∩ Security and Sanctions

Many analysts have become disenchanted with the failure of sanctions to make a dent in Iran’s resolve to attain nuclear self-sufficiency. But what to put in their place?  Well, how about nothing?  Let me make my case.

This network map (spring embedded layout, for those of you who must know) shows the dense set of relationships created by nuclear nonproliferation treaty affiliations.  The treaties that were mapped were the following: OPANAL, the Antarctic Treaty, the CTBT (not yet in force),G-6, IAEA, NSG, Treaty of Bangkok, Treaty of Pelindaba (not yet in force), Treaty of Rarotonga, NPT, Zangger Committee (ZC), and the various Proliferation Security Initiatives.

Nuclear Treaty Affiliations: a "hairball" network visualization with nuclear powers in a different color from non-nuclear states.

This hairball shows some interesting things: mainly, that the nuclear powers are not necessarily well embedded in the network.  Why does this matter? Two reasons:

  1. Treaties are arduous things to negotiate and create binding legal commitments, the kind that are worth going to war over.  Signing on to a treaty means acknowledging that you are making that kind of commitment.
  2. Treaties create a tremendous amount of enforcement structure: they have secretariats staffed with experts (some more than others).  They give other countries and international agencies a legitimate right to look all up in your business, and the people doing the looking will know what they’re looking at.

Why does this apply to Iran?  The reason you can’t see Iran in this image is because I didn’t label it, and the reason I didn’t label it is because it is deep within the network and not visible in this layout (you can see it in a 3-D image, but I don’t know how to make .gifs yet).  Iran is a member of the NPT and IAEA treaties, the ones with the strongest and most stringent enforcement.  And because it bears repeating, the NPT both allows signatories to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and requires that nuclear powers disarm (how’s that coming along, huh?).

Other people have detailed the reasons why Iran might want to pursue nuclear weapons: dangerous neighborhood, fungible source of technical expertise, Shi’ite bomb, yadda yadda yadda.  

The point this map makes is that that’s unlikely to mean an actual bomb.  Iran signed up to these treaties knowing full well what they meant, and they haven’t backed out – which they could have if they wanted to, as the DPRK did in 2003.  Others are coming around to the idea that Iran wants the capability, but not the actual thing – something many other countries have, including close allies of the US like Japan.

Screenshot of tweet from Ian Bremmer: "When discussing military options in Iran, Obama always talks about preventing nuclear weapons development, not breakout capacity. (1:07pm, 30 Sep 13, Twitter for IPhone).

This would not be a great situation, but it would not be as destabilizing to the region as the continuing enmity and sense of ill-usage generated by the sanctions regime.  

There’s a real opportunity here. Cordially, in the nicest possible way, and to both negotiating teams: Don’t blow it.

September 30th, 2013 5:02pm

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