Today's date:
Spring 2006

US Should Give Iran a Security Guarantee

Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations arms inspector on Iraq and a former Swedish foreign minister, was director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1981 to 1987. He spoke with NPQ in early March from his home in Stockholm.

NPQ | Many critics, including in the United States Congress, argue that the recent nuclear deal between the US and India rewards India for developing nuclear weapons and will encourage other states, notably Iran, to do the same, thus undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Do you agree with the critics?

Hans Blix | There are several aspects to the US-India deal: the non-proliferation aspect, the environmental aspect and the energy security aspect.

Some critics say that this deal actually violates Article 4 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is going a bit far. That treaty says that the parties to the NPT shall facilitate and stimulate trade and technology transfer among each other. It does not prohibit the trade or exchange of peaceful nuclear technology with non parties.

However, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is an informal organization to which the US belongs, prohibits exports of technology to any states not a party to the NPT. For this India deal to work, the US will have to go to the NSG to change that.

That rule was adopted in the NSG in order to induce states such as Israel, India and Pakistan to give up their nuclear weapons status or deter others from seeking nuclear weapons. In return, they would have access to the most advanced civilian technology.

Well, it has been clear for many years that India, Pakistan and Israel would not “walk back” from their nuclear status. In this circumstance, the NSG rule has become a punishment instead of an inducement. So, the question, then, is whether anything can be gained from getting away from this rule in terms of keeping the lid on proliferation. The answer to that is yes.

Now, the US motive in making this deal with India may well have been to forge an anti-Chinese alliance. I understand that, but I do not sympathize with it. This builds up more conflict in the world.

But, it is true that India, with a billion people, can reduce the pressure for oil and gas consumption by expanding its nuclear industry. That is good for India’s energy security, and it is good for the environment because it will help stem global warming. These are the positive aspects of the deal.

At the same time, if this deal facilitates Indian capacity to build more weapons because it allows the export of fuel to Indian reactors, that would be very disturbing. If India were to increase the number of its bombs, then so would Pakistan and the Chinese. Then we have an arms race.

NPQ | How can the positive environmental and energy security aspects of the deal be made to work while at the same time curbing the production of more Indian weapons?

Blix | That can be done by seeking an international agreement that would “cut off” production of fissionable material for weapons purposes. In other words, a country can continue to produce highly enriched uranium for power plants or to fuel submarines, but not for weapons purposes.

This idea has been in discussion for a long time. It hasn’t gone anywhere because the US says it would be impossible to verify. But the US is alone in that. If you had such an agreement among India, Pakistan, China, the US, Great Britain, France and Israel, then an arms race could be prevented. At the present time, in fact, the US does not produce more fissile material for weapons. Neither does the UK. Nor do the Russians. We don’t know about the Chinese. This complement to the US-India deal would greatly supplement its other positive aspects.

NPQ | Even before this deal, Iran railed against the “nuclear apartheid” that would deny it a bomb, or even the ability to enrich uranium, but not others trusted by the US. India used to argue the same thing before it went nuclear. Especially in light of the Indian deal, doesn’t Iran have a case?

Blix | Well, that is a moral argument, not a legal one, of course. India never joined the NPT. Iran, at least for now, says it will stay with the treaty and accept inspections.

It is desirable to induce Iranians to refrain from enrichment activities because it would increase the tension in the Middle East. However, I have to admit, as a lawyer, that the NPT allows enrichment for peaceful purposes. The Iranians point to Brazil and Japan: They are also part of the NPT and they do enrich uranium. No one suspects them of seeking weapons. Of course, Iran’s peaceful intent has been challenged, but nothing has been proven otherwise.

In the end, if we want Iran not to go down the path of nuclear weapons, we have to ask why it would want such weapons and remove that reason. No one discusses security in this current debate over Iran. But there are 130,000 US troops in Iraq next door. And there are US bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan and other surrounding neighbors.

Then the US says “all options are on the table” and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton is saying the US will make it very painful if Iran does not toe the line. Actually, the October 2004 agreement in London between the Western countries and Iran included a passage about a working group on security. But it never met. What I’m saying is that the way to induce Iran to forgo weapons is with a guarantee of its security.

I’d also add that it is better to negotiate with Iran at the IAEA in Vienna instead of at the Security Council in New York. In New York, the Iranians will feel they are negotiating under a threat, which will make it harder for them to make a deal. We talk with the North Koreans in Beijing. No one seems to care that it is not in New York. Why do we have to negotiate with Iran in New York?

NPQ | The US insists Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb just as it insisted Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Is the US suspicion credible?

Blix | I don’t know Iran’s intentions. There is circumstantial evidence, as there was in Iraq. Of course, the more you look at it, the more you are capable of making judgments about the circumstances. But also, as in Iraq, you can’t prove a negative. I’m amazed that the US is demanding that the IAEA “prove” Iran has no intention to make a bomb. You can’t!