Interview with Stephen M. Walt on Iran

By Bilal Y. Saab – I was reading Kerry M. Kartchner’s 1992 book Negotiating START on the plane from Washington to Birmingham, and a topic for an interview came to mind. Kartchner discusses how the United States and the Soviet Union had different understandings of strategic stability, which resulted in different approaches to arms control. American nuclear strategists traditionally viewed overall stability as a combination of first-strike stability (first-strike incentives were removed) and arms race stability (no introduction of destabilizing weapons to the superpower military balance). The Soviets viewed stability in terms of their own ability to predict and control military operations with a higher degree of certainty.



If arms control was supposed to uphold this condition of strategic stability during the Cold War, what does strategic stability mean in the Middle East and can all regional parties agree on a common definition? Perhaps we can substitute strategic stability with regional security in the Middle East, but that still does not take us very far because the definition of regional security is also elusive. You had a bilateral affair during the Cold War and strategic stability was mostly about the prevention of a US-Soviet thermo-nuclear exchange, it was not about the resolution of territorial disputes, or political conflicts, or sectarian regional tensions etc…as it is the case in the Middle East. Would regional security in the Middle East include human security and economic security?


I talk to Harvard Professor Stephen M. Walt about this subject and other Middle East security-related items in this interview. Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professsor of International Affairs.  He is on the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and Journal of Cold War Studies, and he also serves as Co-Editor of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. He is the author of The Origins of Alliances (1987), which received the 1988 Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award. He is also the author of Revolution and War (1996), Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005), and, with co-author J.J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby (2007).


1- Strategic stability during the Cold War was relatively easy to define even though the Soviets and the Americans understood it differently at first, but they eventually reached some sort of consensus. In the Middle East, strategic stability is obviously a much more difficult term to define because of its multi-dimensional nature, so where should we start?


Stability at the nuclear level is pretty easy to define: it means a situation where there are no incentives for a nuclear first strike, including the “preventive war” incentives that can result from intense arms racing. This definition also applies to the Middle East: ideally, regional states would want to establish a political-military environment where no one ever had an incentives to use a nuclear weapon. “Stability” in the broader sense—to include low risks of conventional war, terrorism, sabotage, and other forms of violence—has been much more elusive in the Middle East, for a whole constellation of reasons. And that’s what creates a certain tension between these two forms of stability: Middle Eastern states are tempted to acquire nuclear weapons in order to possess the ultimate deterrent against existential attack. That’s why Israel got the bomb, and it is also why states such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria have gone part-way down that road as well. The more unstable the regional environment, the harder it is to conduct meaningful arms control of any kind.


2- Asymmetries in defense postures and armaments can pose a huge challenge to arms control. Such asymmetries (nuclear vs. conventional is only one example) exist in the Middle East. Are they reason enough, aside from political conflicts, that arms control has no chance in the region or can intelligent and nuanced arms control policies work around such challenges?


Asymmetries in capability can be an obstacle, but they don’t preclude meaningful agreements that make all the parties more secure. There was an enormous gap between the United States and Soviet Union and the rest of the world on nuclear weapons, but that did not prevent the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other important arms control agreements.
3- Does offense or defense have an advantage in the Middle East and why?


Overall, I would say defense. There have been short wars of conquest in the past—in 1956, 1967, and 1982, for example—and Egypt launched a “limited aims” war in October 1973. But none of these wars were strategically decisive, in the sense that they did not eliminate any of the actors or end regional rivalries. Similarly, wars like the Iran-Iraq war were long, bloody, and ultimately inconclusive, which is further evidence of the power of the defense. Even the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq revealed the limits of military power: the United States won smashing victories on the battlefield, but could not impose its will on Iraqi society. Ditto Israel in Lebanon after 1982 and during war against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. I conclude that Middle Eastern states can do a lot of damage to each other, but it is presently impossible for any of these states to achieve quick, cheap, and decisive victories over the others.


4- Given its military alliances and still considerable political influence in the Middle East, what role, if any, should the United States play to promote regional security and arms control in the Middle East? Or is this an enterprise that can only be led by regional parties themselves?



