Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tomorrow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will launch a report detailing further evidence of clandestine nuclear activity in Iran. For example, we will be told that Iran has obtained designs for triggers for nuclear bombs suggesting that it might have an active weapons programme. If Iran did develop a bomb it would join an exclusive club of a very few countries with such capacity.

The Iranian Government will restate its claim that uranium enrichment is a civil programme for the development of nuclear power for civil purposes. Although President Ahmadinejad’s popularity in Iran is heading for the rocks, his support of an indigenous nuclear programme appeals to a widespread sense of national pride.

Similarly it is ultimately national pride and status (not national security considerations) that causes the UK, USA, Russia, China and France to reject practical steps towards achieving zero nuclear weapons. In May 2010 these five nuclear powers declined an offer from the UN Secretary General to host a conference on negotiating a path to global zero (although the offer was supported by a great many other countries). Our isolation on disarmament is damaging. To effectively tackle Iran and demand greater accountability we will need a stronger global consensus than currently exists.

Last week a first report from the Trident Commission (to which our three churches submitted evidence) suggests that far from the rhetoric of disarmament, the nuclear powers appear to be embarking on a new nuclear arms race, developing longer range missiles and smaller nuclear warheads designed for ‘tactical’ use.

If we want to get tough with Iran we have to demonstrate the direction of travel. Gone are the days when five nations could claim special status. This logic of our special status has been tested on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere and has been found wanting. We should seek to build an effective global alliance to require responsible behaviour from Iran. Many indications would suggest that this is achievable if the nuclear powers succeed in unlocking the deadlock on crucial issues that have been debated in the dysfunctional Conference on Disarmament over the past decade. Herein lies the challenge. Encouragingly, some of these issues are being debated in the UN General Assembly at the moment, and pressure brought to bear on nuclear powers to demonstrate their preferred direction of travel.  But ultimately it is transparency and public engagement in the debate that will surely bring change - which is why processes such as the BASIC Trident Commission are so important.