Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iran"s Nuclear Imbroglio

Iran’s Nuclear

The US President George Bush will be visiting the subcontinent in March 2006.
.Both Pakistani and Indian government stand to benefit from the rewards, he may be bestowing on the two countries in acknowledgement of their respective favorable policies and
actions, vis-à-vis US interests.Pakistan stands to benefit in areasof surveillance technology, military equipment and some economic aid while Indiawill be given important concessions and technological transfer in areas of tradeand sensitive technology including the nuclear one. Two important items in Indian package are related to; a) 8000 MW nuclear reactors, technology transfer and nuclear fuel;
b) another important item is Missile technology related to ballistic missile
defence. (Ironically about two decades ago this writer had recommended the same for Pakistan in his book on South Asian nuclear scene). Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shaukat Aziz has expressed reservations though cautiously, while visiting the USrecently.

A major political and military crisis is in the making in our region withpotentially severe international repercussions. The basic element in this crisis isthe Iranian nuclear program and its Uranium enrichment component. The U.S. and Europe view this matter with grave seriousness. They fear that Iran may follow theexample of North Korea, India and Pakistan. The latest statements of the Iranian president have only increased the urgency and even fears of such prospects - Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Israel has even threatened to physically attack the Iranian nuclear installations to halt this process of enrichment. Even the US has not ruled out such a possibility, directly or in consonance with a third country namely Israel.

The Irony of fate is that Iran an old signatory of Non - Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is being viewed with so much skepticism while India and Israel which neither aresignatories of NPT or any other convention limiting nuclear weapons, raise no alarm for the West.
India has exploded several nuclear bombs, but is being given 8000 MW of reactor and Uranium fuel.
Israel has an active nuclear program having amassed more than 200 nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear program is almost as old as Pakistan’s nuclear program. It began
in 1960’s in
Tehran with the acquisition and installation of an American atomic research reactor. This was the peak time of the Kingship of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. At that time, there was no sign or indication of the Islamic revolution led byAyatollah Khomeini. In 1975 the Shah of Iran had made firm contractual arrangements for the purchase of 8 to 10,000 MW atomic reactors. At the time of
revolution these agreements were at various stages of implementation. The
suppliers of these reactors were the
U.S., Russia, Germany and Japan. It has been quoted that Ayatollah Khomeini considered the nuclear weapons contradictory to Islamic ideology and was opposed to its acquisition or implementation in the immediate post-revolution period. The nuclear deals were put in cold storage by the revolutionary government and the supplier countries found it convenient as well and thus did not object to the postponement or cancellation of the contracts.

The revolutionaries soon realized that the state power tools that
they initially had rejected were as much needed by them as the Shah of Iran, in
order to sustain
and nurture their revolution. The much
opposed intelligence agencies were revived and strengthened; technology and
weapons acquisition was renewed to be able to fight the
US instigated war with
Iraq.The change that was brought about by the revolution resulted in political and economic changes most important of which were the expelling of foreigners from
Iran, the weakening of the latter’s influence and the increasing resort and focus on self –reliance in domestic economic and international policies in Iran.

After establishment and strengthening of the revolutionary ideology, in the late 1980’s and in 1990’s, Iran has made considerable progress in industrial development. The key feature in this is self-reliance, as distinct from other states in the Middle
. Pre-revolutionary Iran was similar to the Middle Eastern pattern of considerable or almost total reliance on foreigners for running the industry, infrastructure andother economic activities in general.

Iran is twice the size of Pakistan in terms of area, and is rich in oil and other natural resources. It has had a high literacy rate especially women’s education, even in pre-revolutionary period. The industry in Iran has also been growing fast esp. automobile, machinery, steel, plastics, and mineral exploration, esp. after the revolution.

After consolidation of the revolution, the government demanded the implementation of nuclear agreements and re-launched its nuclear program. The Shah had already made considerable payments to nuclear supplier companies. Most of this paid equipment at the time of revolution was lying in various Western countries to be delivered to Iran.
Iran started raising demands for delivery of the paid for equipment. The issue was subject to many legal wrangles and Saddam Hussein made it easy for Western governments by bombing the nuclear installations and premises of Iran, which were considerably damaged but not totally destroyed.

