Did Russian use of an Iranian base constitute the supply, sale or transfer of combat aircraft to Iran?

In a weird development last week, Russia is widely reported to have used the Nojeh military base in Iran as a staging point for airstrikes by Russian military aircraft in Syria.  This was, apparently, the first time since World War II that any foreign military had been allowed to, at least temporarily, station military assets at an Iranian military base. The most recent reports are that Russia is no longer making use of any facility in Iran for this purpose.

What interested me about this story was the criticism forthcoming from U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, who said in a press conference that Russia’s use of this Iranian military facility may constitute a violation of U.N. Security Council 2231’s prohibition on the “supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran unless approved in advance by the U.N. Security Council.”  He appears here to have been referring to Annex B, paragraph 5 of UNSCR 2231.

I may be one of the few people on earth whose mind would work this way, but when I heard this criticism, I immediately thought of the issue of the stationing by the U.S. of nuclear weapons at military facilities of Non-nuclear Weapon States in Europe – an issue that received some attention lately when, during the recent coup attempt in Turkey, the power was cut off to Incirlik air force base where some 80 of these U.S. nuclear weapons are housed.

Now, anyone who has read Article I of the NPT knows that this provision prohibits the “transfer to any recipient whatsoever [of] nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” by a Nuclear Weapon State, such as the U.S.  In my 2009 book (pgs 13-15), I argued that the U.S. policy of stationing nuclear weapons on the territory of Non-nuclear Weapon States in Europe does violence to both Articles I & II of the NPT.

Doesn’t it seem like the State Department, in its criticism of Russia’s stationing of its combat aircraft at an Iranian military base as an unlawful “transfer” of combat aircraft to Iran, is essentially endorsing my reading of NPT Article I and my argument that U.S. stationing of nuclear weapons on NNWS military bases is an unlawful “transfer” of those weapons pursuant to NPT Article I?

That’s how I’ll choose to see it.


Understanding U.S. Sanctions-Related Obligations under the JCPOA

I wanted to draw readers’ attention to a short piece by Tyler Cullis with the above title. You can find it here.  In my view this is a good piece of work explaining U.S. sanctions commitments under the JCPOA in detail, and I recommend it to readers.  It is a good supplement to, and goes into greater detail than, my recent piece here about U.S. sanctions compliance.  I think it persuasively shows that U.S. commitments under the JCPOA go considerably beyond the initial lifting of sanctions, and it provides examples of compliance-contested issues that have arisen since Implementation Day.