How can the international community stop the next Iran?

New nonproliferation measures will face opposition from rogue countries, as well as nations like Russia and China, who have huge amounts of trade in illicit dual-use materials.

December 22, 2016 20:00
4 minute read.
A sign which reads "Stop the Bomb"

A sign which reads "Stop the Bomb" is seen as protesters gather outside the hotel where the Iran nuclear talks were being held in Vienna. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Outlawing and sanctioning dual-use materials in the illicit nuclear weapons materials trade could significantly help Western countries stop the "next Iran" and reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation to rogue countries, according to a new paper by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Until now, the UN Security Council and a range of agencies have monitored the nuclear weapons materials trade and prevented the spread of these overtly weaponizable materials to rogue countries with some success.

However, according to the paper released on Wednesday, none of these bodies have honed in on dual-use materials, and none have put forward punitive or enforcement measures in time to prevent major crises, enabling countries like Iran and North Korea to develop programs over decades under the radar.
Iran Foreign Minister Zarif hopes nuclear deal is kept once the dust settles

Those countries have used materials from the US, UK, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, China, India, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine – most of whom would oppose their materials being used for weaponization programs.

Iran and North Korea have taken advantage of dual-use materials, products which could ostensibly used for civilian purposes - with the advantage being that they do not set off alarm bells, along with concealing the true destination of illicit goods.

Faking a destination consists of using “transit states” such as Bahrain, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam, before smuggling the materials to their true destination.

The report says that the consequences of this loophole have been massive.

“Iran and North Korea each set in motion and maintained a continuous assault on the nuclear technology controls of numerous UN member states, lasting more than fifteen years and involving many hundreds of attempts to acquire goods for their respective nuclear programs. Unfortunately, this onslaught proved all too successful, despite important new efforts to curtail this activity,” it says.

It added that, “Telling evidence of the success of illicit procurement programs can be seen in the increase in the number of centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which increased from zero operating centrifuges when the facility was exposed in 2002 to 10,000 operating centrifuges and 9,000 additional centrifuges ready for use in 2016.”

The position paper anticipates opposition from rogue countries, as well as nations like Russia and China, who have huge amounts of trade in illicit dual-use materials.

Providing an answer to this obstacle, the report says, “Nonetheless, if the proposals suggested here can be moved by a group of prominent states and framed in a fashion that does not intrude directly on Russian interests, progress may be possible… All of these initiatives are future-focused, with the goal of deterring the next state-sponsored illicit procurement program. Thus, these initiatives can be framed to target newly launched procurement programs, thereby exempting Russian and Chinese procurement activities.”

Even the punitive measures would not kick in immediately, making them appear less threatening to potential opposition.

At the same time, the main purpose would be to set the stage for moving much more quickly in future cases toward punitive measures, such as sanctions, which until now has been a slow and laborious process.

A new framework would encourage “intervention in the next proliferation case at an early stage, as soon as a pattern of illicit procurement activities is observed, well before a violation of IAEA safeguards” – meaning well before interventions were seriously considered with North Korea or Iran.

It would also pave the way for individual countries like the US or a group of allied countries to more quickly pass unilateral sanctions.

Regarding less-developed nations and certain other non-nuclear weapon-state parties to the NPT, “it would be hard for them to oppose the possibility of taking responsive measures against states violating the export controls they have put (or are required to put) in place… Moreover, the right to enjoy the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy hardly can be said to include the right to attain those benefits by illegal means.”

This would be another tactical benefit, that “concerted demand for goods would sustain pressure on the offending state to cease its violations of the export controls… and negate its claims that its program should be considered above suspicion and the product solely of national technological prowess,” an excuse Iran has used time and again to avoid or delay enforcement against it.

The position paper, which was authored by the center's Deputy Director Leonard Spector, concluded that, “Most importantly, such concerted action can unambiguously affirm the principle that state-sponsored procurement programs are an offense to the international community, to be deterred through the threat of future punishment, and can launch a process of engagement leading to a broader consensus over time.”

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