The United States has enormous potential leverage, but it is unable to use it very effectively. For example, the past three U.S. Administrations have all said they were in favor of a two-state solution, but none of them ever used U.S. leverage to force Israel and the Palestinians to cut a deal and a two-state solution is farther away than ever. Security guarantees from the United States might help dissuade some of its Arab allies from seeking WMD, and we may still get a diplomatic deal that helps keep Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, but that’s a long way from achieving genuine regional arms control. In particular, Israel isn’t going to give up its own arsenal anytime soon, and U.S. Leaders aren’t going to put any pressure on them to do so, for fear of provoking the ire of AIPAC and the other organizations in the Israel lobby.


5- Which is worse for the Middle East, a nuclear-armed Iran or a war with Iran today with all its risks and consequences?



Neither outcome is desirable, but a war would be worse. A nuclear-armed Iran would not suddenly become a superpower and could not use that capability to blackmail or coerce its neighbors. Remember that the mighty Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear bombs and lots of missiles, and they couldn’t blackmail anyone either. The only thing Iran would gain from “going nuclear” would be a deterrent against a direct attack by the United States or by one of Iran’s neighbors; it would not alter the regional balance of power in any other way. Moreover, a war with Iran would bolster the clerical regime, guarantee another generation of enmity between Iran and the West, and convince Iran’s leaders that they had no choice but to go all-out for a weapons capability. Most importantly, an attack cannot destroy Iran’s program, it can only delay it and probably not for very long. In short, a war with Iran would be costly and bring few benefits, while the dangers of a nuclear Iran are often exaggerated.


The best way to convince Iran not to get a nuclear weapon, by the way, is to take the threat of military force and regime change off the table, and negotiate a deal whereby Iran is permitted low levels of nuclear enrichment under full scope IAEA safeguards. I find it both remarkable and depressing that the United States and its allies are still pursuing an inherently confrontational approach, even though that strategy has been a consistent failure for over a decade.




Consensus interruptus in Syria

By Bilal Y. Saab – This weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels unexpectedly to Turkey to discuss the crisis in Syria and to meet with Syrian opposition figures. She must impress on them the urgent need to unite their fractious ranks.


Of all the explanations for why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has not yet been toppled, perhaps the most important is the Syrian opposition. Its continued inability to unite has contributed greatly to the drawn-out uprising, which has lasted longer than any other in the Middle East.



Of course this is not to belittle the huge odds that are stacked against the opposition. Its military arm, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is, after all, fighting Mr. Assad’s killing machine and his divide-and-rule strategy with minimal international support.


This reality notwithstanding, it should not obscure the fact that the Syrian political opposition’s performance so far has been dreadful and its behavior more often than not has been counterproductive. The political opposition, specifically the Syrian National Council (SNC), is not a hopeless case but it can and should do much better. The Syrian people deserve nothing less.


You do not have to be an expert on Syria or even be familiar with the state of the Syrian opposition to know of its deep troubles. Consider this latest story:


In their attempts to plan for the day after Assad, three separate Syrian opposition groups recently floated different proposals for a transitional government. Seasoned activist and long-time opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh, who is the chairman of the Council of Syrian Revolutionary Trustees (CSRT) and formerly a member of the SNC (he quit due to his disapproval of the SNC’s tactics), is trying to form a transitional government in Cairo made up of technocrats. His effort, however, has been heavily criticized by the SNC, whose members, ironically, also happen to be in the process of holding talks to form a different transitional government.


The Free Syrian Army has expressed its vehement rejection of both initiatives and called instead for the establishment of a higher defense council that would include military and civilian figures. The free army’s leader Col. Riad al-Asaad reserved some harsh words for the SNC, saying it was made up of opportunists who want to “ride over our revolution and trade with the blood of our martyrs.”


While news of the Syrian opposition’s divisions is nothing new, it is about time we gain a better understanding of how serious an issue this is, what its causes are, and how it can be managed or resolved.


Let’s start with seriousness. Senior members of the SNC with whom I have interacted closely in Washington and European capitals since the start of the uprising insist that there are no divisions per se between the SNC and other opposition groups including Mr. al-Maleh’s. They call them normal “differences” that should be expected between people of different political backgrounds. Forgive me, but that is rubbish. There are real divisions in the ranks that have obstructed effective collective action and strategic planning, and such divisions have not gone unnoticed by US, European, and Arab officials.


So what has caused these divisions? Many have made the case that several members of the Syrian opposition, and specifically the SNC, are politically inexperienced because of the decades-old oppression by the Syrian regime. So they will make mistakes in their dealings with each other. They have yet to develop a culture of negotiation and compromise. They are new to the game of politics, and thus you can’t really fault them.


