After the Iran deal, who's next for nuclear disarmament?
The nuclear deal between Iran and the US is rightly hailed as a historic development – a vindication of the diplomatic path and a step away from the war that has been mooted against Iran for a decade. Taken together with the recent IAEA agreement with Iran, it will, as Barack Obama puts it, "cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb".
No doubt the agreement will be held up as evidence of Obama's much-trumpeted commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world. And of course, non-proliferation initiatives like this are an essential part of that process. But it seems a touch unbalanced to have so much concern about nuclear bombs that do not yet exist, and so little apparent concern for the thousands of nuclear bombs that already do. Israel's nuclear arsenal is an obvious example of this because of its status as the only country in the Middle East actually with nuclear weapons. But all the permanent members of the UN security council that were in the negotiations with Iran have their own nuclear arsenals, and all of them – including our own government – have plans to modernise them. Is the irony lost on them?
Of course the argument runs that these are responsible states that are entitled to have nuclear weapons and Iran is irresponsible, so different criteria apply. But if you look at international law – and the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of states to this question – that approach is absolutely out of line.
Since 1970, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – to which we, the US, Russia, China and France are signatories – has required that the countries without nuclear weapons shouldn't acquire them. In exchange, the countries that do have them will disarm. That too is a nuclear deal. But it is one that the nuclear weapons states have ignored for more than 40 years. They are eager to police aspirational states – and rightly so – but are completely at odds with international law themselves.
Change is afoot. While the global spotlight has been on the Iran talks, a quiet revolution has been taking place internationally. The non-nuclear weapons states are now rejecting their previous supplicant status, which relied on begging the nuclear "haves" to comply with the NPT.
Recent discussions on peace and disarmament at the UN First Committeehave shown a groundswell of support for international initiatives towards a global ban on nuclear weapons. Yet Britain and other nuclear weapons states have stood aside from recent state-level discussions about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use that may well feed into a global ban process. These developments need to be brought home. Britain's parties of government all subscribe to the idea of multilateral disarmament, yet do precious little about it.
If they stand aside and refuse to at least consider any viable international disarmament initiatives, then what many fear about the current nuclear deal will turn out to be true. Those that have brought Iran to the negotiating table are not actually interested in ending nuclear proliferation and promoting disarmament. They just don't want additional "enemy" members of the nuclear club.
Source: The GuardianSAT 30 NOVEMBER | 10AM - 5PM | EMMANUEL CENTRE | LONDON |