Two contrasting cases of proliferation: Pakistan & Iran

Double Standard at the UN

Brahma Chellaney International Herald Tribune

NEW DELHI Nothing better illustrates the way global efforts to halt nuclear proliferation are at the mercy of international politics than the contrasting responses of the United Nations Security Council to the two latest proliferation cases. Iran was handed an excessively harsh diktat to cease doing what it insists is its lawful right, while Pakistan has received exceptionally lenient treatment, despite the discovery of a major nuclear black-market ring run by Pakistani scientists and intelligence and military officials.
 
The uncovering of the illicit Pakistani supply network, which has been operating for at least 16 years, exposed the worst proliferation scandal in history. Yet in response the Security Council passed a resolution that made no reference to Pakistan, or even to the nuclear smuggling ring, but instead urged the entire world to share the responsibility. Resolution 1540 obligates all states to legislate and implement tight domestic controls on materials related to weapons of mass destruction so as to ensure that non-state actors do not get hold of them.
 
In contrast, the Security Council’s tough line on Iran was expressed in a strongly worded resolution passed a month ago that sets a Aug. 31 deadline. To "make mandatory" Iran’s cessation of all nuclear fuel-cycle activity, Resolution 1696 states that the Security Council "demands, in this context, that Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency."
 
The difference between these approaches is all the more startling given that the Security Council is acting against Tehran on reasonable suspicion but not clinching evidence, while Islamabad has admitted that the Pakistani ring covertly transferred nuclear secrets (including enrichment equipment and nuclear-bomb designs) to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The exporting state has been allowed to escape international scrutiny and censure while the importing state is being put in the doghouse.
 
The latest resolution on Iran acknowledges that the Security Council is acting not on conclusive proof but because there are "a number of outstanding issues and concerns on Iran’s nuclear program, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension." But the council has refrained from doing the obvious to settle the outstanding issues relating to Iran’s past unlawful imports – empower the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate the supply chain in Pakistan.
 
Iran has to shoulder much of the blame for the rising concerns over its nuclear program. It was not until an Iranian dissident group blew the whistle in 2002 that Tehran admitted it had built undeclared facilities in Natanz and Arak. To this day, however, technical assessments by the IAEA still affirm there is no "evidence of diversion" of nuclear materials for nonpeaceful purposes by Iran.
 
The Security Council has to act wisely and ensure that it does not follow double standards that undermine its credibility and effectiveness. After allowing Pakistan to get off scot-free, despite having been caught red-handed running the world’s biggest nuclear proliferation ring, the council should not seek to make amends by prematurely penalizing Iran.
 
A certain balance is necessary, or else Iran may emulate Pakistan and go overtly nuclear. In fact, by implicitly condoning Pakistani proliferation while taking a tough line on Iran, the Security Council has already sent a message to Tehran that it pays to be a nuclear-weapons state.
 
In the case of the far-reaching Pakistani network, a single individual, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was conveniently made the scapegoat in a charade that saw Pakistan’s military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, pardon him and then shield him from international investigators by placing him under indefinite house arrest.
 
While Iran is being demonized for certain suspect activities, the world has been made to believe that Khan set up and ran a nuclear Wal-Mart largely on his own.
 
The Security Council needs to rethink the wisdom of a resolution that commands Iran to accept a standard applicable to no other country. The attempt to single out Iran and enforce a discriminatory standard could well prove counterproductive, if it provoked Tehran to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and kick out IAEA inspectors.
 
What is needed is a new global consensus on standards governing fissile-material production, not an arbitrary regime that divides the nonnuclear world into fuel-cycle possessors and a single fuel-cycle abstainer. It is not helpful when the Security Council acts as if the military regime in Islamabad is on the right side of international politics but the clerical regime in Tehran is detestable and thus presumed guilty.
 
At present, Iran is years away from acquiring a nuclear- weapons capability. Through prudent diplomacy backed by stringent IAEA inspections, the Security Council can still ensure that Iran will remain free of nuclear weapons.
 
Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
 
 
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