Sorry, I am not convinced.


Another possible reason is that separate groups of the Syrian opposition have different foreign support networks that are in contention or competition over Syria’s future. Some groups are backed by the Gulf state Qatar, others by Saudi Arabia, while Turkey primarily supports the FSA. Because of these regional powers’ rival agendas, Syrian opposition groups end up pulling in different directions and fighting each other.


That sounds like a more satisfactory explanation than inexperience. However, these different opposition groups made conscious decisions to seek external assistance or sponsorship at the expense of unity. So they deserve some blame.


Perhaps the ideological or political differences within the Syrian opposition – Islamist vs. secularist, rightist vs. leftist, technocrat vs. politician – are too great and cause these schisms. Yet membership in all opposition groups tends to be mixed, and within each group secularists and Islamists, liberals and conservatives, get along just fine. The SNC is only one example. So it’s not that either.


What causes the disunity then? It has to do with mindset and approach. Because the SNC is the largest political opposition group and has the biggest potential, its failings should be put in the spotlight. In short, the SNC sidelines opposition figures who do not share its views and tactics.


For all their espoused liberalism, SNC liberals (including Islamists, of course) are proving to be quite illiberal, unwilling or unable to tolerate opinions that are not fully in line with theirs. Worse, they often call those who do not agree with them and those who defected from their ranks “traitors” to the cause.


This is tragic. People such as Michel Kilo, known as the grandfather of the Syrian opposition; Haytham al-Mannaa, the highly-respected and internationally recognized human rights activist and president of the National Coordination Body of Democratic Change; Kamal Labwani, a colleague of al-Maleh in the CSRT, and many others are hardly pro-regime propagandists. For decades, they have been harassed and imprisoned by the regime for their pro-democracy activism.


The roots of political intolerance are complex. As political scientist Carson Holloway nicely put it, they are “simply a reflection of the ordinary weakness of human nature, which in all men yearns to silence those whose opinions differ too widely from their own.”


Of course, the SNC is not the first political entity throughout history to suppress freedom of thought and speech for the sake of achieving more immediate goals. History is replete with examples of political movements, parties, and individuals quashing diversity in their pursuit of freedom and independence.


It famously happened during and after the 1789 French revolution to the moderate Girondins in their disagreement with the radical Jacobins, although they were both in the pro-revolution camp. Eventually, Robespierre and the Jacobins took control of the Girondin-led National Assembly. Then came the “Reign of Terror” from late 1793-1794 when Robespierre had more than 15,000 people executed at the guillotine because of increasing paranoia about counter-revolutionary influences.


More recently in the Middle East, the March 14 political coalition in Lebanon – whose supporters led an uprising of a million people against Syria in 2005 – ostracized all those independent Lebanese who did not unconditionally endorse its political tactics as conspirators or followers of the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis. No wonder that coalition, which claimed monopoly over the slogans of freedom, sovereignty, and independence, has lost so many supporters and has failed to lead the country to democracy after Syria exited Lebanon.


Political tolerance is not a luxury, it is essential to the democratic experiment. Thomas Jefferson could not have said it more eloquently in his first inaugural address: Those who might wish to dissolve the newly established union should be left “undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated” in a country “where reason is left free to combat it.”


It would do the SNC good to head this advice. Consensus with all the other major Syrian opposition groups that have credibility in the eyes of the Syrian people, while difficult, will serve the fight against Assad as well as the overall march against tyranny. And it will speed up the transition toward democracy when Damascus falls.


Saying the right things regarding the inclusion and respect of minorities in Syria – Christians, Kurds, and others – is important but not enough. Until the SNC makes a serious effort to exercise tolerance toward other ethno-religious groups and pro-democracy opposition bodies and better coordinate with the rebels on the ground, Washington should not recognize any transitional government it may form in the near future. It sounds harsh but America’s reputation and interests are at stake here.



This opinion appeared in the Christian Science Monitor on August 10, 2012.



Turkey’s plans for missile defense are shaping up

By Nilsu Goren – Turkey has recently intensified its quest for a national air and missile defense system. However, problems still abound as NATO has given Turkey a marginal role to host an early-warning radar system and did not provide a security assurance to protect the entire Turkish territory against missile threats. Turkey’s position is further complicated by alliance politics and regional security considerations as the decision to host the radar has antagonized Iran.



















