Sunday, June 07, 2009

Iran's NPT Treaty Obligations

US officials, up to and including the current and former presidents of the United States often discuss Iran's, and other non-weapons states' responsiblities or obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Here's Obama in his Cairo speech:

And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The United States though, has a drastic, and probably dishonest interpretation of what these responsibilities are.

The actual treaty is fairly clear that the overarching responsibility of non-weapons treaty states is not to build or acquire a weapon or explosive device.

Article II

Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The US stretches this responsibility past "weapons" to "weapons capability" in its official policy. This policy has not been retracted by the Obama administration, though it is plainly selectively applied. Many nations, including Japan and Brazil have "weapons capability". Here the US interpretation of Article II of the NPT presented in a US statement to the IAEA:

Article II of the NPT requires the non-nuclear-weapon States not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other explosive nuclear devices. As the United States outlined in its Main Committee I statement, fulfillment of this obligation requires that non-nuclear-weapon States refrain from activities designed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Furthermore, they should provide transparency into their activities that is sufficient to demonstrate their peaceful intent, and should have in place the necessary laws and regulations to enforce their Article II obligations.
Wait a second. These other "requirements" that states refrain from activities "designed to develop a nuclear weapons capability", and that they go beyond the ratified terms of their agreements to "demonstrate peaceful intent" are just concocted out of thin air. These requirements, after being invented from scratch by creative US lawyers, are then only to be applied to Iran or other countries that attract US disapproval.

This is not an honest mistake, this brazen lying undertaken in the hope that the only people willing to examine the underlying documents are already ideologically sympathetic to the US' strategic concerns, and therefore willing to help mislead less informed parties.

Iran and parties sympathetic to Iran claim that Iran has fulfilled its NPT requirements and is not now in violation. What those parties mean is that Iran has a requirement that it not have a weapon now, and that the fissile material, Uranium, Plutonium and Thorium, in the country's possession are accounted for and are not being assembled into a weapon.

The NPT does not require that a non-weapons treaty party not build weapons at some point in the future or that such a party not have a nuclear weapons capability. In fact, the treaty explicitly indicates that treaty members can leave the treaty with three months notice after which there will be no guarantees of any continuing non-weapons status.

How the NPT works essentially is that countries give a neutral third party enough information that the party can verify that there it has no weapon today, then neighboring and rival countries can also give enough information to make the same verification, knowing that there will be at least three months notice before a country that is currently verified will be able to produce a weapon.

Israel, the US and parties sympathetic to them claim Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations. One way to make this claim is to consider UN Security Council resolutions to be NPT obligations. The Security Council resolutions are demands that Iran take what the IAEA board called "voluntary and non-legally binding confidence building measures". To the degree the Security Council is able to compel any country to take any arbitrary action, these resolutions are binding, but that does not make them NPT obligations. The Security Council has just as much authority to demand Israel ratify and implement the NPT as it does to make mandatory the voluntary measures suggested by the IAEA for Iran.

Another way to make the claim that Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations is to deliberately conflate "nuclear weapon or nuclear explosive device" with "nuclear weapons capability" as the US does officially in its presentation to the IAEA.

It is an insult to the intelligence of their audiences that US officials, in formal and informal settings, invent the idea - nowhere in any ratified text - that "nuclear capability" is the same thing as a nuclear weapon, or that refraining from having a nuclear capability is in some way a "responsibility" of non-weapons NPT states (but only ones the US does not like).

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