Most recently one of these installations has been revived. This is an 800 MW nuclear reactor and power plant at Bushehr, being supplied and erected by
Russians. In the last decade, there has been considerable cooperation between
China and Iran in economic and technology transfer fields. In the nuclear field
China has supplied technology, SCUD missiles, Uranium etc to Iran.
Iran in return has been supplying China its much-needed oil
requirements. In the latest crisis, the West is accusing
Iran of initiating its nuclear
enrichment program for development of nuclear weapons while
Iran insists on its rights to develop nuclear power technology/energy and claims that its activities in this domain are solely for peaceful purpose. It had signed the NPT long time ago and
has also willingly accepted continued and perpetual inspections by the IAEA as
required under the NPT Fuel scope safeguards.

The problem started with the sudden discovery of a Uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (south of Tehran). Iran claimed that it had not yet introduced nuclear material in the contested plant and thus was not required to report it. It is very difficult to prove categorically the claims and counter claims being made in this respect The problem compounded with the discovery of pilot scale Uranium enrichment facility established through acquisition from Dr.A.Q. Khan’s network (illegally). After protracted negotiations Iran accepted safeguards and even additional protocols incorporating more stringent inspection regime.

Iran negotiated these arrangements with the EU interlocutors expecting some
quid-pro-quo ala North Korea or India, details of which have not yet been elaborated. Leaving this aside, Iran expected that by agreeing to more stringent inspection regime, the stigma and pressure to restrict its nuclear activities would be removed or at least reduced. This has
not happened. Instead the pressure has increased. The core issue is fear of “Nuclear
Iran”- Iran with a bomb. No amount of safeguards can possibly prevent the march of technology, is the basic source of worry for the major powers.

What is the merit of
controversy over
Iran’s nuclear

The problem is that once Uranium Enrichment is mastered, it is a question installing more stages to graduate from reactor grade enrichment (3%) to bomb grade enrichment (90%). Similarly, in nuclear fuel reprocessing, the Plutonium so produced could well be used directly for making nuclear weapons. The only check is material balance calculation and monitoring, some diversion out of which might not be impossible. In-fact if we compare reprocessing with Uranium enrichment, the latter can be monitored against diversion much easier, as it is the number of stages which determines level of enrichment, which is very easy to monitor; hence the strength of the Iranian argument for peaceful intent and its monitorability. But again, a country can, with a short notice, with draw from NPT and throw out the IAEA
inspectors as did
North Korea. Nothing could have yet been done against the latter. Or a clandestine operation, parallel to the peaceful program can be launched and sustained, albeit with some difficulty due to material balance inspections.

The issue is really complicated Under the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is one of the oldest members, was negotiated in 1960s? NPT permits nuclear reprocessing and Uranium enrichment, under a surveillance and inspection regime called full scope safeguards.
Iran’s nuclear program has not only been under this full scope safeguards scheme, but Iran has agreed to additional protocol meaning more frequent and stringent monitoring and inspection of its nuclear facilities. Thus under international law,
Iran is absolutely legitimate in doing what it is doing in the nuclear field. Then why this
fuss over
Iran’s Uranium enrichment. We have mentioned one of the rather tactical reasons elsewhere.

The strategic reason for this opposition is as follows.NPT, as mentioned earlier, was conceived and negotiated in 1960s, at theheight of cold war. Middle powers like India, Mexico, Brazil etc managed to dilute the original NPT proposals due to the east-west rivalry and cleavage, permitting the non nuclear weapon states nuclear fuel cycle activities under a monitoring and inspection regime. Secondly, the NPT negotiators could not have conceived that countries like Pakistan and Iran would acquire that level of technology as to be able to indigenously develop nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, and thus allowed these activities under NPT.
South Asia and Middle East were poor, downtrodden, and shearly underdeveloped. Imagine Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia without oil (at 1$ a barrel
prices). Perhaps the guilt consciousness of the
US administrations, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, impelled them to conceive and support nuclear technology programs to third world countries. As a result, in all problem regions, American technology transfer is involved. In today’s world, in the after math of 9/11, the West esp. the US are redefining their laws even on “freedom and liberty”,
which are the core values for their civilization. They are redefining the
nuclear regime as well. In theory NPT permits nuclear fuel cycle activities, in
practical terms, the nuclear reality does not permit Uranium

One shudders to think of a nuclear Pakistan, which is politically out of line with the US, due to domestic politics in Pakistan. The nuclear freedom of Pakistan is only conditional and, God forbid, possibly temporary.

