Jim Walsh:

Ban treaty non-mandatory, not leading to nuclear disarmament

News ID: 4072997 -
TEHRAN, Aug. 29 (MNA) – Professor Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program said if sovereign states join ban treaty, they are obliged to follow that by international law.

Ban treaty cannot lead to disarmament because it is not mandatory, but it is always to remind yourself that in the international system, states whether Iran or any other states are considered as sovereign and ultimately have control over what they decide to do, told Jim Walsh to the Mehr News correspondents.

Following is the full text of the interview: 

The UN General Assembly adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 (or so) years. Despite of strong emphasis on nuclear disarmament, why was this treaty adopted so late?

Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there is an obligation that nuclear weapon states under article No. 6 give up their nuclear weapons. There was some expectation that nuclear weapon states would follow those commitments, but that did not happen. So when that did not happen, nonnuclear countries particularly in Europe and nonaligned movement were looking for ways to press the issue of disarmament forward. Because of humanitarian movements which call attention to the fact that you cannot use nuclear weapons without great humanitarian consequences, it was followed by the idea of ban treaty.

But I think it is basically a response to the failure of the nuclear weapon states in the treaty to disarm and the failure of the states outside of the NPT to reduce their nuclear weapons stockpiles. 

Why was it adopted in UN general assembly which is not mandatory?

Yes. That's right. This cannot lead to disarmament because it is not mandatory, but it is always to remind yourself that in the international system, states whether Iran or any other states are considered as sovereign and ultimately have control over what they decide to do. So, if sovereign states join the treaty, they are obliged to follow the treaty by international law. But if they choose not to join the treaty, that is their sovereign right. That is the case for the NPT. I think NPT was marvelously successful. The ban treaty is the worldwide effort. I think it gives nonnuclear weapon states some leverage against nuclear weapon states.

When NPT was first created in 1970, not everyone joined it. In fact, it took 10 to 15 years for some countries which were impotent in terms of nuclear to join the treaty. Japan did not join right away, for example. Therefore, the ban treaty was always there. At some point, France and England decided to give up their nuclear weapons and in this way, others may follow. If there would be a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, the world would see that it is so horrific. So I think it is useful to have a ban in place and look for a political way to ensure it. 

Can this adoption lead to disarmament of nuclear powers?

Yes. But there is no doubt that this might be very difficult. Most nuclear weapons are owned by Russia and the US. Russia and the US have taken tremendous strides to reduce their stockpiles from what used to be 25000 warheads to 1000 to 1500. So, that's good news but the other countries that have smaller arsenals are building mare. So Pakistan has smaller arsenals but it's building more while it's not in the NPT. India looks for an arms race which is not good and North Korea is pushing forward. Israel has shown no signs of giving up its nuclear weapons.

I think there are some real challenges going forward, but the only way to make progress for nonnuclear weapon states is to use their leverage and to create some institutions that can help achieve their goal. It's not today, but hopefully tomorrow.

Supporters of this treaty believe that its adoption in the UN will put pressure on nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear weapons. What can be possible pressures from UN on these nuclear powers?

I think, in the past, traditionally and historically, the pressures come in negotiations at NPT Review Conferences. That is happenning every 5 years as a venue for nuclear weapon states to explain themselves in terms of their performance and a successful conference requires that the parties agree by consensus on a document. In the past, nonnuclear states have used various elements of the NPT to put pressure on nuclear states, but it is very hard and I think we have a kind of dilemma here.

From one side, US provides deterrent protection to NATO, Japan and South Korea. The question is if the US was to leave the nuclear weapon or withdraw that security umbrella, I don't think NATO would, but possibly Japan and South Korea might rethink their non-nuclear status. Non-nuclear weapon states do not have a kind of leverage. This (the newly adopted treaty) is one thing that they can use, but frankly it is hard to force countries especially powerful ones and try to force them to give up very powerful weapons.

One of the goals of IAEA is nuclear disarmament, but nuclear powers are not interested in it and they are just after nuclear nonproliferation. Why has IAEA never been after nuclear disarmament?

