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In Defense of Using Force Against Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran’s nuclear weapons program is inextricably linked to the national security of the United States.  The program first came under international scrutiny when the IAEA passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment activity in September 2003[1].  Since then, Iran has defied demands by nearly every world power to abandon or limit its program, weathered harsh economic sanctions, and according to some metrics, is now a de-facto nuclear power[2].

The importance of a nation’s nuclear capabilities, especially its nuclear weapons ability, cannot be overstated.  This was one of the guiding principles that led to the formation of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in July of 1968[3].  The U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty in 1969, and Iran became a signatory to it in 1970[4].  The spirit of this treaty is the idea that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the risk of nuclear war, an eventuality that is held to be unacceptable.  Negotiations over Iran’s program have persisted for more than eleven years allowing Iran to move much closer to developing weapons than it was at the outset.  This deplorable reality calls into question whether Iran has violated the treaty, and whether the U.S. considers itself beholden to the principles of the treaty, or if the treaty’s enforcement merely hinges on the convenience of doing so.

For years Iran has attempted to mask its efforts to build a nuclear weapon as the development of a peaceful nuclear program.  Indeed Article IV (1) of the treaty states that all nations have the right to the production of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes[5].  However, there is no doubt that Iran has far exceeded the realistic requirements for a peaceful program.  When negotiations over the program began in 2003, Iran possessed 130 centrifuges for enriching uranium.  Currently, Iran has an estimated 19,000 centrifuges, approximately half of which are in operation[6].  To understand the true intention of Iran’s program, one needs to look no further than at the remarks made by Ayatollah Khamenei in May of this year when he described the nuclear negotiations saying, “all the officials in the country in the field of economy, science, culture, policymaking, lawmaking and foreign negotiations should be aware that they are fighting and are continuing the combat for the establishment and survival of the Islamic system…Jihad is never-ending because Satan and the satanic front will exist eternally.”[7] Furthermore, Iran’s refusal to allow the IAEA adequate access to its facilities to ensure compliance with the treaty’s standards pursuant Article III (1) is evidence of its intention to disregard the treaty[8]. In short, Iran’s actions have made it abundantly clear that they will not structure their nuclear program in accordance with the legal boundaries set forth by the NPT.

The NPT does not technically give rise to particular obligations if one of its signatories is in non-compliance, however, it arguably raises general ones.  But the spirit of the treaty and the context that Iran is challenging it cannot be ignored.  The requirements set forth in the treaty are done so because of the “need to make every effort to avert the danger of nuclear war.”[9]  The treaty was developed precisely to prevent the emergence of a threat that Iran now poses.  Thus far the United States has taken only limited action against Iran in an effort to dissuade it from becoming a full nuclear power; these efforts include negotiations, economic sanctions, as well as an alleged cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities[10].  Despite this, the record shows that the United State’s position has been progressively softened while Iran’s nuclear capabilities have steadily advanced.  This is a dereliction of the duties set forth by the NPT, and it certainly does not amount to the United States making every effort to avoid the sort of war that would instantly become more likely should Iran be successful in its quest for nuclear weapons.

The NPT was developed because the world powers recognized that the chances of nuclear war would increase if nations were free to develop nuclear weapons.  This is particularly true when dealing with an unstable nation such as Iran, a nation that is lead by a man who declared as recently as January that, “the Americans are enemies of the Islamic Revolution, they are enemies of the Islamic Republic.”[11]  The NPT creates a clear obligation for the U.S. to make every effort to ensure that nuclear weapons technology does not proliferate, and it is imperative that the U.S. does not renege on this obligation in favor of political advantage or general convenience.


[2] Kissinger, Henry. “Nuclear Proliferation in Iran.” World Order. New York: Penguin, 2014. 163. Print.


[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Kissinger, 162.

[7] Id.  at 167


[9] Id.

[11] Kissinger, 157.


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