Iran is a powerful country with a strong economy and rich natural resource base. It is a major oil producer and exporter. Iran has gone through economic sanctions earlier in the wake of US embassy hostage crisis. Chinese are significantly dependent for their oil imports on Iran. Closure of Iranian oil would cause the already high prices of oil to go to an unacceptably high level. This would break the back of developing economies, who are already suffering from the pressure of high oil prices.

Striking out nuclear facilities may not be an easy task, as Iranian nuclear facilities are widely dispersed, although the contentious facilities are reportedly in Natanz, some 200 kms south west of Tehran. Israeli attack on Iraqi reactor was successful and did not leave any fall-out, because the reactors were not yet loaded with nuclear material. Uranium enrichment facilities, if bombarded are not expected to give out a major radio-active fall-out, as nuclear or enriched Uranium is not radio active as nuclear irradiated fuel rods or nuclear waste materials are. The centrifuges would solidify and jam the uranium hexafluoride due to its very low critical pressure. This aspect would make the political/human fall out of the attack to be much less than it would have been on irradiated nuclear materials.
Basement or fortifications of Iran’s nuclear facilities need
not pose insurmountable problems to American technology.

They are quiet capable of using “radiation free” nuclear
weapons. It should be noted that the
US has never subscribed to
No-First-Use doctrine. On various occasions esp. in
Vietnam, active and serious
consideration had been given to the use of nuclear weapon. As to the routes of
attack, ample choices are
available to the US, if not to the Israelis. In the Persian
, the US has bases and facilities and Iraq is under their control. They are present in Afghanistan.

The US has also acquired bases and
facilities in the former Soviet states, which
seem to be closest to Tehran and Natanz. The US may not seek or require permission from Iraq or Afghanistan.However, from the former Soviet states, permission may be obtained. It appears that such permissions would be granted by one of these countries.

While the attack may be technically feasible, its political consequences would be severe. The region and the world at large would be embroiled in new crises and unpredicted consequences. The saner advice to all parties therefore would be to seek
diplomatic solution. A much more desirable approach would be a renewed effort
towards the solution of the Palestinian problem and declaring the
Middle East as a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, after denuclearizing Israel. In this bitter pill, is the cause of most ills with which the humanity is beset with currently.

IAEA’s board of director has referred Iran’s case to the Security
Council, although not with any negative recommendation like sanctions.
India has sided with the American position in supporting the IAEA’s report and resolution. The US administration had clearly warned Indians of the consequence of not supporting US stand in IAEA board meeting. It has been proved once again that when chips are down, India would fall in line with the US administration’s dictates.
IAEA’s intent is to give diplomacy as an opportunity to work out an agreement.Mediators are cautioning both the sides;
the US for not being hasty in pressing for punitive measures and Iran for
adopting a more flexible stance and the latter to agree to some kind of real or
not so real restraint on its nuclear program. Restraint would be well advised on
both the sides. Iranian nuclear issue is a multilateral one, but as is usual
these days, has degenerated into a bilateral issue between the US and Iran; all
other major powers except the UK (the poodle syndrome) are not very keen or in
no hurry to take on Iran and initiate another round of instability in the Middle
Iran has also reacted rather mildly in real terms, although the rhetoric has been a tough one. Iran has only withdrawn from the additional protocol; the latter a rather intrusive, frequent and more stringent inspection regime. However Iran is still co-operating with the IAEA under the normal full scope safeguards inspection regime under the NPT.
If pushed to the wall, Iranians may literally follow the North Korean model.
They need not be very creative in devising their own strategy. North Koreans
broke all their agreements with IAEA, sent all IAEA inspectors home and withdrew
from NPT it self - and to top it all, fired a nuclear capable missile (without
warhead of course). Nothing could have been done against North Koreans. Another
Vietnam like affair could not have been initiated in a region where Japanese and South Korean sensitivities hold supreme, a circumstance which does not prevail in the Middle East, where Iran is situated.

