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					                                                              Iran and the UN Security Council : Cracks in the Bell Jar



by Jan De Pauw
paper submitted within the context of ‘Strategy : European Security and Conflict Prevention’, prof. dr. Reychler, elective course AIB
2005-2006, KULeuven.
Prequel

In the next three pages, this paper will look at Iran‟s nuclear ambitions and how they risk
fracturing the international community and its collective security regime. First I will summarily
outline the cascading – and continuing - descent into conflict over Iran‟s stance on uranium
enrichment. Next I will describe the different positions within the UN Security Council
regarding possible measures to resolve the current stand-off. I will also hint at possible
motives behind the various positions. To conclude, this text offers some recommendations
on how to forestall further disintegration.



Jan De Pauw
May 18th, 2006
meta@nmn.be




Cover photograph „Mural 1‟  Steve Roden (http://www.pbase.com/zanoni/profile)
Iran’s nuclear ambitions : fissile matter

        Ever since Dr. Mohammad El Baradei and his team of IAEA inspectors visited Iran‟s
uranium enrichment plant at Natanz in February 2003 and laid bare an atomic program that
had been kept secret for 18 years, the debate over the true nature of the country‟s nuclear
ambitions has taken center stage within the international community.
Iranian authorities maintain that their intentions are peaceful and aimed at reducing the
country‟s dependence on fossil fuels. The United States, Russia, Japan, China and the
European Union however, dispute the sincerity of this claim, as the country is home to some
of the largest known oil reserves. They suspect Iran must be working to develop the Bomb.
        A history of defiance, secrecy and manipulative diplomatic moves on the part of Iran
has not exactly helped build mutual trust. Strong ties to the black market network of
Pakistan‟s nuclear hero Abdul Qadeer Khan; only partially explained traces of highly
enriched uranium on equipment found within Iran1; as well as erratic behavior in its nuclear
cooperation with Russia, have tainted Iran‟s reputation even further.
In the three years since 2003, the situation has gradually acquired a feverish quality. Joint
diplomatic efforts by France, UK and Germany, offering economic bennies in return for good
behavior, have dead-ended. Russia‟s proposal to enrich uranium on Iran‟s behalf so far
returned nothing but a blank. And all parties involved have intensified their rhetoric.
Upholding the legitimacy of his country‟s atomic program, Iranian president Ahmadinejad
also calls for the annihilation of Israel; Israel in turn declares it will not shy away from
targeted strikes should push come to shove; and within the US rumors have surfaced in the
press about contingency plans for military action.
        Today, the matter is before the United Nation‟s Security Council, following referral by
the International Atomic Agency. Failure of various initiatives to have Tehran comply with
UN/IAEA demands has pushed the drive for a so-called „chapter 7‟ resolution which can
open the door to sanctions or even military action. This is where the crux of the problem lies
at present. Permanent members France, Britain and the United States would like the Council
to adopt a chapter 7 resolution, while Russia and China - equally veto-wielding powers –
consider such a move to be premature. Given the estimate of another five to ten years before
Iran has the capacity to produce its first nuclear bomb, they maintain ample time remains for
diplomacy to bring the Iranians back on board. First and foremost then, the case of Iran is not
about mushroom armageddon, but about the worth and power of the Security Council as a
multilateral security instrument.

Chapter VII : The Unravelling

        The gist of the text that is put forward by Britain, France, the United States and
Germany as the Security Council‟s proposed response to Iran‟s nuclear program, is
understood to urge Iran to comply with IAEA regulations and safeguard measures; trading
states are invited to remain alert and restrict their nuclear dealings with Iran; and most
significantly, Tehran is required to halt enriching uranium or face „further measures‟.
Most of the debate between the permanent members ties back to these two words : „further
measures‟. Despite explicit qualification by US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, that the
current resolution will not deal with sanctions, Russia‟s ambassador Vitaly Churkin has
expressed strong reservations about the unspecified nature of such wording, fearing it could
be used as a pretext for military action. In support of Russia‟s reluctance to endorse the
proposal, China has voiced doubts that this draft will produce good results.
        Scepticism from America‟s peers may be understandable, but is it warranted ? Let‟s
take a closer look at the text. Under clause 7 the draft states that the Security Council

