Credible Commitment: in Iran and in the NPT

One of the largest problems in attempts to work towards international non-proliferation is the lack of credible commitment, spurring the concern that other nations will be acting outside of agreements and skirting verification. This fear tends to undermine efforts of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it certainly surfaces when discussing Iran’s nuclear research and enrichment programs.

When we examined the IAEA report on Iran for one of our problem sets, we saw that Iran was operating an underground enrichment plant that had previously gone unnoticed. Given the fact that this plant was producing up to 20% HEU, it caused a significant ripple of concern at the time of the report. Could this present an obstacle to future agreements concerning nuclear enrichment in Iran? As Einhorn writes in his report, Iran already has the technological know-how and hands-on experience to produce weapons grade uranium, and theoretically produce nuclear weapons. At this time, the United States Intelligence Community, or IC as Einhorn calls it, is uncertain whether Iran intends to pursue nuclear weapons as part of their nuclear program. This could present a problem when examining the practical needs of Iran from multiple nations’ perspectives. A nation like Israel likely does not believe that Iran needs a nuclear weapon (as they strongly oppose Iran’s possession of a weapon), and thus might limit its view of Iran’s practical needs to nuclear power, or even less nuclear activity. Conversely, Iran might include eventual potential development of a nuclear weapon in its practical needs. Even if an agreement were to be reached preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon at the moment, would credible commitment problems arise due to Iran’s past operation of an unknown nuclear facility? What kinds of verification techniques would the European Union and the P5+1 states require of Iran, and what would Iran consent to?

Additionally, if this credible commitment problem indeed exists regarding Iran, how would this affect the state and stability of the NPT? It was mentioned in class that, after North Korea’s exit from the NPT, a stable agreement in Iran would contribute to the strength of the NPT’s agreement. Would a failure to complete an agreement in Iran before the JPA expires signal a shift downward in the power of the NPT? Might other states decide to leave the NPT and pursue nuclear programs? What kind of commitment problem exists with the NPT, and how might it be fixed? — Nicole