The Obama administration broke with the missile defense policies of the Bush administration and adopted a policy that integrates U.S. capabilities into a NATO system. The new approach, called the Active Layered Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD), was introduced at the NATO Lisbon Summit in December 2010. The new missile defense architecture makes the Eastern Mediterranean the center of gravity to address shorter-range missiles. The Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) consists of deployments in four main phases from 2011 to 2025 (with a possible extension due to delays in implementation so far), centered on the sea-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor to be upgraded and integrated to land and space-based sensors. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is the core of the PAA to counter short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The initial system consists of 4 Aegis Class cruisers, 15 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, land-based SM-3 interceptors to be deployed in Romania and Poland in 2015 and 2018 respectively, and an X-band radar in Turkey that became operational in 2012.[1]


ALTBMD has a $250 to $300 billion declared budget for ten years. It has been criticized in academic and policy circles for its hefty budget, technical capacity, and security value of its mission in order to counter ballistic missile threats. The United States has allocated its Aegis platforms as the core of ALTBMD, whose command and control will be shared by NATO members in a crisis as first line of defense to intercept missiles in boost and mid-course phases.


Yet, SM-3s are designed to intercept missiles above the atmosphere, meaning that they are vulnerable to decoys, countermeasures and multiple missile attacks. Moreover, it is clear that Russia and China perceive missile defense as a threat to their strategic nuclear capabilities. The selection of Romania and Poland is of special concern to Russia due to geographical proximity. Russia has emphasized the need for a legally-binding assurance that the missile defense system will not be directed at Russian strategic nuclear forces, and the United States has made it clear that a legal restriction is off the table. Thus, ALTBMD is criticized to be adversarial and against strategic arms control cooperation and destabilizing deterrence. The only countries that have prioritized ALTBMD have been the ones considering missile cooperation as a form of establishing closer ties with the United States for other strategic purposes, as in the case of Turkey.


In September 2011, Turkey agreed to station the U.S. early-warning radar in the southeastern city of Kurecik, Malatya, which is 450 miles away from the Turkish-Iranian border, under the condition that no document would directly name Iran as the rogue threat. “The Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2)” is an X-band, high resolution radar designed for ballistic missile defense that can be “coupled with layered sensors, give the BMD a continuous tracking and discrimination capability.”[2] It is evident that Turkey hopes to gain broader security cooperation by hosting the radar that operates at the already-existing U.S. military base in Kurecik. The radar created lots of controversy in domestic and international audiences, especially in the city of Malatya, Iran, and Russia. “If Iran wants to dispatch a ballistic missile, no threat will be effective and we declare they should be on alert about their own defense missile shield if they want to shoot down our missiles” said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, when asked about the deployment of the X-band radar in Turkey.[3] Iranian short to mid-range missile programs have progressed more rapidly than its ICBM and long-range capabilities (Iran has recently test-fired a new, more accurate short-range missile capable of striking land and sea targets).[4] The range of the threat exposes particular risks to Turkey, whose entire territory is within the span.


Air and missile defense has become the top issue in Turkey’s defense modernization agenda in recent years. While many European countries were facing deficit crises, Turkey, the everlasting EU candidate, increased its defense spending to an all-time high of $5 billion in 2011.[5] Turkish defense industry leader ASELSAN and the missile contractor ROKETSAN signed an agreement with the Under-secretariat for Defense Industries and started to manufacture low and mid-altitude air defense systems worth approximately €200 million Euros and €130 million Euros respectively.[6] These ambitious programs are expected to be matched by a parallel increase in the local defense industry’s export capabilities, especially in armored vehicles. The existing technologies that Turkey utilizes are Rapier and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles for short-range and modernized I-Hawk missiles for mid-range threats.[7]   


In April 2009, the Turkish Under-secretariat for the Defense Industry issued a proposal for the purchase of a long-range air and missile defense system to be installed in four regions, including Ankara, Istanbul, and two confidential locations. Also in 2009, the United States announced the plan to sell a $7.8 billion Patriot system composed of 13 fire units, 72 PAC-3 missiles, and ground-based air defense equipment to Turkey.[8] This project was postponed due to the expectation that the NATO missile defense system would be extended to cover Turkey. Yet, in the Lisbon Summit the plans were revealed to install a radar system only, leading Turkey to plan to establish its own missile defense system.[9] The companies filed a bid with the following systems in the $4 billion dollar Turkish Long Range Air and Missile Defense System (T-LORAMIDS) tender in 2011:


* U.S. partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, Patriot air defense systems, PAC-3s that can be integrated to the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, yet no technology transfer offer.


