Reforming UN Security Council Nuclear Sanctions PracticePosted: January 17, 2014
I’m pleased to be able to host another excellent guest post by friend of ACL Dr. Yousaf Butt. Yousaf makes excellent points in this piece, as usual, and I recommend it highly.
Reforming UN Security Council Nuclear Sanctions Practice
By: Dr. Yousaf Butt*
Technically, Iran was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council because of past violations of its IAEA nuclear safeguards agreement, but because the UNSC chose to interpret these violations as a “threat to the peace”. However, Pakistan, India and Israel have far exceeded Iran’s nuclear threshold capability, and built actual nuclear weapons. They are — by any objective standard — far greater nuclear threats than Iran.
The UNSC would never have bothered with Iran if the “trigger” of the nuclear safeguards violations hadn’t raised the issue to the level of the UNSC. However, the only reason such triggers have not gone off for India, Pakistan and Israel is that, since they are outside the framework of the NPT, their IAEA safeguards agreements are watered-down and similarly strict triggers simply don’t exist. (The UNSC sanctions are applied under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Article 39, in which the Security Council can determine a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and may recommend, or decide what measures to take…to maintain or restore international peace and security.”)
But just because there is no similarly stringent safeguards’ trigger to refer the cases of India, Pakistan and Israel to the UNSC does not mean the UNSC should be willfully blind about the threats they pose. The UNSC can sanction these nations on its own initiative. This minor bureaucratic detail — that an IAEA referral currently seems to be needed before a nuclear threat is even considered by the UNSC — results in a major flaw: NPT member states are punished more severely than non-NPT states, even if the latter nations make nuclear weapons and proliferate willy-nilly.
Moreover, the actions of some of the P5+1 nations negotiating with Iran, namely China and the US, go against the spirit and intentions of the NPT and could also be construed as a threat to peace. (Of course, there is no prospect of any P5 country ever being sanctioned for a threat to peace due to their veto powers.) But both the US and China are helping nuclear-armed NPT non-signatory states India and Pakistan, respectively, with their civilian nuclear programs. (And before it signed the NPT in 1992, France helped Israel with its nuclear program.) But the ‘firewall’ between civilian and military nuclear sectors in Pakistan, India and Israel is somewhere between porous to non-existent. So, essentially, the US and China are also helping the military nuclear sectors in these non-NPT states.
And, at the least, civilian nuclear assistance frees up nuclear resources – scientists and materiel, much of which are dual-use – which can be applied to the military nuclear programs in these non-NPT nations. Nuclear technology and assistance is largely dual-use and fungible. Thus the nuclear assistance given by China and the US to Pakistan and India can legitimately be seen as a violation of the NPT.
As Prof. Daniel Joyner points out in his book, “Interpreting the NPT”: “Many NPT Non-Nuclear Weapon States see this granting of nuclear technology concessions to India by an NPT Nuclear Weapon State as a positive reward for India’s decision to remain outside the NPT framework, and develop and maintain a nuclear weapons arsenal, which is the precise opposite to the incentive structure which the NPT sought to codify into international law.”
Under no circumstances should nations who have signed the NPT – whether or not they are currently seen to be in good standing – be sanctioned and treated more severely than those that haven’t signed on to the NPT and actually have developed nuclear weapons. Such heavy-handedness with signatory nations will undercut the desire of many nations to sign on to new arms control initiatives, like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
If the NPT is invoked to try to limit nuclear capabilities in signatory states like Iran via sanctions then even more toughness with the nuclear-armed NPT non-signatories is first needed. Conversely, so long as nuclear-armed Pakistan, India and Israel remain unsanctioned so should NPT signatories like Iran which only have an advanced — but thus far non-military — nuclear infrastructure.
This major flaw can be fixed if the UNSC instead shows initiative, behaves apolitically, and does not wait around for a bureaucratic referral from the IAEA in order to rouse itself and open its eyes to blatantly obvious nuclear threats.
*Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting fact-based cultural awareness among individuals, institutions, and governments. The views expressed here are his own.