Iran’s insistence on proceeding with uranium enrichment threatens to expose once again the fecklessness of the United Nations when dealing with member states that violate its decisions.
Iran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is required to abide by the safeguards—“with respect to source or special fissionable material whether it is being produced, processed or used in any principal nuclear facility or is outside any such facility” (Article III)—set by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), a UN agency.
The IAEA has reported that Iran was violating a Security Council order to suspend uranium enrichment. While Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and in keeping with the NPT, a majority of the veto-wielding five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, France and the U.S.) view the intentions of the clerical-based Islamist regime in Tehran as a grave threat.
China and Russia, however, see Iran differently. Russia has been helping restore Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, which was damaged during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. China, which requires Iran’s oil, has assisted in building a uranium enrichment plant in Isfahan in central Iran.
Hence, it is unlikely China and Russia will approve any Security Council resolution threatening sanction or military action against Iran.
A divided Security Council will provide time to the reckless Iranian regime—time for it to acquire fissile material for bomb-making. Between now and such an eventuality, the international community must decide whether any non-nuclear state has the right to acquire nuclear weapons capability in the post-9/11 world.
The answer should be an emphatic no, especially if the state is a developing country with an appalling domestic record of human rights abuses, persecution of minorities, and a history of conflict with neighbouring countries.
The troubling fact that Pakistan was allowed to become a nuclear-armed state in 1998, or that North Korea is edging closer to acquiring nuclear weapons—both countries being, by any definition, rogue states—makes the argument irrefutable for forcefully denying, should diplomacy fail, any such country seeking nuclear weapons capability.
In hindsight, the destruction (by an Israeli air strike) of Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor in June 1981 stands as a near-perfect example of pre-emption—though of course, it was much faulted at the time. It would have been unnecessary if the Security Council acted responsibly in meeting such grave threats in the first place.
But the record of the Security Council in discharging its responsibility on matters of collective security is deplorable. Moreover, the disclosures of the UN Oil-for-Food program for Iraq have revealed the extent of corruption in the organization.
The promise the UN held when it was founded, that it would save “succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” has become an empty phrase. The reasons for UN failures will be variously argued, but an undeniable result is that its efficacy when most needed for collective security is sorely lacking.
The UN’s utter fecklessness in enforcing its resolutions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq resulted after 9/11 in the creation of a “coalition of the willing” to bring regime change in Baghdad.
Similarly, and justifiably, the Security Council’s failure to compel Iran to abide within the IAEA safeguards will require another “coalition of the willing” to prevent the current regime in Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and threatening the existence of a UN member state.