Iran’s Non-Compliance and North Korea’s Complete Defiance: A Study of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

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Historic Overview

On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Although this was not the beginning of the development and testing of nuclear bombs, this explosion had the most dire effects. Then the second one was dropped on Nagasaki and tens of thousands more people died. These two bombs, although forcing a surrender from Japan, brought new military power to the forefront. Regulations started being passed to lessen the number of states that were nuclear capable.

History of the Problem

The idea of non-proliferation began after World War II, and was “enforced” when the NPT was first introduced in 1968. “Enforced” because the NPT is more like a set of guidelines than actual rules. The NPT is the most widely accepted arms control agreement, altogether signed by 189 countries (Choe). Although the NPT is the most widely accepted arms control agreement, it has not been very effective in holding countries such as Iran or in the past, North Korea, accountable for its actions that contradict or undermine the NPT. Because the NPT is simply an agreement, and diplomatic tool, there is an organization that carries out inspections to make sure all countries that have signed the NPT are following through with their agreement to not research or construct nuclear weapons. That organization is the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The main problem with the NPT is that there are no repercussions or consequences for disobeying the treaty, or leaving it.

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My Interest

My interest in this topic began when I saw a video of Trump meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to talk about nuclear proliferation. I began thinking about how an external opinion (one that is not from a politician) would be interesting to research. Through my research, I began to discover all the problems facing the international community. Since there were so many I decided to focus on solving nuclear proliferation with Iran and North Korea, and more specifically how to make North Korea join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and how to keep Iran from withdrawing.

North Korea’s Nuclear History

North Korea decided that leaving the NPT was the right choice because of the US’s harsh diplomacy towards its nuclear program (Wolfsthal). North Korea’s nuclear program began when it received a research nuclear reactor from the Soviets in the early 1960s (Carrel-Billiard and Wing, North Korea). Before North Korea had finished the construction of its first nuclear facility it joined the IAEA, ensuring that North Korea was not developing nuclear weapons. Zooming ahead to the early 1980s, North Korea had a fully operational and self-sufficient nuclear facility. North Koreans could mine uranium in their own country, making it easy to process uranium. Then, in 1985, North Korea hesitantly joined the NPT with a lot of prodding from the Soviets (Carrel-Billiard amd Wing, North Korea). In turn for joining the NPT, North Korea received two more nuclear reactors from the Soviet Union (Carrel-Billiard and Wing, North Korea). Once North Korea signed the IAEA safeguard agreement in April 1992, the IAEA did its first inspection of North Korea’s nuclear facilities the same year in November. The IAEA reported that North Korea had weaponizing potential for their processed uranium. The IAEA then called for an inspection of the nuclear waste from the North Korean nuclear facilities. Because the NPT allows the country to carry out inspections on its own facilities, North Korea simply denied this request (Waymouth, Wolfsthal, Carrel-Billiard and Wing, North Korea). Then, in 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT.

Iran’s Nuclear History

Iran’s nuclear research began when it bought a nuclear reactor from the United States in 1959. Iran had signed the NPT in 1968 the “Safeguards Agreement,” in which the “IAEA has the right and obligation to ensure that safeguards are applied on all nuclear material in the territory, jurisdiction or control of the state for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons,” Iran started enriching and processing uranium and plutonium (IAEA). The job of the IAEA is to enforce and conduct inspections on countries’ nuclear facilities, to ensure the UN that there is no undermining of the NPT. After Iran signed the NPT it
“ceased” all nuclear research in order to stay in line with the policies of the NPT. Much later, in the mid 1980’s, Iran began a “clandestine nuclear program”(Carrel-Billiard and Wing, Iran). This secret program was finally exposed by an opposition group in exile. When IAEA personnel did their inspections on Iran’s nuclear facilities, they found that Iran had been enriching nuclear material in order to construct nuclear weapons against the safeguards agreement of 1974.  Later that year in June, 2003 the director of the IAEA announced that Iran had not kept its obligations to the safeguards agreement (Carrel-Billiard and Wing, Iran). Although Iran did not have large quantities of nuclear material, it was more than Iran was allowed. Iran admitted that since 1985 it had been developing a uranium enrichment program. As Francois Carrel-Billiard, Director of the European Institute, and Christine Wing, Senior Research Fellow at NYU pointed out in 2010, “These two elements, Iran’s lack of transparency and its involvement in the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, are at the heart of the Iranian nuclear issue” (Carrel-Billiard and Wing, Iran). This 2003 violation was just the beginning of Iran’s repeated non-compliance with the NPT. However, The NPT must also be held accountable for this issue because of its weak enforcement (Choe). Although being a widely accepted arms control agreement, the NPT fails to grasp the necessities of arms control (Choe). Instead, the NPT does not pose any repercussions for wrongdoings and therefore is not good for preventing nuclear proliferation (Choe). Nuclear information or goods can slip through the NPT easily, and therefore will not properly enforce non-proliferation (Choe, Carrel-Billiard and Wing, Iran).

Current Day Problems With North Korea

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President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un in 2018 yielded no conclusions, but did lead to discussion of what each countries policies are towards negotiating a deal. Trump and his administration deemed removing economic sanctions impossible until North Korea begins to denuclearize. North Korea is seemingly dormant when it comes to negotiating a solution, and will only agree to negotiate a deal if the US removes all military threat from the Korean Peninsula (Sang-Hun). With both countries at a stand still, it seems there will be no further negotiations until both countries get what they want.

Current Day Problems With Iran

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Iran has become more open to negotiating, as economic sanctions that the US has put on it have crippled the economy. The US, after passing the Iran Nuclear Deal, lifted all nuclear related economic sanctions on Iran, but there are still other non-nuclear related sanctions that are still in place (Tabatabai). Even though the Iran Nuclear Deal worked, it would only last for about the next decade since it was past, leading to a short term halt in Iran’s construction of nukes. The Iran Nuclear Deal was working fabulously, and had very detailed rules and codes that Iran had to stand by. Trump and his administration has decided to leave the Iran Nuclear Deal, and Iran is already saying that it will start enriching uranium “faster than ever” (Shih).

Solving These Issues

This issue must be addressed at an international level, and the US should be the one to spearhead the ordeal. Plainly said, the US must re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal. With the US absent, Iran has begun enriching uranium again, and therefore is more of a threat to the international community (Shih). Moreover, the crippling economic sanctions put in place would make it very difficult for Iran’s economy to ever re-enter the international market with ease (Tabatabai). The US must relieve Iran of all nuclear related economic sanctions, and re-enter the Iran Nuclear Deal. North Korea views its nuclear program as a deterrent (Sang-Hun). In order for North Korea to start denuclearizing, the US must remove all military threat from the Korean Peninsula. But, the US will only reward North Korea with the lifting of all economic sanctions once they start to denuclearize. That being said, the US should take initiative and lift all sanctions, and see if North Korea follows through with its agreement. These solutions will work because the JCPOA proved to work in the time the US was a part of it. The US removing sanctions will incentivise North Korea to start negotiations with the US, and therefore will lead to some sort of solution relating to denuclearization.

What the Average Person Can Do

Influence, especially American politicians, to vote on nuclear deals that do not leave any holes for countries such as Iran and North Korea to slip through. Although this will not help in North Korea, starting a social media movement on denuclearizing in Iran may lead to some change by the government. Power to the people! If you have another idea, comment below (Remember North Koreans don’t have access to social media).h



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  1. April 27, 2019 by Dominick.Quaye

    This is really interesting and informative. Good job!

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