Iran Nuclear Proliferation

The increase by many nations to protect their sovereignty and seeking safety or security has brought about the search for military weapons that can ensure that the nations are respected on the world stage. The heritage foundations, in a report titled “33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age” confirms that the ultimate weapon developed to date is the nuclear bomb. It further comments that 20 countries have nuclear weapons but unfortunately many other countries hostile to the USA and its allies “are seeking to obtain nuclear capabilities, especially weapons”.

In brief therefore, nuclear proliferation can be termed as the more and more struggle by nations to gain nuclear weapons even thought this is extremely dangerous since the risks of the weapons usage also upsurges unpredictably and tremendously.

The heritage report is in this research used to build a formidable understanding of nuclear proliferation and the consequences of this trend. Stating in part, the heritage foundation, preempts that “When rogue countries, and countries that sponsor terrorist organizations are able to obtain nuclear weapons, the world will see some sort of incident. The risk of even an accidental launch or an international detonation will be eminent”.

One thing is clear from the above definition, there has to be a limitation to this process since some countries may not act responsibly even with the possession of these weapons and would intentionally use them against their enemies regardless of effects and devastations.

This paper will employ a case scenario of Iran and the developments that are in place shaping global strategies towards nuclear proliferation and the current trends that seek to either promote or end this process.


Despite acceding to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970, Iran is believed to have pursued a limited military nuclear programme since the 1970s. This is according to a report by Robert Banks, Special Rapporteur - NATO drawn in 1994. Banks says of reports in 1993 about Iran’s efforts to “recruit nuclear weapons scientists and purchase nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union” even though these allegations to date have not been substantiated.

Iran purchased a nuclear reactor from China in 1985 and plans to buy additional 300 MW reactors from the same source. History records that the United States supplied the established Tehran Nuclear Research Center with a five-megawatt reactor and continued to provide Iran with nuclear fuel and equipment for a period of 10 years since 1957, according to Charnysh (2009). However, by mid 1970s, as Charnysh states, after India’s successful nuclear test, the USA started having doubt about the Iranian nuclear program and when pressured by the States, France and Germany cancelled their contracts for building nuclear reactors at the Iranian sites in Darkhovin and Bushehr. According to Charnysh (2009), analysts believe that Iran was prodded by Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in 1991. In January 1995, Iran signed a contract with Russia for two 950-megawatt light-water reactors at Bushehr, Russia promising to supply the fuel. Iran has built a vast network of uranium mines, enrichment plants, conversion sites, and research reactors with support from outside and indigenous efforts (Charnysh, 2009).

Measures of Iran towards Proliferation

A number of strategies have been employed by Iran to measure up to the manufacture or mastering capabilities to weaponise. These can be addressed in terms of economic structures, industrial and military.

  • Industrial Steps

Iran, according to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) 2009, has been acquiring industrial help from ally nations and there is evidence of signed contracts with France and Germany to construct nuclear plants and supply nuclear fuel.

CFR, confirms in its journal that Russia in 1995 picked up where Germany left off, “signing a contract” to complete the construction of a 950-megawatt light-water reactors at Bushehr and also supply fuel.

In September 2008, the Russian company reiterated its commitment to finish the project and plans were to start off the reactor by the end of 2009.

According to CFR 2009, plans are underway by Iran to resume the Darkhovin project with calls for a 360-megawatt reactor to be operational there by 2016.

Iran intends to fuel these plants using fuel domestically produces hence it has established uranium mines, enrichment plants, conversion sites and research reactors.

Example of the sites in Iran is Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center that has employed as many as three hundred thousand scientists and suspected of housing Iran’s weapons program according to the US CFR 2009.

The human resource to facilitate the successful running of these plants and to ensure their operation to full capacity can be attributed to the huge number of both domestic and external scientists.

According to the report by CFR, first generation centrifuges (IR-1) was purchased from Pakistan and spins uranium hexafluoride at great speeds to increase the percentage of uranium-235 which is basically the primary ingredient for both power production and weapons capability.

Columbia Journal of International Affairs 2007 reveals that Iran’s need for nuclear power is “genuine, because Iran relies on proceeds from oil exports for most revenue earnings and could be politically vulnerable if the exports declined” according to Zarif (2007).

