Iran could trigger regional proliferation, says IISS

May 20th, 2008 - 9:22 pm ICT by admin  


London, May 20 (DPA) Iran’s nuclear programme could over time trigger a “regional cascade of proliferation” among its neighbours as Middle East states display a “remarkable” interest in developing nuclear power programmes, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said in a report Tuesday. The London-based think-tank in its report, Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East - In the shadow of Iran, said that although some countries were positioning themselves to be able eventually to produce fissile material, no country was known, or seriously believed, to be pursuing a nuclear weapons programme as a result of Tehran’s activities.

While the dangers of proliferation were “real”, they were not “imminent”, said IISS director John Chipman.

The report stated that Israel was considered to be a “de facto nuclear weapon state with an advanced and sizeable arsenal”, even though the Jewish state had never itself acknowledged its nuclear- weapons status.

“The fundamentals of Israel’s nuclear capabilities and policies, though never officially confirmed, are accepted as fact throughout the world,” the IISS report said.

A “proliferation cascade” would become more likely if Israel “felt obliged to relinquish” its long-standing doctrine of nuclear “opacity”, or ambiguity, it said.

Such a development would increase the pressure on Egypt - and perhaps other Arab states - to seek their own nuclear deterrents, it predicted.

“A nuclear-armed Iran would erase Israel’s nuclear monopoly … which has served for about four decades as a kind of ultimate national insurance policy,” the IISS said.

“Israel’s strategic calculations rest on a simultaneous commitment to both prevention of a nuclear Iran and future deterrence,” it said.

The report shows that in the 11 months between February 2006 and January 2007, at least 13 countries in the Middle East announced new or revived plans to pursue or explore civilian nuclear energy.

“This upsurge of interest is remarkable, given both the abundance of traditional energy sources in the region and the low standing to date of nuclear energy there,” said Chipman.

The single most important political factor behind the growing interest in nuclear power in the region was Iran’s development of “dual-use nuclear technologies”, said the IISS.

“If Tehran’s nuclear programme is unchecked, there is reason for concern that it could in time prompt a regional cascade of proliferation among Iran’s neighbours,” it noted.

For some states, such as Saudi Arabia, an Iranian nuclear weapon would present a “direct and dire” threat, while for others, such as Egypt and Turkey, the threat was “indirect” and more tied to concerns about the balance of power and loss of relative status and influence in the region.

“Promotion of nuclear energy is one way in which Sunni states are trying to counter the rising sense of Shia empowerment following the 2006 Lebanon War,” said the report.

Country-specific politics were also relevant, especially in the case of Egypt, where nuclear power was seen as a “worthy national project” with which to sustain political prominence.

The report does, however, acknowledge that “legitimate energy and economic motivations,” ranging from rising oil prices to the desire to combat global warming, do play a key role in the increased interest in nuclear power.

The report concludes that the introduction of nuclear energy into the Middle East should not be seen as a foregone conclusion.

“To date, no commercial contracts have been signed, no irreversible decisions have been made,” said the IISS.

“There is time, therefore, to put in place a robust regime of policies and practices that can serve as a bulwark against a proliferation cascade in the region,” the report added.

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