* Russian Rosoboronexport, S-300, with the possibility of negotiation for S-400, possessed also by Greece and Greek Cyprus that are of concern to Turkey.


* China Precision Machinery Export Import Corp (CPMIEC), HQ9, FD-2000.


* Italian-French Eurosam, SAMP/T Aster 30, with an additional offer for technology transfer and to support Turkish full membership to the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation.[10]


Turkey has been seeking reassurance from NATO that the new ALTBMD architecture will address immediate threats on Turkish territory, yet to no avail. Therefore, T-LORAMIDS aims to counter both enemy aircraft and missiles. The issue has intensified in the aftermath of the recent Turkish jet downed by the Syrian military (See: and the tender is expected to be finalized soon.[11] Russian and Chinese systems are cheaper but they are technologically less advanced and more difficult to integrate with NATO systems. Air defense radars are capable of providing surveillance data, meaning that having Russian or Chinese systems in Turkey would lead to complications for NATO intelligence-sharing.


Turkey seems determined to procure an air and missile defense system with long-range capability, despite the technical limitations and high costs of this technology. The tender is still not finalized because Turkey is trying to enhance its hand by pushing several parties to lower the prices and encouraging Russia to bid for the S-400 system instead of the S-300 system. If Turkey decides to choose a non-US system to procure, NATO has made it clear that the air and missile defense system will not be compatible with its ballistic missile defense architecture, i.e. the intelligence-sharing with Turkey due to the Turkish role in BMD with the radar will be disrupted. Since Turkey’s role in future phases of BMD is unclear, the decision to finalize the tender is going to clarify if Turkey will be shielded by or excluded from ALTBMD.


Nilsu Goren, a Federation of American Scientists scholar, is a graduate fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland, College Park where she is pursuing a Ph.D. with a focus on Turkish defense and nonproliferation issues.

[1] “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense,” Missile Defense Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense, available at:

[2] “Fact Sheet,” Missile Defense Agency, July 2011, available at

[3] “Iran says deployment of NATO shield in Turkey ‘inefficient’,” ISNA, September 22, 2011, available at:

[4] Yeganeh Torbati, “Iran tests short0range missile with new guidance system,” Reuters, August 4, 2012.

[5] Umit Enginsoy, “Confident Turkey plans to raise arms expenses to historic high,” Hurriyet Daily News, August 8, 2011, available at:

[6] See articles in Turkish on Turkish Armed Forces’ defense systems manufacturer ASELSAN’s national defense missile deal: Bugun Newspaper, June 22, 2011, available at: and Sabah Newspaper, June 21, 2011, available at:

[7] “Turkish Air Defense System Alternatives,” in Turkish, CNNTurk, September 18, 2009, available at

[8] Piotr Zalewski, “Missile Defense: A View from Turkey,” Foreign Security Policy, Center for European Policy Studies Commentaries, October 8, 2009, available at:

[9] “Defense giants compete in Turkish tender for long-range missiles,” Today’s Zaman, January 2, 2011, available at

[10] Umit Enginsoy, “NATO warns Turkey against buying Chinese, Russian air defense systems,” Hurriyet Daily News, July 25, 2011, available at:

[11] Giray Sadik, “Turkey Considers Several Missile Defense Systems,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 87, May 7, 2008, at:[tt_news]=33615




US nuclear cooperation agreements and the Middle East

By Chen Kane – A recent article by Mark Hibbs examining the implications of Taiwan renouncing enrichment and reprocessing under its proposed nuclear cooperation agreement (NCA) with the United States has sparked significant controversy.



I disagree with the premise of Mark’s article  – that the UAE agreement was related to the gold standard in any way – but agree with his conclusion when he says “…others will have a different calculus, depending on what they want from the U.S., how important they think that is, and what domestic and foreign policy constraints they face.”


The most interesting question in my mind, however, is how such a Taiwanese renunciation agreement will influence future U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements involving countries in the Middle East. 


First, allow me to clarify where I disagree with Mark on this topic. He writes that the Taiwan case is an unrealistic model for the gold standard because of the unique security arrangements the country has with the United States. Namely, “Taiwan’s resolve not to enrich or reprocess has nothing to do with the ‘gold standard’ and nearly everything to do with U.S. leverage over Taiwan’s security arrangements”, he says.