It is significant that governments that are today questioning Iran’s feasibility of the nuclear energy program were actively supporting and even competed for shares long ago.

During an inspection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a conclusion had to be reached since Iran had failed to meet obligations under its Safeguards Agreement. These failures included the withholding of construction and design details of its new facilities and also failure to report on the processed and imported uranium.

Hassan reporting for the CRS Report for Congress indicates in a report dated 2007, that Iran “declared that it has developed the capability to produce enriched uranium which is needed to make nuclear fuel on an industrial scale”.

  • Military

Cordesman and Seitz state that many different ways Iran could move forward and halt its efforts to proliferate at different levels of capability and risk. Currently, according to Cordesman and Seitz, Iran has a wide range of nuclear options to create new military capabilities over the next decade many of which could be developed in the forms of advanced biological weapons in the following contexts:

- Technology creep: Iran having reached points where its technology and manufacturing base steadily improve its future capabilities to design and manufacture weapons. No proposals have been made to limit Iran’s development of ballistic or cruise missiles and even procurement of advanced airstrike crafts (Cordesman & Seitz, 2009).

-  Break out capability: Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, probably between 2009 and 2011, would reach a point where at least one fissile device within 12-15 months period would be in production. With this kind of progress, it would lead to increased nuclear weapons production in a year.

-  Undeclared Possession: According to Cordesman and Seitz (2009) no clear dividing line exists between a breakout capability and high confidence that Iran has nuclear weapons. Today, mathematics and engineering is available to Iran and the acquisition of detailed weapon designs from China. Iran has technology and equipment to do critical tests using actual weapons design.

- Cordesman and Seitz reveal that Iran’s forces can carry out extensive raids against Gulf shipping, carrying out amphibious exercises. Possibilities of Iran launching coordinate attack involving explosives-laden remote controlled boats, UAVs, midget and attack submarines.

- Iran in justifying its refusal to have IAEA inspection completed remarks that the unanswered questions about its programme, is intrusion on its rights, commercial secrets and military security requirements according to Fitzpatrick (2006). Iran claims a need for self-sufficiency in answer to why it persists with the programme despite international isolation and the political and economic costs. Fitzpatrick assert that the most logical and straightforward explanation is that the programme has a military connection.

- Iran’s military involvement in uranium mine and mill according to Fitzpatrick raises questions about the complex arrangement under which a company linked to be a military front for Iran was responsible for uranium –ore processing plant.

-  Polonium-210 experiments that have weapons use: Fitzpatrick states that experiments conducted by Iran to extract polonium-210 that is an intensely radioactive isotope, from irradiated bismuth could possibly be related to the research for long-life batteries for deep-space satellites (2006). The absence of any Iranian satellite would definitely imply, logically, a military purpose for the experiments.

- Military controlled centrifuge workshops: Most of the centrifuge workshops in Iran are under the direction of the Defence Industries Organization with some workshops being within military bases and as noted by Fitzpatrick that it unusual for any civilian manufacturing activities to have military organizations engaged.

-  Defence-related work at a research centre: IAEA reports that the Physic Research Centre (PHRC) at Lavisan had tried to acquire what Fitzpatrick referred to as ‘dual use materials and equipment which have military applications’. The reasons for the procurement attempts have not been revealed to IAEA satisfactorily.

-  Drawings for Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle: Fitzpatrick reports that in 2004, a walk-in defector at an embassy in the Middle East intelligence with a laptop computer, reportedly that had thousands of documents relating to a project on nuclear research under the control of the Iranian Military. The schematic drawing of Iran’s Shahab-3 medium range ballistic missile showing a series of attempts to redesign the size in order to accommodate a spherical object that has characteristics of a nuclear implosion weapon (2006).

- Uranium conversion links to the military: The retrieved documents also contained information about undeclared Iranian activities which Fitzpatrick state were collectively referred to as ‘Green Salt Project’. The conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetraflouride which is also known as ‘green salt’ due to color and texture. The uranium tetraflouride is an immediate raw material for converting uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride and can then be enriched.