1
   Enrichment of up to 60% has been measured in some instances. This level of enrichment is still below the
presumed 90 to 95% enrichment one needs to produce the bomb, but is certainly well above the 5% level, which
is considered to be standard and sufficient for civilian purposes. On May 12th, it was revealed that UN inspectors
had found traces on equipment from a former research facility at Lavizan-Shiyan. Even if these traces are not “the
smoking gun” that point to a military program, they still suggest a secret and parallel project is or was conducted.
“expresses its intention to consider such further measures as may be necessary to ensure
compliance with this resolution and decides that further examination will be required should
such additional steps be necessary”2. Many minds may attribute many different meanings to
the same text, but what stands out from this passage is not so much its vagueness – it rather
sounds like diplomatic discourse as usual – but the fact that it provides for built-in controls in
the event of further necessities. Any next step will have to be preceded by further
investigation, the approval of which would require further institutional consultation. Contrary
to reporting by the Iranian news agency Irna, stating that the draft resolution invokes articles
40, 41 and 42 of Chapter 73, the current text draws upon articles 39 and 40 only, not
implementing sanctions but advocating vigilance4. As it stands, the current proposal seems
to implement Chapter 7 in its weakest form only. Whence then the Russian and Chinese
reservations ?
         First of all, the repeated affirmation by Mr. Bolton (and other officials) that the US will
not exclude any option, including military action regardless of Security Council approval,
arouses suspicion. Haunted by the specter of the Iraq debacle surrounding the acceptance of
resolution 1441 in 2003, some members on the Security Council probably prefer to weed out
risky ambiguities beforehand, in order to prevent the hijacking of the body‟s legitimacy for
unilateralist purposes afterwards. For the sake of nuance, it should be noted that France, a
staunch objector of the US agenda at the time, co-sponsors the current draft proposal on
Iran, suggesting that historical precedents hardly serve linear reasoning.
Secondly, some on the board remain unconvinced that Iran poses a real threat and maintain
that Tehran has a legal right to develop nuclear energy facilities. That right it may have
indeed, but dual technologies such as those in development at Natanz, Arak and Isfahan can
easily change face and represent a problem to the region and the world. The deposition of
Saddam Hussein on one side of Iran‟s borders, and the Taliban on the other, simultaneously
lifted important checks on Iran‟s aspirations to power. And until the hardline regime recasts it
posture on Israel, it is probably wisest to think twice before granting Tehran the benefit of the
doubt.
Most crucially, those advocating patience and continued diplomatic effort, are seen by some
to nurture other ambitions. China is scrounging resources at impressive speeds and is in
urgent need of diversifiying its energy input. Its current reliance on coal is starting to reveal
itself as untenable, both in terms of efficiency (risky and ill-maintained infrastructure) and
sustainability (pollution & environmental degradation). The instabilities inherent in its current
energy policy represent strong reasons for China to avoid antagonising Iran. Both countries
have much to gain from deepening bi-lateral relations in the future. Russia too will benefit
from good relations with its southern neighbour. Pipelines from the Caspian Sea straight
through to the Persian Gulf could boost Russia‟s position on the international stage as a
pivotal energy player. Talking tough but acting friendly could very well be a self-serving tactic
in view of energy deals that might help shift power back east, to the detriment of a resource
dependent Europe.5
         Overall, the different positions within the Security Council could be summarized into
three groups. First, continuing to support the diplomatic effort for now, the US keeps all
options – including unilateral military action – on the table. Less outspoken about Tehran‟s
right to nuclear energy, the Americans (and with them the Israelis) are most adamant about
prohibiting Iran‟s access to the Bomb. To them a nuclear Iran would not only redraw the
regional power map, but launch a new arms race at the same time. Coupled with growing

2
  The full text of the draft resolution is available at http://informationclearinghouse.info/article12946.htm
3
  As read on the IRNA website at http://www.irna.ir/en/news/
4
  Articles 39 and 40 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter state a threat and call for compliance
respectively. Articles 41 and 42 relate to the implementation of economic, communication, diplomatic and military
measures. For the full text of Chapter VII of the Charter, please refer to
http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter7.htm
5
  Non-permanent members such as Qatar, Tanzania and Greece have also voiced reservations about accepting
the draft resolution. Their motives can not be analysed in the space of this paper, but equally relate to strong
economic and/or cultural bi-lateral ties with Iran.
anti-western fundamentalism, American hegemony in the region and its unhindered access
to oil could come under severe threat. Then, the EU-three (France, UK, Germany) –
frantically experimenting with all sorts of beta versions of carrot-and-stick scenarios –
pronounce themselves supportive of a civilian nuclear program provided Iran agrees to work
in compliance with international regulations. The EU hopes to pro-actively engage Iran and
simultaneously demonstrate to the world that the Union and its tactic of multilaterial
diplomacy is incontournable. In fact, since its internal falling out over the Iraq war, or the „no‟
to a Constitutional Treaty, the EU has some brass of its own to polish and this seems to be
the perfect occasion for it... Thirdly, Russia and China seem to go for energy contracts before
anything else, worrying least about Iran having the Bomb and most about keeping all
channels with Tehran open. If Iran manages to exploit the member‟s differences effectively
and the post-WWII multilateral security regime ends up being hollowed out, global political
stability will be up for grabs.

