Iran and the Nuclear Suppliers

Confusion reigns when contemplating the Iranian nuclear issue. President Obama tells us that all options are on the table led by diplomacy. On the other hand one option has clearly been avoided. There has been no attempt to stop the global nuclear suppliers who continue unabated to supply Iran. Unless the nuclear suppliers are held to account and stopped the world will repeatedly face Iranian-type crises.

The Paper Tiger Regimes

The world believes it has one of the stringiest regimes and agreements for the non-proliferation of nuclear material; the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. These are Paper Tiger Regimes. One after another Middle East country has bypassed these to reach various stages of nuclear capability. The only viable option to curtail the nuclear ambitions of Middle East countries has been preventive and preemptive military strikes by Israel.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it would not tolerate a state in the region having the capability to threaten its existence. Neither the paper treaties nor this threat has deterred Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran from their intent to pursue nuclear acquisition in the same voice as refusing to recognize Israel’s right of existence. The only option on the table has been for Israel to destroy Syria’s and Iraq’s fledgling nuclear paths with decisive military action.

Iran to date has reached the most advanced stage of capability and remains bellicose in its intentions. Diplomacy is ongoing as are preparations for decisive military annihilation of the Iranian nuclear installations.  

The Culprits

To date I have not seen the activities of the culprits curtailed nor brought to justice. These are the nuclear suppliers. There has been no concerted effort to prevent them from constructing the Iranian facilities. Should Iranian ambitions be curtailed by military action then the suppliers will no doubt seek another country to supply. The world will be faced with yet other Iran-type crisis which is no more than the sequel to an Iraq-type crisis.

There are agreements and mechanisms in place but these are not achieving even a modicum of success. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multinational body that was established in 1974 as a direct response to the Indian nuclear test; which was evidence that some non-weapons specific nuclear technology could be used for weapons development. This test made it clear to signatories of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) that signatures on paper were not sufficient. Further measures were essential to have regulatory authorities domestically with international cooperation to limit the export of nuclear equipment, materials or technology.

The NSG is responsible for interpreting Article 3.2 of the NPT and the meaning of “especially designed or prepared” equipment or material for the processing, use or production of special fissionable material. The main focus of the NSG is on items especially designed and prepared for nuclear use (EDP) also known as the “Trigger List”. There is also a list of dual-purpose items; those that have some utility for nuclear applications as well as having non-nuclear uses.

The Weakness of the NSG

Nuclear agreements are first and foremost between states. However states are not the implementers of the agreements. Tens of thousands of private companies fill the agreements. This is the weak link that prevails. The effectiveness of the NSG depends on the ability, capability and willingness of each state to control and regulate the private sector companies and individuals trading within their boundaries. As they say in business “It’s a buyers market” and “money speaks.” Today there is even a website, of more than 2000 nuclear suppliers worldwide, of private companies advertising their wares and services.

Despite the agreements and regulatory authorities governments have not curtailed the private company nuclear suppliers. In the over 30 years that Iran has been a buyer the sellers have been 241 main contractors of private companies in 25 countries and tens of thousands of sub-contractors. Of these the UAE (Dubai), North Korea, Pakistan and Syria are not members of the NSG; that are not regulated at all. Those that are members of the NSG are Argentine, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, the Soviet Union / Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey,  Ukraine and the USA.

The Next Iran-type Crises

Iran continues unabated towards nuclear capability; while the suppliers continue to supply; and while the P5+1 world leaders claim that all options are on the table. One option has clearly not been mentioned because it has failed; curtailing and stopping the suppliers.

There is neither effective regulation nor any control of the activities of the non-NSG member states and the companies and individuals in these states regarding their activities. The NSG countries have not been effective in preventing Iran’s quest for nuclear acquisitions.

Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are all on the road to civil nuclear energy and research reactors. Even these states have not been loquacious in threats against neighbors or the region the conundrum remains. India in 1974 proved it was possible to become a military nuclear power once it had a civil nuclear energy reactor.

Unless the nuclear suppliers are held to account and stopped Iran will attain nuclear capability and the world will repeatedly face Iran-type crises. Clearly the deficiency in regulating the nuclear suppliers leaves only one option on the table; and that is the military option twice used by Israel.

Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.