Hibbs on Iran and US Nuclear Policy

Mark Hibbs has written an excellent new piece, published over at The Hill, in which he ties together two recent developments in US nuclear policy – the Joint Action Plan agreement with Iran, and the decision to maintain a flexible approach to 123 agreements – and makes some prescriptions for US policy on that basis going forward.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

When Secretary of State John Kerry this fall stepped up negotiations on the first stage of what might become a comprehensive deal to end the Iran nuclear crisis, he cribbed the playbook of administration officials who were fine-tuning the United States’ approach to negotiating bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with its foreign partners.

In both cases, the administration grasped that an important U.S. policy objective—preventing the spread of nuclear weapons—could not be met by squeezing foreign governments to agree to terms they could and would refuse. In adjusting, the administration walked back commonly held assumptions about how much leverage Washington has to force countries to give up nuclear activities which are permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

My reaction to this piece is only to say Amen. I think Mark hits the nail on the head with his analysis, and I highly recommend it to readers.


9 Comments on “Hibbs on Iran and US Nuclear Policy”

  1. yousaf says:

    It’s a refreshing piece, but it urges band-aid solutions. The NPT is essential dead. It’s time for Mark and others to admit that.

    If any of the P5 (NWSs) nations want to use the NPT to limit nuclear know-how in Non-NWSs they need to at least first show that they treat NPT signatories better than NPT non-signatories.

  2. Johnboy says:

    Yes, an interesting article.

    I do like this backhanded acknowledgement:
    “Some protagonists in debates on Iran and broader nuclear policy insist there is no “right” to enrich. Yet, if this were self-evidently true, it would not have been a big deal for the UAE to have agreed not to undertake enrichment.”

    Indeed. The USA keeps *saying* that there is no “right to enrich”, but keeps *acting* as if there is, hence the need to strongarm other countries into signing legal agreements that amounts to the signatory surrendering that right in order to get access to the goodies.

    • yousaf says:

      The 123 agreements and the NSG cartel could be seen as a violation of the NPT.

      • Johnboy says:

        Maybe I’m wrong here, but I don’t believe the 123 agreements violate the NPT for the simple reason that there is nothing in the NPT that precludes bilateral side-deals between states.

        Or, put another way: the USA can’t force anyone to sign those 123 agreements, nor can it argue that *this* country’s signature on a 123 agreement places a legal obligation on *those* other (i.e. non-signatory) countries.

        But a 123 agreement is a legally-binding agreement between the USA and any country that is foolish enough (or timid enough, or is intimidated enough) to sign it.

        As for the NSG itself….. maybe that is different but, to be honest, I simply don’t know enough to hazard a guess.

      • yousaf says:

        The 123 deals discourage the spreading of certain peaceful dual-use nuclear know-how and make what is offered contingent on whether nations are friendly with the US whereas the NPT encourages their spread far and wide. I support discouraging the spread of nuclear know-how. I also support abolishing the NPT in favor of a better treaty that signatory nations would more sincerely believe in.

      • Cyrus says:

        The NPT requires NWS to share nuclear technology. To the extent that the 123 agreement imposes limits on that, it is a violation of the NPT.
        Discouraging the spread of nuclear-know how may be a commendable hypothetical goal, but we have to stick to realities.

      • yousaf says:

        It is also selective — no selectivity in the dispersal of nuclear know how based on friendliness is mentioned in the NPT. All NNWSs in good standing are seen as equals.

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Yes, I liked that bit too.

  3. Cyrus says:

    It should be noted that even the UAE 123 agreement applies the “no enrichment/reprocessing” Gold standard only to US-origin nuclear material, and furthermore, the agreement itself reportedly reserved the right for the UAE to renegotiate it.

    In any case, it is probably true that the very same US policy of attempting to limit enrichment/reprocessing to a few (friendly) countries, is driving others to rush and join this particular “have” group:
    “Driving this process, in part, is the perception that all countries will soon be divided into uranium enrichment “haves” (suppliers) and “have-nots” (customers) under various proposals to establish multinational nuclear fuel centers and fuel-supply arrangements.”


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