Action delayed...

        For now the crisis seems to have been averted. On May 12th, all Security Council
members agreed to give negotiations another chance before tightening the screws on the
regime in Iran. This apparent consensus however may turn out to be somewhat like breaking
the sound barrier, where the loud bang comes long after hitting the wall. One may wonder if
our security bubble hasn‟t burst a while ago, with just the loud shatter postponed.
Despite the reopening of the diplomatic track, Tehran happily continues to defy the west,
both with strong language against Israel (as was again the case upon Ahmadinejad‟s visit to
Indonesia in mid-May) and strong demands towards the EU (any European package deal
should contain explicit statements on Iran‟s right to nuclear energy for instance).6 The
situation may soon lead back to the point where it stalled today : action yes, but how ?
        At least three things are important to prevent further disintegration of the international
community. One, the US should take president‟s Ahmadinejad‟s recent letter7 serious and
accept it as a starting point for bi-lateral discussions. The meandering style of Persian
sophistication may not be much appreciated by the White House, but clear reciprocation of
Tehran‟s gesture at the very least puts the ball back in the camp of Iran. (And additionally, a
display of goodwill on the part of the US will reap some public relations benefits in the muslim
world).
Secondly, it is fundamental that the Security Council understand Iran‟s tactics as serving
domestic purposes as much as (or even more than) global ones. Iran‟s population is
predominantly young, unemployed and restless. Youth and women want reform, and they
tend to be pro-western (in varying degrees). Averting attention from these explosive issues
by conjuring up the demon of western imperialism. Tehran‟s international brinkmanship
should be seen as an effort to consolidate a domestic power base that would otherwise sink
away in the demographic and economic quicksands of the country. To budge is to bolster.
Accomodating the diversionary tactics of Iran only strenghtens the regime at home.
Thirdly, the international community should work on inverting Tehran‟s strategic use of time.
At present, Iran gains most from delaying decisions and acts with such delays in mind. This
should be wheeled around to where the Security Council sets the timetables and
correspondingly intensifying embargoes, which in turn should serve as the hourglass for Iran
to measure its options by. In order to bring the international community in line on this, please
refer back to the first step to be taken : direct negotiations between the US and the Islamic
Republic of Iran are essential. The US agreeing to such negotiations within the timeframe of
tightening impositions, should serve as a guarantee that Washington will not resort to
unilateral action before the final deadline expires.

6
   The longer this continues , the more Europe‟s leverage will shrink to the gain of Russia, that performs as the
main contractor in the construction of an atomic power plant at Bushehr. Russia has suspended work there for a
while now, but it will be interesting to see how the completion of the plant is used as loose change in the
triangulations between Iran, Russia and the EU.
7
   Please find the full text of the letter at http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1772199,00.html
        For now, the EU has the initiative. Its diplomatic efforts should help bring the US and
Iran around the table. And perhaps, that way, Europe will reveal itself as the true
communicator it professes to be !


Jan De Pauw
Background reading


X, “UN resolution on Iran : full text of draft”, in Information Clearing House, (04.05.2006),
(08.05.2006, Information Clearing House,
http://informationclearinghouse.info/article12946.htm )

AHMADINEJAD, M., “Those in power do not rule for ever : history will judge our
presidencies”, in The Guardian, (11.05.2006), (13.05.2006, Guardian Unlimited,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,,1772199,00.html )

BENSAHEL, N. & BYMAN, D.L. (eds.), The future security environment in the Middle East,
conflict, stability, and political change, RAND CORPORATION, Santa Monica, 2004.

FULLER, G. E., “The Youth Factor : the new demographics of the Middle East and the
Implications for U.S. Policy” in THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, The Brookings Project on
U.S. policy towards the islamic world, Washington D.C., 2003

PERKOVICH, G., “Dealing with Iran‟s Nuclear Challenge” in CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT
FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE, Washington D.C., 2003

PERKOVICH, G., “Iran is not an island : a strategy to mobilize the neighbors” in CARNEGIE
ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE, Policy Brief, Washington D.C., 2005

				
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