This vital national drama plays out against a backdrop of global significance. The Iranian Government’s refusal to fully align its nuclear behavior with its international legal commitments and the directives of the United Nations Security Council threatens international peace and security.
Today, Iran is a singular problem in terms of compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its actions threaten the global norm against the spread of nuclear weapons. New prospects for progress toward a nuclear weapon-free world are precariously balanced on a prudent and coordinated response among many states, each with its own security and political equities to service. The Iranian Government ‘s rejection of the emerging multilateral effort to move toward the global abolition of nuclear weapons and contrary national development of sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies are disproportionately shaping our common human future much for the worse.
But what if they weren’t? Witnessing the courage of ordinary Iranians, we recall the challenges faced by leaders including Washington, Gandhi, and Mandela and the transformational changes their heroism made possible. Today, the hope for such leadership sparks interesting possibilities for international security and world peace, as well as for the people of Iran.
Next spring, the NPT will be reviewed by its states parties. Many expect Iran to play a cynical and destructive role in the proceedings, but there is a precedent for another alternative. When the NPT was made permanent at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, the revolutionary leaders of South Africa’s new multi-racial democracy played an important role in rallying the world behind the then-hotly contested option of indefinite extension. They had the authentic claim to leadership of a state that had renounced and destroyed its nuclear arsenal under international verification as well as President Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary moral authority and they played an important and positive global leadership role.
What sort of leadership could a transformed Iranian diplomacy offer the world at the 2010 NPT Review Conference? Full compliance and openness to verification is obviously a first step, but South Africa did not stop there and there is no reason Iran could not go further. Aligning its longtime assertiveness on Article IV and “peaceful uses” more closely with international law and global expectations through acceptance of some type of internationalization of its nuclear fuel cycle could be a second important step. A third step might be to explore how global confidence could be maximized in the compliance of NPT states parties with their Article VI disarmament obligations, for instance through cooperative efforts to develop non-nuclear energy alternatives in cooperation with other states parties, new technologies and practices for detecting nuclear materials and processes, and nonproliferation and disarmament education practices to align national pride with global leadership for peace and security rather than the development of nuclear technology. We are indebted to Professor Scott Sagan for his recent observation (in an exchange with Ambassador Lewis Dunn at an event sponsored by The Nonproliferation Review of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies) that non-nuclear weapon states parties to the NPT should all make explicit efforts to comply with the disarmament provisions of Article VI.
We realize that democratization alone will not solve the nuclear proliferation problem, as Ambassador Jack F. Matlock observes in his chapter “Regional Animosities and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation” in George P. Shultz, Steven P. Andreasen, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby’s pivotal Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Hoover/NTI, 2008):
“even a democratically elected government in Iran might well continue the Iranian program unless the external political environment is altered (p 406)…In Iranian eyes, since the other states seem to have accepted Pakistan’s nuclear status (even with its record of proliferation!), what valid motive could they have for denying Iran that capability other than a desire to make it vulnerable to military intervention, as the lack of nuclear weapons made both Serbia and Iraq vulnerable to military attacks even though they had not threatened the attackers? Such would be the rationale of the current Iranian leaders – and the likely rationale of any, more democratic, replacement regime faced with the same geopolitical configuration (p. 411).”But heroic actions inspire us to imagine a future different than today, and a transformed Iran would have the capacity to exercise an important leadership role toward a world free of nuclear weapons.