Boston Globe Editorial Quotes FPI Policy Director Robert Zarate on Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

In "Nonproliferation Treaty’s Flaws are Evident in Iran Dispute," the Boston Globe's editorial board writes:

IN 1968, as the world celebrated a landmark treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, State Department policy planners delivered a somber warning: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has a fundamental flaw. It allows countries that forswear nuclear weapons to have access to peaceful nuclear technology, but it doesn’t define what “peaceful” means. Enriching uranium and stockpiling separated plutonium — which could be used either for nuclear power or building a bomb — are allowed, as long as the work is overseen by international inspectors and its declared purpose is peaceful. “It is therefore possible for a nation to proceed a considerable distance towards a bomb capability to achieve an advanced state of nuclear pregnancy while remaining within the strictures” of the treaty, the policy planners wrote. Such nations, they predicted, could withdraw from the treaty and have a bomb within a year. Even worse, the treaty never spells out what the consequences of withdrawal are.

These flaws were probably unavoidable. Few countries would have signed onto the treaty if it meant giving up key steps to nuclear power, which was seen as a panacea for the world’s energy problems at the time. Indeed, the treaty specifically states that nothing in its pages removes the “inalienable right” to research, produce, and use nuclear energy.

But today, the treaty’s vague language has become a serious problem. Iran interprets the treaty broadly; it believes almost anything short of inserting fissile material into a warhead is allowed. Iran also demands recognition of its “inalienable right” to enrich uranium. The United States disagrees, arguing that the capacity to enrich is not necessary for nuclear power — obtaining fuel from reputable international sources is generally much cheaper — and that rights under the treaty are only guaranteed to countries with a clean bill of health from weapons inspectors.

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Iran is not the only country that experts deem “nuclear-pregnant.” Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands all enrich uranium on their own soil. According to Robert Zarate, of the Foreign Policy Initiative, “Iranians want to be like Japan — a screwdriver’s turn away from the bomb.”

While the preoccupation with Iran is warranted, the world almost must also deal with the rise of this new class of “virtual nuclear powers.” Fixing the serious gaps in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty should be the focus of policy planners today.

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