  • State Economy

The Iranian economy has faced a number of problems due to economic sanctions that have been put on the Tehran government. While domestic production of fuel for nuclear power plants makes economic sense, the decision to heavily engage in the nuclear energy power generation should not be judged on economic grounds according to Zarif (2007). Currently Iran cannot rely solely on procuring fuel from outside suppliers since such dependence would hold hostage Iran’s multi-billion dollar investment in power plants.

The United States, according to CFR 2009, has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Iran for nearly three decades and recent resolutions, which reaffirm past mandates, have been added financial and travel sanctions on Iranian officials and corporate. According to the CFR 2007 report, the European Union imposed a set of sanctions, resulting to freezing assets of individuals and entities doing business with the largest bank of Iran, the Bank Melli.

This is attributed to the concerns that Bank Melli has been supporting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

According to Jeffrey Schott of Peterson Institute for International Economics, Iran is the second largest producer and exporter of oil among the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OEPC). This implies not only that Iran exports about 60 percent of its annual oil production but that Iran has been a major beneficiary of recent developments in the world oil markets. Jeffrey says that oil profits fuel the Iranian economy and also finance her investment in weapons development.

The thrive in Iranian oil production and export even with the restriction imposed by the Un and the United Sates has proved to make sufficient investment capital in the trade of weapons, acquiring of expatriates and the continued construction of nuclear power plants despite the cost implications of such manufacturing ventures of great magnitude.

Purpose for Iran’s Nuclear Proliferation

According to many nations that stand for non-proliferation, Iran is building capacity to produce nuclear weapons based of the many questions posed by IAEA that remain unanswered. Zarif (2007) asserts that the “production of fuel for peaceful purpose is universally recognized as lawful under the Non-Proliferation Treaty” and hence Iran, due to lack of supply and sanction on fuel import from other nations has resorted to creating contingency fuel program simultaneously with the construction of nuclear power plants.

Iran had developed mechanisms to gain necessary technology and also develop the “capability for fuel production” which is regarded as time-consuming and if not concurrently undertaken with plant construction, then the plants may become obsolete. Attributing reasons such as denial of foreign fuel without Iran having a fallback plan to domestically produce fuel could bring about the obsoleteness of the nuclear plants.

Iran has always been prepared to find a mutual agreement with many nations including France, Germany and the UK according to Zarif (2007) and that in 2003, Iran reversed the existing trend to one based on full transparency and access to nuclear and advanced technology cooperation with these nations. Later Iran began full implementation of the NPT protocols opening its doors to one of the most robust inspections by IAEA (Zarif, 2007).

In Zarif’s opinion, Iran has strived to reach solutions and has even offered voluntarily suspend its enrichment of uranium for some time in order to build confidence (2007).

Nations Supporting Nuclear Proliferation

An article obtained from the official website of Arms Control Association, reveals that nuclear weapons states (NWS) exist and are legitimized by the Non-proliferation treaty (NPT). There also is a group of states that are in possession of the nuclear weapons and have refused or denounced being signatory to the NPT. These states include: India, Israel and Pakistan – never joined the NPT according to the website of Arms Control Association.

All these states claim their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes with India having tested their nuclear explosive device in 1974. Pakistan and India are said to have conducted several underground nuclear test. Allegation about Israel has been backed by a revelation that Israel is believed to use plutonium in their weapons which is a key element for making nuclear weapons. Other nations such as North Korea pulling out of the NPT in 2003 proves that it has interest in the nuclear proliferation agenda and, according to Arms Control Association, has separated sufficient “plutonium for up to 12 nuclear warheads”.

Nations Supporting Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiated by the US and other like-minded states to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, in 1968 carries with it the articles that government ownership and responsibility of the nuclear weapons states.

The NPT has legitimizes these five state- China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States- to officially possess nuclear weapons. The treaty establishes that the states are not supposed to build and/or maintain such weapons in perpetuity (Arms Control Association).

The reasons for non-proliferation according to the treaty in brief is to peacefully use nuclear energy and not receive nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices from any transferor and also not to manufacture or acquire them.

Place all nuclear materials in all peaceful activities under the International Atomic Energy Association safeguards (NPT, 2010).

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