Iran’s shifting nuclear doctrine is bad news for Pakistan and the region

Iran’s shifting nuclear doctrine is bad news for Pakistan and the region

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The international community is closely monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. On June 5, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) formally censured Iran over advances in its nuclear program and failure to cooperate with it. Tehran’s prospective exit from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to manufacture nuclear weapons would potentially kick off horizontal nuclear proliferation in the region. Furthermore, it is telling of the intrinsic relationship between civilian nuclear cooperation and nuclear weapons proliferation.

The upsurge in Iran-Israel tensions may be compelling Tehran to rethink its prohibition on developing nuclear weapons. On April 13, Iran fired 300 drones and missiles at Israel. On April 19, Israel retaliated by striking several Iranian military sites, including targets near the city of Isfahan, which includes declared nuclear facilities. The exchange of strikes and a few former US and Israeli officials urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities germinated the impression that Israel could strike Iranian nuclear facilities. On April 14, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested that Israel should “destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Currently, Iran has stockpiled enough uranium of near-weapons-grade quality for about three weapons. Security analysts believe that it can produce “enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear weapon in less than a week.” Ahmad Haghtalab, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps commander in charge of security at Iran’s nuclear facilities, announced that the probability of Israeli strikes on the nuclear infrastructure “makes it possible to review our nuclear doctrine and deviate from our previous considerations.” Responding to the recent IAEA censured resolution, Tehran threatened to expand its nuclear program.

Pakistan opposes the horizontal nuclear proliferation in its Western neighborhood. 

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Indeed, the shift in Iran’s nuclear doctrine will have a domino effect in the Middle East and North Africa. It will severely jolt the contemporary nuclear world order. Interest in nuclear weapons and their hoped-for deterrent effect could subsequently grow in non-nuclear countries in the Middle East too. 

Besides, Iran’s non co-operation with the IAEA obstructs the global momentum for nuclear power to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. Nuclear energy is considered an essential source for achieving net zero emission targets and mitigating the effects of climate change. Notably, 22 countries promised to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050 during the United Nations Climate Summit— COP28— held in Dubai in December. In March, the IAEA and Belgium convened a Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels. Leaders from 32 countries and the European Union emphasized using nuclear power to achieve energy security and climate goals and drive sustainable development.

Many countries in MENA from Egypt to Qatar and the UAE, strive for nuclear power plants. They need civilian nuclear cooperation— the transfer of nuclear technology, materials or knowledge from one state to another for civilian purposes— from the nuclear suppliers states. Iran’s deviation from its commitments with the IAEA, as a party to the NPT, discourages the nuclear supplier states from assisting the civilian nuclear aspirants in the region due to the probability of them following Iran’s precedent.  

The conventional wisdom is that civilian nuclear cooperation does not lead to proliferation. Nuclear weapons spread when states have a demand for the bomb— not when they have the technical capacity to proliferate. However, the undeniable fact is that if a state has a civilian nuclear program, it possesses the technical know-how and human resources to transform its peaceful nuclear program into a nuclear weapons program. Therefore, many states, like Iran, South Korea, Japan, etc, are regarded as having latent nuclear weapons capability.

Pakistan opposes the horizontal nuclear proliferation in its Western neighborhood. Though Pakistan is not a party to NPT, it practices the treaties’ norms and supports the increasing usage of nuclear energy. Therefore, Islamabad desires Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA and to advance its civilian nuclear program within the framework of NPT. 

In summary, Iran’s non-cooperation with the IAEA implies Tehran’s inclination to develop nuclear weapons, which discourages civilian nuclear cooperation because the countries receiving civilian nuclear aid over time are more likely to initiate weapons programs and fabricate nuclear devices. 

– Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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