• 22 July 2016
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Iran deal, Nuclear deal, Nuclear deal

IAEAThe Obama administration chose to negotiate with Iran with two overarching goals: to close off Iran’s path to acquiring a nuclear weapon, and – by extension – to ensure that Iranian actions do not trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The IAEA’s latest report has found that Iran continues to abide by all its commitments under the JCPOA, a clear vindication that the first goal is being accomplished. The second goal, preventing a nuclear race to the bottom in the Middle East, was simultaneously accomplished by agreeing on a level of continued enrichment that did not trigger a nuclear race.

However, many conservative foreign policy analysts have urged the administration to push for a complete suspension of Iran’s nuclear program, having deemed the region, and in particular Saudi Arabia, unable to tolerate any level of Iranian enrichment. The analysts predicted that a nuclear-armed or nuclear-threshold Iran would trigger Saudi Arabia into pursuing a nuclear weapon, which would than cascade throughout the Middle East.

The Saudis latched on to these narratives, explicitly stating that they would not hesitate to pursue a nuclear weapon should Iran develop one.

These arguments resurfaced again after the JCPOA was signed, with some arguing as early as 2015 that the deal was a diplomatic failure as it did not halt Iran’s uranium enrichment. These critics proclaimed that regional actors – such as the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – will no longer feel bound by their commitments to non-proliferation in light of the JCPOA as the constraints under the deal did not go far enough.

A year after the signing of the nuclear agreement is the perfect time to return to these predictions and determine how accurate they were. A cursory glance at the region demonstrates that while regional conflicts persist, there are no new nuclear states, and no indications that key regional players are moving towards pursuing a program capable of developing a nuclear weapon.

A May 2016 report from the Brookings Institution authored by former Obama administration officials Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew evaluates the prospect of proliferation following the JCPOA. The report assesses the likelihood of regional proliferation based on three elements: domestic human capital, technology/wealth, and desire to pursue nuclear weapons, specifically focusing on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Turkey. The ultimate assessment finds that because none possess all three elements required for pursuing a weapons program, the JCPOA “has not triggered a nuclear race”.

Saudi Arabia, crowned by the report as the most likely candidate to pursue a weapons program, fails on the first and third elements. The lack of domestic human capital and strong desire for pursuing a nuclear weapon, remain the primary obstacles between the Kingdom and a nuclear weapon. According to the report, “While they clearly have the necessary financial resources the Saudis lack the human and physical infrastructure and have had to postpone their ambitious nuclear power plans for eight years while they train the required personnel.” The report went on to find that the delay resulted from Saudi authorities recognizing “that they did not have the workforce, supply chain, or regulatory infrastructure to support such an ambitious effort”. The slow process of developing a domestic nuclear force has led the Saudis to pursue foreign assistance, though as the report notes the Saudis are years away from even constructing their first power reactor.

While the report does not rule out the possibility that Saudi Arabia may eventually acquire a full-fledged nuclear program, it found that the UAE does not seem to harbor any such aspirations. However, as the report notes, the UAE has signed agreements with the United States to forego enrichment and reprocessing and currently has four nuclear reactors, which will go online in 2017. The report notes, however, that because of foreign contractors, “the UAE will not be independently capable of operating its nuclear facilities for quite some time.”

Egypt, “the only [nation examined by the report] that previously made efforts to acquire nuclear weapons”, did not meet all three requirements either. Ultimately, Egypt today possesses the human capital and to some extent desire, but lacks the technology, according to Einhorn and Nephew. As the report states, “the Egyptian nuclear budget remains small, something that is unlikely to be remedied during ongoing domestic unrest.” Furthermore, the report found that Egyptian nuclear aspirations are not clearly linked to Iran, indicating that distance and lack of conflict would likely negate a security dilemma triggered by a potential Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

Similarly, in the report’s determination Turkey does not perceive Iran or its program as a military threat despite regional disagreements. The report noted that Turkey will not pursue nuclear weapons because “[They] believe they can count on NATO in a crisis, and would be reluctant to put their NATO ties in jeopardy by pursuing nuclear weapons.” Hence, Turkey could likely depend on NATO protections and the U.S. nuclear umbrella from nuclear threats within and outside the region. Moreover, a recent poll available in the report has found that a majority of Turks believe the nuclear deal is a positive as opposed to negative development for the region.
The report’s thesis, that Iran’s remaining nuclear program has not triggered a nuclear race, is well argued. However, the report could have gone even further. An argument can be made that the deal can support non-proliferation in the Middle East beyond the particulars of Iran’s program. At a recent event on nuclear policy for the next administration hosted by the Society for Foreign Affairs, Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association made the recommendation that “One of the areas the United States can work on is to introduce the more innovative aspects of the JCPOA, such as 24-hour supervision of facilities into the standard protocols of the NPT as nations move towards nuclear power resources.” This is particularly important for the Middle East as nations such as Turkey, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia consider expanding their nuclear programs. Additionally, by removing one of the region’s foremost security threats, the JCPOA could usher in renewed focus on further non-proliferation agreements – including the pursuit of a regional Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone and the pursuit of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty throughout the region.

While the JCPOA has not triggered a nuclear race, the accord’s collapse could potentially shift the current paradigm, forcing nations throughout the region to reassess their level of security and hence their desire to possess a nuclear weapon. It is therefore in our interest to maintain the status quo so as to ensure that the current organization of power, one which has not triggered a proliferation race, is not disrupted.

Posted By NIAC

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