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Lowry & Ford: An Exchange on Iran and NPT Outliers


Dr. David Lowry, who has contributed to NPF as a “guest blogger” in the past, wrote to offer  comments about Ford’s April 29, 2010, remarks to the Congressional Nuclear Security Caucus.  Below are Lowry’s comments, and Ford’s response.

From: David Lowry [address redacted]


Subject: RE: New NPF Posting: "After the Security Summit and the RevCon: What Next?"

Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2010 00:40:29 +0000


Your remarks to the Congressional Nuclear Security Caucus are striking by the omission of any mention of Israel, Pakistan, and India, each stand-outs from the NPT regime, each serious nuclear WMD proliferators, each significant recipients of nuclear assistance and high-tech military support ..... from the US.  Yet you excoriate Iran as a pariah, surrounded by these already nuclear-armed aggressor military nations, backed up by the nuclear-armed US 6th Fleet and the nuclear-armed US long distance B-52s and maybe stealth bombers on Diego Garcia in the Chagos  Islands in the Indian Ocean, all capable of  destroying Tehran and several other Iranian cities.  If you were advising the Government in Tehran, not addressing  the inner beltway nuclear security folk, you might just have a different emphasis on where the insecurity lies.

I oppose all nuclear weapons (and enabling  nuclear energy  production technology), as they decrease international security. But picking out recalcitrants as pariahs, because they are not your military allies, or allies in the challenge against terrorism, is both inequitable, and ultimately doomed to fail.

Please post on your blog if you consider this comment meritorious.


Dr David Lowry

former director, European Proliferation Information Centre [EPIC], London

Ford Responds

Dear David:

I’m pleased to have the chance to publish our exchange on this site.  Thanks for suggesting it, and thanks for writing!

The focus of the “NPT” section of my remarks to the Congressional Nuclear Security Caucus was, perhaps not too surprisingly, the NPT.  India, Pakistan, and Israel -- which you find it striking that I did not mention -- are of course not States Party to the Treaty.  You take me to task for not discussing these outliers, while yet “excorat[ing] Iran as a pariah.”  I suppose I did that, but I did not do it without reason.  In my view, the foremost challenge to the NPT regime right now is how to deal with Iran’s violations of the Treaty: dealing with the issues raised by the continued existence of countries outside the Treaty is important, but it pales in comparison to failing to address cheating within it.  One should put first things first.

If the NPT cannot cope with flagrant and destabilizing violations of its core rules, there isn’t much point in worrying about universality, because the Treaty wouldn’t mean much of anything in the first place.  Supporters of universality often don’t grasp this, but they should support vigorous compliance enforcement vis-a-vis Iran for two compelling reasons: (1) NPT universality is only valuable if the Treaty’s rules actually constrain States Party; and (2) surely one of the most reliable ways to ensure that universality is never achieved is to permit the emergence of a nuclear arms race (or races!) in the Middle East.  I would think it very difficult for any serious supporter of NPT universality not to be a strong backer of effective and vigorous nonproliferation compliance enforcement -- and right now, any such seriousness means taking a hard line vis-a-vis Iran.  In this regard, for my part, I support the ideal of universality by insisting that Treaty accession actually mean something.

With regard to your defense of Iran’s justifications for its violations, I freely concede that Iranian government officials will speak eloquently about how much they feel threatened by the United States.  Assuming that this is actually true, however -- and one must concede that there is a great deal of opportunistic convenience and political grandstanding in such claims -- I doubt that anyone in Tehran feels particularly threatened by U.S. nuclear weapons.  (I’m not quite sure what you mean in referring to the “nuclear-armed aggressor military nations” who “surround” Iran, but it isn’t clear to me that Iranians feel much of a specifically nuclear threat from the NPT outliers either.  The possible exception is Israel, I suppose, but these days the existential threatening seems to point in quite the other direction.  You haven’t heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say anything about wiping Iran “off the map,” have you?  If he did, I missed it.)

If I were “advising the Government in Tehran” rather than “the inner beltway nuclear security folk,” I would no doubt have a somewhat different perspective.  That said, however, even if I were an Iranian government analyst, what reason would I have to fear U.S. nuclear attack?   Fear my own oppressed and brutalized people?  Definitely.  The emergent nuclear ambitions of my Arab and Sunni neighbors?  Probably.  Precision-guided conventional attack by American and/or Israeli forces?  Perhaps.  But American nuclear weapons?  Hardly.

Let me conclude by suggesting that your letter gets the vocabulary a bit mixed up.  You label Iran merely a nuclear “recalcitrant.”  But Iran isn’t a “recalcitrant” state at all: it is an NPT violator.  It freely acceded to the Treaty, but it refuses to honor this legal commitment.  (The outlier states of India, Pakistan, and Israel are more like real recalcitrants, for they have certainly resisted acceding to the Treaty in the first place.  That, however, is rather different from violating it!)  You also suggest that it is improper and offensive to treat Iran as a “pariah,” yet you apparently brand the NPT outlier countries “nuclear-armed aggressor military states.”  This perplexes me.  As I see it, to demonize countries that never chose to join the NPT while defending one that violates the Treaty’s provisions is to get one’s moral, legal, and policy priorities wrong.


-- Chris

P.S. -- Don’t think me uninterested in talking about the “outliers,” by the way.  In fact, I imagine I’ll have something up on this website on them in the not too far distant future.  Stay tuned ....


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