U.S. Nuclear Treaty With Iran - Why Not?


In the last set of articles I published on PolicyMic about Iran’s nuclear program, I argued that the threat of Teheran’s nuclear program is exaggerated. The precedents that exist in respect to U.S. nuclear policy towards China, India, and Pakistan suggest that a nuclear Iran can be accepted into the nuclear club, without major problems. I also highlighted the logic that if anything causes Iran to develop nuclear weapons, it will not be the internal dynamics of the regime, but the outright confrontational positions of the West, and by extension, Israel.

But what would a nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Iran look like? The U.S.-India nuclear treaty serves as a model. It suggests that Iran’s nascent nuclear program can very well be brought into adherence with international norms via mechanisms found in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory. The U.S.-India model also suggests that Iran's nuclear program can be made more transparent and accountable through a bilateral treaty with Washington. Readers might consider the idea ludicrous, but hear me out.

The treaty between India and the U.S. is primarily focused on cooperation on the civilian aspects of nuclear technology. It contains provisions that recognize the freedom of each country to manage the military applications of its nuclear capabilities. It stipulates, however, that nuclear material and technology must be secured and efforts made to prevent their proliferation. The treaty has many practical aspects, including the transfer of knowledge, information, personnel and technology. This makes the U.S.–Indian nuclear relationship sustainable in the long-term.

Yes, it can be said that Iran will have the capacity to militarize nuclear technology. But it will only do so if pushed by external pressures, and I am afraid that this moment is near—the moment when Western pressure is going to become counterproductive. Israel, for instance, has a history of pre-emptive strikes in the Middle East on nuclear facilities, in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. A risk analysis based on that information means that it is very likely that Tel Aviv would be the first to lose its patience and order a coordinated strike on Iranian facilities.

To prevent the escalation of hostilities, now is the moment to set in stone a permanent U.S.-Iran nuclear treaty that is modeled on the one with India. Now is the moment to codify comprehensive horizontal and vertical cooperation on the civilian use of nuclear power initially, invoke Iran’s membership in the NPT, and procure guarantees that any military application of nuclear technology will be purely defensive vis-à-vis China’s nuclear doctrine, which is based on a minimum level of deterrent. However, there should be one important modification: Any military stockpile that Teheran creates must be subject to international monitoring, reporting, and visibility standards.

If Washington can engage India constructively on nuclear issues after 30 years of pretending New Delhi did not have nuclear technology, the same is possible with Iran. The benefits would be considerable, as Tel Aviv would be calmed and the Gulf allies would, on a larger scale, move China and Russia together towards one superpower consensus with the West. This would ultimately result in the alleviation of tensions and the normalization of Iran's nuclear program within the international system.

The point is that Israel, despite its military might, does not have the creative thinking needed to engage Iran constructively. The question is whether Washington, instead of readily aligning with Tel Aviv, has the diplomatic sophistication to solve the issue not only intelligently, but with style.