Regional Initiatives, the DPRK and Iran, and the Platinum Standard

Pierce Corden

scrap committee member and veteran us arms negotiator

In considering denuclearizing the DPRK and efforts to address the Iranian situation and the JCPOA, steps can be taken to strengthen security in the regions where the states are located:  Northeast Asia and the Middle East.  Such steps would support denuclearizing  Korea and ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.  The initiatives would be timely in view of ongoing diplomatic efforts involving both the Korean peninsula and the Middle East.

The DPRK could solidify its halt to nuclear-weapon testing by signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).  Ratification by China (the ROK, Japan and the Russian Federation have already ratified) would be a strong impetus to the DPRK in its decision-making.  US CTBT ratification would be an important supporting step, and would constitute a reciprocal measure as called for by the DPRK.  Upon verified destruction of its nuclear weapons and placement of its nuclear materials under IAEA safeguards, the DPRK could return to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.  Given China’s role in the region, it is best placed to initiate CTBT action.  As CTBT entry into force cannot take place until all eight currently lacking ratifications occur, China has no legal reason to await US ratification.   Already the Vienna-based CTBT Provisional Technical Secretariat (PTS) can provide considerable assurance against resumed nuclear testing by the DPRK.  An in-force CTBT would also provide the possibility of on-site inspections.

Iran has signed but not ratified the CTBT.  Doing so would be a significant addition to Iran’s NPT and JCPOA undertakings not to become a nuclear-weapon-possessing state.  Saudi Arabia should sign and ratify the CTBT, and both states should fully integrate their International Monitoring System (IMS) stations into the Vienna-based verification system.  Egypt and Israel, whose ratifications are also necessary for CTBT entry into force, should do so, and Egypt should build its IMS station.  In addition to the vital role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in monitoring Iranian dual-use facilities and activities, the PTS will continue to bring its impressive monitoring capabilities to bear to support regional security.

Agreement by these states, and by other Arab League members, to engage promptly in negotiations to make the Middle East a zone free of mass-destruction weapons and ballistic missiles would further strengthen regional security, as well as support the Nonproliferation Treaty.  The free-zone undertaking was a component of the 1995 decision to extend the NPT indefinitely.  Resumed efforts would be timely, within the framework of the NPT Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference (2020 is the fiftieth anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force), and in parallel meetings including Israel.

Were states in the two regions to increase their investments in renewable energy and energy storage, the need to pursue dual-use nuclear technologies for electric power – enrichment, reactors and reprocessing – would be eliminated.  Much effort has been devoted to persuading states who seek to generate power with nuclear reactors to forego on international security grounds national enrichment and reprocessing, a policy known as the “gold standard.”  The economics of renewable energy and storage have progressed to where moving entirely to renewable sources is feasible.   Both regions are well situated: the 37th parallel is the northern border of Arizona, known for abundant sunshine.  It passes just south of the Korean DMZ, and through Iran.   In Northeast Asia cloud cover could require some additional investment compared to the Middle East, which could be justified on grounds of international security.  The nuclear energy “gold standard” has significant security advantages; renewable energy and storage would be the “platinum standard.”