United States, its allies, and other powers mainly due to lack of trust and misperceptions. While Iran declares its commitment to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and majority of the international community endorse its right for peaceful use of nuclear technology, the West is thriving to shed doubts on Iran's peaceful nuclear 'intentions'. It seems that the real problem surrounding Iran's nuclear program is related to other non nuclear issues such as Iran's quest for regional power status that the US and its allies are not yet ready to appreciate.

Under such conditions, it seems that a realistic approach that would treat Iran like some other forty countries that possess nuclear capability and within the framework of the 'Non Weapon Nuclear States' (NWNS) could be a way out of the present crisis leading to the attainment of the goals of the NPT and a prospective nuclear arms free world.

Mistrust and double standards

The mistrust stands at the core of the present disputes regarding Iran's nuclear program. The marathon of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program has been frequently stagnated due to the lack of trust on both sides of the negotiations. Trust, as in much of social life in general, has been a key element in the creation and existence of the NPT. There seems to be a stubborn reluctance on the part of some leading Western countries to acknowledge that Iran has indeed attained 'threshold' capacity long time ago, and that it has no plans for seeking nuclear arms. The key issue here is that there is a clear distinction in the NPT between seeking nuclear weapons, which is not allowed, and having threshold capacity that is not forbidden.


There are number of reports available including by the US intelligence community that clearly spells out that there is "no evidence" of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Indeed, if there were any evidence of diversion by Iran to nuclear weapon, there would be no doubt that the US, Israel, and the IAEA would have presented it at the United Nations Security Council. Despite this fact, the Western and especially American media are showing a persistent interest to portray Iran as a dangerous country that has decided and is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, this story has made its way into part of the belief system of the public in the West and elsewhere that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

Lacking any credible evidence for their claims, the Western partners in Iran's nuclear negotiations, resort to the dubious connotation of ' intention', thereby apparently thriving to justify their preventive measures including military threats and crippling economic sanctions. Interestingly, most experts are of the view that although Iran has attained nuclear capability, it is willing to engage in a serious negotiation that would guarantee that it would not opt for nuclear weapons. However, the problem with Iran's nuclear program seems little to do with non proliferation concerns as there are many countries that have nuclear program with nuclear weapons capability. Thus, the problem seems to lie elsewhere: lack of trust.

          The West does not trust that Iran's nuclear program, as Iran maintains, is exclusively for peaceful purposes insisting that Iran should restore the missing trust. This practically means that Iran has to capitulate and eventually cease its entire nuclear program. On the other side, a deep mistrust exists in Iran toward the US and its allies on numerous accounts, chief among them, is the West’s  intention for 'regime change', through the open-ended policy of containment, isolation and repeated military threats, not to mention cyber attacks and obnoxious terrorism against its scientific community. 

Those and other hostile measures in the past has created deep mistrust in Iran towards the hegemonic powers that helped the former Ba’ath regime in Iraq to develop its chemical weapons arsenal and armed forces, during the 1980-88 Saddam's imposed war against Iran. Indeed, it was the most unfortunate event in the history of the United Nations that under the influence of the superpowers, the UN watched and did nothing to stop or punish Saddam's Baathist regime for it heinous crimes, using chemical weapons against Iranians as well as Iraqi Kurds. During that war almost 100,000 Iranians were affected by nerve and mustard gases and nearly one in every 10 died before receiving any treatment. As of early 2012, it was estimated that about 5,000 to 6,000 Iranians were still receiving medical treatment for the painful effects of the chemical weapons. The role of some Western companies for providing material and know-how for the chemical weapons used against Iran is never forgotten in the country.

Meanwhile, Iran perceives that the harsh treatment of its nuclear file is a flagrant practice of double standards and subject of excessive politicization by the US and its allies. The case of Israel is mentioned as a vivid example that with hundreds of nuclear weapons stays out of any scrutiny, claiming that they are not bound by the rules of the NPT!  As a consequence of that appeasement policy by the West, Israel has been emboldened to openly make military threats against Iran, a member of the NPT, and to initiate another regional war with the pretext of preventing Iran from becoming nuclear.

 More alarming are the reports of infringement of the NPT by some western countries to keep Israel contended.  In a recent revelation by the German magazine Der Spiegel (June 2012), it is reported that the German government is delivering the sixth dolphin class submarines to Israel which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Apparently, in 1991, Israel blackmailed Germany into supplying Dolphin submarines with nuclear capability by threatening Germany with disclosure that Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles had German-made parts.

