As a 4th round of UNSC Iran sanctions is passed and the NPT Review Conference is brought to a close, the emergence of new nuclear diplomacy interlocutors with distinct interests will make non-proliferation consensus-building a more complex affair.
Egyptian diplomats have traditionally served as a principal channel of non-nuclear weapons state ambitions and frustrations at NPT Review Conferences. The status of Egypt as authoritative dealmaker in international nuclear policy is disproportionate to its actual global military and economic power.
The landmark consensus statement of the 1995 NPT Review Conference, issuing support for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East, is widely credited to the intransigence of Egypt in demanding language against Israel’s nuclear arsenal in return for its support toward a final consensus.
Depictions of recent NPT Review Conferences suggest that the ability of participating states to accommodate Egyptian policy preferences has become a principal determinant of the success or failure of the conference.
Stephen Rademaker, head of the US delegation to the NPT Review Conference in 2005, explaining the near-failure of states to reach a consensus, remarked that Egypt “wrecked” the conference by refusing to compromise on its positions. In 2010, Egypt concurrently chaired the New Agenda Coalition of states pressuring for nuclear disarmament, and the Non-Aligned Movement of 118 states. This further consolidated its position as a principal interlocutor in nuclear diplomacy.
Recent bold manoeuvres by Brazil and Turkey suggest that they could soon emerge as new stars in the firmament of non-nuclear weapons state diplomatic powers, following Egypt’s lead. In the midst of efforts by Washington to secure the consent of Beijing, Moscow and other world capitals toward a new round of sanctions against Iran’s covert nuclear practices, Brasilia and Ankara announced they had agreed with Tehran that it would move 1200kg of its uranium fuel to Turkey as a confidence-building measure.
This move sought to demonstrate that the Iranian nuclear crisis could be resolved by a means other than containment and waves of sanctions. Experts note that, even if successfully implemented, the deal would do little to resolve the core concern regarding the transparency of Iran’s nuclear program. However, this arrangement signifies a new determination of Brazil and Turkey to make their mark in attempts to resolve global nuclear dilemmas.
Turkey and Brazil currently sit on the UN Security Council. In the leadup to the Security Council vote on a fourth round of Iran sanctions, Turkey and Brazil indicated their dissatisfaction with the drive to further punish Iran despite its recent goodwill gesture of the fuel swap. Recognizing that their positive vote in favour of sanctions was unlikely, US diplomats requested that Turkey and Brazil abstain from voting. This would project an image of Security Council solidarity against Iran, with no negative votes. Instead, Brazil and Turkey registered the only negative votes against the resolution. This further illustrates their emergence as new interlocutors in international non-proliferation efforts.
Their opposition to multilateral attempts to restrain Iran’s secret uranium enrichment activities is largely driven by a concern that the NPT nuclear weapons states will seek to establish a new view that holding uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing technology is illicit in itself, rather than the issue being the transparency with which these activities are conducted.
Brazil launched its own enrichment facility at Resende in 2006. Turkey is presently initiating its nuclear program. They fear that global controls established against Iran’s nuclear program could be extended to theirs. Turkey also wishes to avoid aggravating Iran as a regional neighbor.
US diplomats should devote attention to understanding these motivations for Brazil and Turkey, and seek to develop approaches to global non-proliferation policy that can be calibrated to accommodate a louder Brazil-Turkey voice.
Brazil and Turkey should be reassured that transparency, and not technology, is the issue. Diplomats should prepare themselves for the task of generating future NPT Review Conference consensus agreements that make substantive progress on issues facing the non-proliferation regime, while incorporating a more diverse range of state policy preferences in doing so.
By. Frank O'Donnell