Photo Jonathan Blair

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mathematics of dumbness: The Security Council, emerging powers, and Iran's nuclear program

In 2010, Brazil and Turkey made a huge mess after being excluded from the international committee leading the talks on Iran's nuclear program. That committee was called P5+1 because it included the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany. It was also called, more euphemistically, the E3+3 because... it included France, Germany and the UK, along with the US, China and Russia. The legitimacy of that little club was challenged, however, by Turkey and Brazil in particular, which at the time were non-permanent members of the Security Council. The little numbers game, in other words, wasn't quite working.

Turkey wondered why it had not been invited: after all, as an immediate neighbour its strategic situation would be massively affected by a nuclear Iran and it would likely suffer ripple effects from attempts to destroy Iranian nuclear infrastructures. The Brazilians were unhappy to be left out. They felt—and still fell—that they are not getting much in exchange for signing the NPT and suspending their own nuclear programs (this is not a typo, they had several). They wondered why Germany was involved while other top candidates to a permanent seat at the Security Council, like themselves, were left out.

So Turkey and Brazil joined force and launched their own little initiative. It did give a degree of legitimacy, however fleeting, to Iran's claim that its program had no military component. Conversely, it weakened the legitimacy of the Security Council's pressures, which really looked like the action of a small group of powerful bullies. In the end, Iran's rigidity helping a lot, Turkey and Brazil voted against the sanctions but announced, somewhat sheepishly, that they would comply with the Council's decision.  

Things have apparently calmed down and discussions have proceeded since without any change to the committee's participants. Brazil's relations with Iran may even have taken a turn for the worse and diplomats are keeping discussions alive with regular meetings, the latest on Feb. 26 in Kazakhstan.  So, all is fine?

Not quite, and not just because Iran appears to be proceeding with its nuclear program unabated.  The P5 may not want to play to the whims of every new kid on the block and, indeed, Turkey and Brazil looked more than a little bit naive when insisting that Iran was really not interested in a military program. But in practice, Turkey has continued to oppose the sanctions, its officials have said that those would not affect the importation of Iranian oil and gas and that Turkey's economic relations with Iran would likely intensify. The problem, however, goes well beyond the case of Iran. The NPT regime is under threat. Current nuclear powers will not fully disarm, contrary to their commitment, and a growing number of countries will acquire the technological capacity to produce their own nuclear devices. If access to the Security Council remains de facto conditional on having nuclear weapons, and if potential nuclear powers can't even have a say in the governance of the regime and in the management of the crises it confronts, what exactly is in it for them?