It is also important to note that while Israel is creating panic in the international media about Iran's nuclear program. Yet, the real concern seems not to be nuclear weapons rather about Iran's nuclear “capability” that would break Israel’s nuclear power monopoly in the region in order to retain its regional military superiority. The same approach toward Iran's nuclear program is evident in the US decision making circles, where it is stated that the expansion of the Iranian sphere of influence is a greater threat to the American regional interests than Iran's nuclear program itself.

The tenacious pressure in the form of military threats and compounding sanctions against Iran are increasingly been perceived as a price that this country is paying for its NPT membership! The great hazard is that, if this trend continues, it could send an ominous signal to Iran and other members of the NPT that to remain safe from unwarranted harassments it would be wise to stay out of this Treaty.

Saving the NPT

Concerns about the vulnerability of the NPT are very real. The main threat to the Treaty derives from different interpretation of the NPT by two groups of states, the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and the None Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The acute problem arises from the first groups' assertion to interpret the NPT selectively and to differentiate between parties in matter of compliance.


A vivid display of 'double standards' are displayed when the entire international system including the IAEA, and the UN are taken by the US and its allies to allow the friends and deny the enemies from having access to the nuclear fuel cycle. For instance, it is said that IAEA's approach toward nuclear program is tainted by the western countries influence, and that its demands for inspection of the military sites in Iran are problematic in legal terms.


Since, as agreed with the Iranian government, and according to the basic undertaking of IAEA safeguards agreements, the IAEA is not tasked in monitoring or verifying the compliance of states with their NPT legal obligations. In other words, the IAEA is given no authority to inquire into or to examine activities within Iran that are not directly related to fissile materials, even if they may possibly relate to the development of a nuclear explosive device. There are no doubts that the concept of non proliferation depends more than anything else on the nuclear weapon states in upholding the NPT, and their adherence to the norms of this Treaty regarding nuclear disarmament. In other words, the NWS should do their long due share of trust-building with regard to nuclear disarmament.


To revive the NPT, a renewed approach to the 'grand bargain' seems inevitable. From the beginning, the division of the two categories of NNWS and NWS in the NPT were not meant to be permanent, nor are they tenable forever. In 1963, when only four States had nuclear arsenals, the US government predicted that the following decade would see the emergence of 15 to 25 nuclear -weapon states. Others predicted the number would be as high as 50. Fortunately, those predictions have not come true, but if necessary changes in approaches by the NWSs are not made, the collapse of the NPT cannot be ruled out. A closer look at the scene reveals how precarious is the situation. 


There are 9 countries in the world that possess about 27,000 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the planet several times over. There are also 60 countries that operate or are constructing nuclear power or research reactors; from which according to a report by UN Secretary General's High-level Panel in 2004, at least 40 countries possess infrastructure that could provide the basis for developing nuclear weapons at relatively short notice if the legal and normative constraints of the NPT is no longer applied. This demonstrates how important is the NPT and that no effort should be spared to save this most widely accepted and successful non proliferation treaty.


The injustice displayed in selective application of the norms of the NPT is not only becoming intolerable for Iran but it has raised concerns among  the majority of 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement who believe that the nuclear fuel cycle is a non- negotiable right of the NPT member states.  Evidently, another concern among the NWS is enlargement of their exclusive 'nuclear club', albeit in a non weapon context. Because it would be a nightmare for some small nuclear powers who consider their nuclear arsenal as the only remaining tool to claim for their international standing as a 'major power'. Nonetheless, this does not prevent the recurring question for what should be done to prevent nuclear proliferation and how to save the NPT.


Perhaps the answer could be found in the paradigm of Non Weapon Nuclear States (NWNS). As mentioned above, there are at least 40 countries that are eligible to become members of this group. It is also expected that more states are to be candidate for membership in this group in the future. Once formally recognized, the NWNS would embody a group of countries that although having nuclear capability, they are committed to the NPT, and would not be swayed to nuclear weapons for any reasons such as prestige or gaining major power status.


Of course, the paradigm of NWNS is only applicable if there would be a deep commitment by the international community to preserve the three pillars of the NPT, especially the nuclear disarmament. In that spirit, the NWS would give up their nuclear arms in an agreed timeframe to join the NWNS, while any eligible state who aspires to join this group from the group of NNWS would be welcomed once they achieve the criteria of the membership in this group.