The security environment from the point of view of Iran has been improving. Saddam has been overthrown and has been replaced by Shia-majority democratically elected government. In the North, Soviet empire has been dismantled and replaced by small states like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan etc. Nuclear weapons are a prestige instrument, although Pakistan and other countries’ success in developing nuclear weapons has diluted the awe and prestige bestowed by nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons can also be a liability. For example in case of Pakistan, nuclear weapons have improved the security climate for Pakistan vis-à-vis
India. However, to safeguard and maintain nuclear status and weapons is proving to be a major liability for Pakistan.

It is said that Pakistan’s military government may not have supported the post 9/11
American policies with the same commitment, as it has been doing till now, had
it not had to save its nuclear assets from American
possible pre-emption. Several times in the past, one has heard of inspired leaks, wherein possibilities of attack and
Pakistan’s nuclear assets have been discussed. India-Israel-US nexus has been cited in this case.
Iran’s leadership should think deeply about the temptation lying in a quasi and not-so-quasi nuclear regime. In case of their proximity to Israel, and direct confrontation
with the
US administration, and Iran’s rather blatant statements
vis-à-vis the whole of western civilization, the major powers will not look the other way round, while Iran continues to increase its nuclear capability of dual use and consequences, as had been done in case of Pakistan. Even in the case of
latter, Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan bailed out Pakistan’s nuclear program. Had the
Soviet Union not been in Afghanistan, it would have been well
nigh impossible for
Pakistan to do what it managed to do in the nuclear field.

Thus in the environment of bitter hostility to Iran and its government, opposition to Iran’s nuclear program would be most severe. Iran may have to shun its revolutionary style, if not substance, to be able to do something meaningful in this direction.

Are the nuclear weapons worth the cost? Hence adoption of a more
conciliatory tone and agreeing to a reasonable solution proposed by third
parties may appear to be in the best of Iranian national interest. And if the
intent is not of making nuclear weapons,
current confrontation seems to be
totally out of place and risky for
Iran’s well being. Had Saddam had not maintained an ambiguity towards Iraq’s possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it would have been difficult for Americans to invade Iraq.

Repeating Pakistan’s case again, ambiguity may have worked well for Pakistan, for a long time in its specific circumstances and time frame. The same may not be advisable to Iran. May I clarify here that the intent here is not to support or justify American policies towards Iran and Iraq. It is Iran’s well being and interests
is that are closest to our hearts of us Pakistanis.

Finally let us examine the Russian proposal. What is its merits and prospects. At
the time of this writing, negotiations are going on with the Russians in the
aftermath of IAEA’s referral of Iran’s nuclear case to the Security Council as has been mentioned earlier in this article. It should be noted that Iran has with drawn from
additional protocols only and not from NPT itself or its standard inspection regime.
Iran has also broken seals from pilot Uranium enrichment centrifuges. This has only symbolic defiance value and should not pose any significant threat to those who
consider Iranian nuclear capability to be catastrophic to their world view and
order. There are only a small number of pilot centrifuges, which may not be able
to make weapon grade enrichment for even one bomb in many

Russian proposal is to enrich uranium on its soil for Iran. Big deal? It means only more business for Russia and increased dependence of Iran on Russia, which Iran would like to avoid.
Already there are problems with
Russia on reprocessing charges
demanded by the latter for the spent fuel that would come out of Russian
supplied 800 MW
reactor at Bushehr. Russia should have offered
something more useful and substantial like power reactor technology or something
of the like. If they do so, it is more likely that
Iran may accept some of kind of
trade-off. Russian proposal, in its present form, only offers a face saving
option to
Iran. One is not sure, if Iran’s options have exhausted to that stage.

1 comment:

  1. A very rich article in a very romantic format.Very insightful. A very good article after your book governance in post nuclear Pakistan.