IAEA was established even before the NPT back in 1950 during the Eisenhower's administration to focus more on peaceful uses of nuclear power. The IAEA just like the UN is an international institution. And international institutions still don't have any power themselves. They are powerful as their member states want them to be. No agency can have any sovereign states nor any international agency has any legal power to sort of go off and do something on its own to have the support of its members. The nuclear weapon states are important members of the IAEA. The IAEA has focused more on verification of peaceful uses, but I think if you are going to have disarmament, it can come from the member states not the agency or not from the secretary's office. I want to say frankly that I want to disagree a little bit with the question that the nuclear powers have not been interested in nuclear disarmament. I think there are times when the nuclear powers have been interested in it. I think Obama should be credited for the new START Treaty which reduced Russian warhead down the 1500 and he was prepared to go down on the country for another 500. So cut it to third down to less than a thousand. But Russia did not want to do that. Obama put Nuclear Disarmament Arms Deal on his policy agenda. So obviously there was not as much progress as we would have expected. It seems to me that the other nuclear states could certainly do more in trying to match what Obama did in terms of showing its commitment. But now the Russians, the Chinese and especially the Pakistanis are moving in the opposite direction.

Moving to JCPOA; after 2 years, some believe that JCPOA was because of Obama's weaknesses, while others believe that Obama was able to put a halt tp Iran's nuclear program. What's your opinion and what's your assessment of JCPOA?

On the first question, what matters is sovereign government negotiating treaties in which all the interests of the parties are satisfied. So the negotiation for JCPOA involves 7 different countries and there was going to be no agreement unless the agreement benefitted everyone. No one was going to agree with an agreement in which they received no benefit and only paid costs. So that was a voluntary agreement negotiated by Iran and the other 6 parties. I think Iran and the international communities benefit from the agreement. I know these are rocky and thorny times in US-Iran relations given the new American president and so, I know there is uncertainty about the future of JCPOA. But in my own view, it has been beneficial for all the parties in the past 2 years and it would be worse for everyone without it. Right now, we should be more focused on protecting it. We have to find a way to get through that in a way the agreement works, because the agreement is in everyone's self-interest.

How do you see the future of JCPOA under President Trump?

I think there are more voices that are pushing him to walk away or to disrupt it and in terms of his regional policy, it seems that he is tilting toward Saudi Arabia in a way that I don't think it would bring stability or peace and so there are those things that put stress on the agreement. But his administration continues to sort the file of sanction waivers. I think we are going to continue to sort them out and do problem solving. The main thing is that whatever they may say, it would come down to implementation that the core obligations are implemented by all parties and there is no breach of the obligation and no complaint. I do worry. It is a delicate moment in uncertain times in American politics. The president walked away from the Paris Agreement against the recommendation of his cabinet, but I'm guessing that as long as there is a high profile fight you can keep it off the front pages then we will find a way to make all this work.

What would happen if Trump's new administration possibly violates JCPOA?

I can go into that legally and more generally. Legally, obviously any party as well as IAEA can go to the UN Security Council and say that another party has breached its obligations. That's a pretty weighty choice to remain. Now lower down the chain it is going to Iran Joint Commission and say one of the parties has not been committing its obligation and that the Joint Commission would negotiate and discuss it. In theory anyone could do that and Trump could in theory do that. Iran could make claims that the US is not in compliance with the nuclear deal. I think the core of the agreement is working and serving the interest of all parties. And my answer is yes, their aspects of US implementation I would do different way. The Iranian government should develop its own economy and boost investment opportunities that previously suffered greatly during the sanctions era. You know there are some minor technical things on the nuclear side, but none of it seems to be important enough to turn the whole agreement down. So I think the agreement is working and the parties have stuck with it. Anyone can challenge it at any point but I hope that doesn't happen.   

Dr. Jim Walsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program (SSP). Dr. Walsh's research and writings focus on international security, and in particular, topics involving nuclear weapons, the Middle East, and East Asia. Dr. Walsh has testified before the United States Senate and House of Representatives on issues of nuclear terrorism, Iran, and North Korea. He has taught at both Harvard University and MIT. Dr. Walsh received his Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Interview by Mehdi Zolfaghari and Javad Heirannia

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