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Perils of Proliferation By: Salim Mansur
Toronto Sun | Monday, September 18, 2006

The Islamic Republic of Iran is now at odds with the UN, having refused to comply with Security Council Resolution 1696, requiring it to meet the International Atomic Energy Agency’s demands on nuclear safeguards by Aug. 31.

How the Security Council will respond to this latest disregard of its authority is embarrassingly simple to guess.

It will no doubt plead with Iran under the leadership of Kofi Annan — in my view the most inept Secretary-General in the history of the UN — to halt work on uranium enrichment in exchange for the latest technology available in civilian use of nuclear reactors.

Five days before the Security Council deadline, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened the Arak heavy water plants on Aug. 26. Though a supply of heavy water is used in nuclear reactors producing energy for civilian consumption, heavy water reactors can be designed to turn uranium into plutonium for nuclear weaponry — eliminating the need for enriching uranium to weapons-grade level through a technically difficult process.

Hence, the vital imperative to enforce IAEA safeguards. But Iranian leaders insist on the sovereign right of their nation to pursue a nuclear program.

This argument is repeatedly made by Ahmadinejad to silence domestic critics and confound the international community. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) recently reported the Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Majlis (Assembly), Mohammad Reza Bahonar — he is also the secretary-general of the Iranian Islamic Engineers’ Association — declared that “the Iranian people may ask their government to manufacture atomic weapons,” and threatened that “Iran would respond forcefully to any violation of its sovereignty.”

But does a sovereign nation possess an inherent right, recognized by some international treaty, to acquire nuclear weapons? The answer is an unqualified NO.

In December, 1953, then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower gave a memorable speech at the UN General Assembly, now referred to as “Atom for Peace.”

It is a speech that demands being read again today. In it, Eisenhower proposed sharing nuclear secrets — the U.S. monopoly having been broken by the Soviet Union — with countries for peaceful purposes under strict international supervision, which would prohibit this knowledge being used to acquire nuclear weapons.

Eisenhower understood perhaps best, given his military profession and his wartime role as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, the perils of nuclear proliferation. His proposal came to pass in various treaty agreements, culminating in the formation of the IAEA in 1957 and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968.

The bedrock principle of these agreements is that developing nations might be assisted with nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as signatories of the NPT, provided they abide by the provisions of the IAEA. Nations who refuse to enter the NPT — as India and Pakistan — understand the risks that they might incur if their nuclear programs cause other countries to legitimately fear for their own security.

Iran as an NPT signatory is bound by its protocol. If Tehran chooses to resign from NPT, then it would indicate Iran deliberately moving in a particular direction — with the attendant risk that other countries genuinely fearing its motives might seek to pre-empt its nuclear ambitions.

We might recall here the irony of Israel pre-empting Saddam Hussein’s blatant efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

By destroying Iraq’s French-designed Osiraq nuclear reactor in June, 1981, outside of Baghdad, Israel prevented the real possibility of the Iraqi tyrant acquiring a nuclear weapon and using it against Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The destruction of Osiraq turned out to be Israel’s gift to Iran. A quarter-century later, the elimination — by any military power — of Iran’s nuclear program for acquiring nuclear weaponry will be a gift to the Iranian people and the world.

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Salim Mansur is a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.

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