Iran and the Bomb: Why the UN Security Council Can’t Get It Done

Russia and China have both backed Iran internationally, in part because Iran “has vociferously defended the Palestinians, but it has stood by as the Russians have slaughtered Chechens and the Chinese have suppressed Muslim Uighurs.[2]” Britain and Russia have both held Iran as an area of interest in the past. France still believes it holds the clout of the ancien regime, however since the collapse of its empire, France has paled in comparison to the other great powers, and only now as a key member of the EU has regained some of its former clout. The United States held Iran as a key ally in the Middle East from the departure of the British to the 1979 Revolution, and after the Iran-Iraq war and the Iran-Contra Affair of the 1980’s the US-Iranian relationship is that of enemies at best, Iran claiming America is the Great Satan and the US under the Bush Administration placing Iran at the centre of the ‘Axis of Evil’. The interests of the UN Security Council ought to be taken in account as a whole, but it is important to consider each individual Security Council members interests. The most important thing to keep in mind while discussing nuclear proliferation is that the debate is consigned by two major areas of thought, internationalism which argues for international regimes and laws which will govern the conduct of states and realism, which argues that it is a war of all against all, the actions of individual states is largely governed by realism while the actions of the Security Council as a whole is largely guided by the internationalist conceptions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Russia has throughout its history opposed American expansionism and influence around the world. This occurred most explicitly during the Cold War in opposition to the Marshall Plan and NATO policies. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a high point in this tension, when the accepted construct of ‘backyards’ was threatened by Russia retaliating against American construction of missile sites in Turkey, by supporting the Cuban government in establishing its own nuclear arsenal. Russia’s support for Iran can be viewed in much the same way; it uses Iran as a burr in America’s and the collective West’s side. By supporting Iran, Russia can still hold itself apart and use this support as a leverage on other important issues such as: expansion of the EU and NATO as well as pipeline development for Europe.

The development of nuclear materials has been a matter of great concern to the international community. The Iranian President has made many statements regarding the annihilation of the Israeli state and has hosted a Holocaust denial conference in Iran. The regime of mullahs that came to power after the 1979 Revolution against the American backed Shah has maintained a rigorous support for anti-Western and anti-Israeli forces, under the guise of international Islamism. Now with Tehran beginning to stockpile and refine its fissile materials, “if Iran’s nuclear program continues to progress at its current rate, Tehran could have the nuclear material needed to build a bomb before US President Barack Obama’s current term in office expires.[1]” With this in mind, it is important to take into consideration the actions and interests of the other nuclear powers on the UN Security Council.

China maintains steady trade with Iran, through technology and agricultural trade and the ever-important fact that “Iran is China’s third-largest crude oil supplier.[3]” China has some of the same interests as Russia in regards to the international arena. Both states have been accused by the other members of the Security Council of abuses of their populations, and having their own sphere of influence allows them to avoid the international complications of Western allied states avoiding trade because of fear of irritating Washington. With China importing almost all of its oil, mostly by sea, which is patrolled by the massive United States Navy, oil supply is a major security risk for the Chinese government and people as a whole. With this in mind it is important to understand that securing its own strategic oil reserves is more important than mitigating the development of an Iranian nuclear program, a program which would most probably not target any of China’s strategic assets and strengthen their position against the United States in the international order. Furthermore it is important to recognize that the Chinese government has taken a hands off approach to international trade. Whereas the United States demands complicity with its own ideals and often uses the International Monetary Fund as well as aid packages and military support, as bludgeons to achieve these aims China restricts itself to trade taking a pragmatic look at the international arena.

France holds part of its international clout due to its status as a nuclear power and a former great power. France’s primary interest in avoiding Iranian nuclear power is to avoid the collapse of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has held the world in a relatively stable state and limited the development of nuclear capabilities throughout much of the world. With Iran developing a nuclear arsenal it may feel that it can act internationally in a way in which it was incapable before, not only inciting violence against Israel through Hamas and Hezbollah but also encouraging violence within Western States based along ethnic and religious lines. France, with a large Algerian Muslim population, must consider this as a serious threat.

Britain has had a historic relationship with Iran, holding it as an area of interest during the Interwar Period, and supporting the Shah alongside America during the early years of the Cold War. Britain is entrenched in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside their American allies. For Iran to establish itself as a nuclear power would increase instability within the region and possibly threaten British forces and economic interests throughout the Middle East. Britain, which wrote the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and distributed it to the international Jewish community, also has a vested interest in supporting Israel, the former Palestine. This support has resulted in a policy, which deems any threat to Israel as a threat to Britain’s interests. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, continues to threaten Israel with destruction and has stated he would use a nuclear armament for exactly those aims[4].

This is of greatest concern to the United States, who is Israel’s most stalwart ally, providing military and economic support that has allowed Israel to survive in a sea of opposition. If and when Iran develops nuclear capabilities, Israel will most certainly feel threatened and the United States will lend its support. The United States has lost much of its international clout over the last decades. From the Iran-Contra Affair through the Bush Administration and its Executive Order concerning ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’, America has slowly whittled away at its own legitimacy as a moral leader on the international scene. Because of this, being unable to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions would “not spell the end of efforts to halt proliferation in other parts of the world, it would undeniably deal the non-proliferation regime a setback, by demonstrating that the great powers are unable or unwilling to act collectively to stop proliferators.[5]

Taking into account all 5 members of the Security Council, their disparate interests and their mutual vetoes, it is hard to see the 5 working together to create a concrete plan to mitigate Iranian nuclear ambitions. Iran has ignored the complaints of the IAEA, but so have states such as Israel and Pakistan. The development of one more nuclear state may simply be that, “nuclear empowerment could well thwart Iran’s hegemonic ambitions,[6]” by driving its neighbours into the support of the American defensive umbrella. Russia and China may also eventually be destabilized or threatened by Iran’s strident statements and blatant Islamism. Although the interests of the individual Security Council members may be different in the long term, a world with more nuclear weapons it can be agreed is not necessarily a safer one. In the long term, the proliferation of nuclear arms to unstable nation states with vitriolic leaderships will fundamentally destabilize the advantages, which the great powers have supported for themselves. A nuclear Iran would inevitably result in a hair trigger conflict much like India and Pakistan’s, the world would have to be on constant alert for nuclear assault not by two state actors but four. Overall it is in the interest of the 5 to work towards their own agendas in the short term, but as those powers, which steer the global agenda, they have a duty to ensure safety for all nations.

[1] Lindsay, James M. Takeyh, Ray. Foreign Affairs (March/April 2010). After Iran Gets the Bomb. P. 33

[2] Lindsay, Takeyh. P. 35

[3] Al-Jazeera. Vow to safeguard nuclear materials.

[4] Der Speigel. Ahmadinejad threatens Israel with Destruction.,1518,484958,00.html

[5] Lindsay, Takeyh. P. 41

[6] Lindsay, Takeyh. P. 37

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