My point is that the UAE agreement (or for that matter, any other past or future agreement) is of course not about the gold standard per se. ANY nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States is about why the country needs or wants the U.S. blessing or cooperation for its nuclear energy program and what leverage the United States has over these countries. And as far as I know, the United States has leverage, be it military, political or economic, over many countries in the Middle East.


The UAE Example


Since much of the debate about the gold standard started following the UAE-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement, it is important to have our facts straight. On April 20, 2008, the UAE released a comprehensive Policy White Paper about its program’s objectives and motivations. The policy document outlined the UAE’s intention to renounce developing domestic enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and to receive nuclear fuel from “reliable and responsible foreign suppliers.” The following day, the UAE government and the U.S. government concluded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) mentioning the UAE renunciation commitment. On January 15, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. However, reportedly, based on the UAE’s request, the agreement was not submitted to Congress. Burned by the Dubai Ports deal which did not receive Congressional approval, the UAE opted not to submit its NCA until it was confident U.S. Congress would approve it.


After taking office, the Obama administration sought to strengthen the nonproliferation provisions included in previous NCAs and negotiated a revised agreement with the UAE. The updated agreement explicitly prohibits the UAE from having enrichment and reprocessing activities and facilities within its territory.


On May 21, 2009, the UAE and the United States signed the agreement. In October 2009, the UAE adopted domestic legislation to permanently forgo the acquisition of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities. In December 2009, the U.S.-UAE nuclear cooperation agreement came into effect, after being set before Congress for 90 continuous days.


The Gold Standard Debate


The United States has signed NCAs with more than 20 countries, and the text is usually fairly canned and standard. The precedent of the UAE agreement is that it includes three unique components. First, the UAE obligation not to acquire enrichment and reprocessing (dubbed ENR) technology on its territory. Second, a provision included in the “Agreed Minute” between the two countries stipulating that should the U.S. negotiate a NCA with another Middle East state under more favorable terms, the U.S.-UAE agreement can be renegotiated per UAE request. There is no obligation to renegotiate the agreement. Third, the agreement includes a requirement for the UAE to adopt the IAEA Additional Protocol to allow more intrusive IAEA inspections before the agreement can be implemented.


Because of its uniqueness, the UAE agreement has been referred to in the U.S. policy community as the “Gold Standard.” However, it also sparked a debate within the U.S. administration whether it could be established as the new minimum standard for future U.S. agreements in general, and in the Middle East in particular.


Those who oppose the inclusion of ENR renunciation in all future agreements caution that if the United States adopts a policy requiring ENR restrictions in every cooperation agreement, no future cooperation agreements can be concluded, resulting in the gradual death of the U.S. nuclear industry and the disappearance of important U.S. leverage on nuclear energy and nonproliferation policies. Those who support the inclusion of ENR restriction see it as part of a larger effort by the United States to prevent proliferation of sensitive technologies by forging renunciation of ENR as the new norm in nuclear commerce.


In January 2012, the Obama Administration announced that it had adopted a case-by-case approach to integrating nonproliferation objectives into future nuclear cooperation agreements. According to a letter sent by Ellen Tauscher, then U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, and Daniel Poneman, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary, the approach noted that the U.S. will not require a commitment to forgo ENR in every future agreement. However, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has reportedly recently ordered a reexamination of the case-by-case policy.


Future Middle Eastern 123 Agreements


The United States has concluded nuclear cooperation agreements with four countries in the region: Egypt (1981), Morocco (signed in 1980, and renewed in 2001), Turkey (2006) and the UAE (2009). The United States has been negotiating an NCA with Jordan and discussing the possibility of one with Saudi Arabia. In 2008, Bahrain, Jordan and Saudi Arabia signed MOUs with the United States that include similar commitments of refraining from ENR. However, MOUs are not legally binding and at least Jordan and Saudi Arabia have rejected the UAE formula since. Negotiations with Jordan have been frozen due to instability in the region, but it is projected that some kind of UAE-like restrictions would be adopted with Amman.


Regardless whether the Obama administration ultimately resolves its policy on ENR in future agreements, it is fair to say that an NCA with any country from the Middle East that does not include ENR restrictions would inevitably trigger serious bipartisan objections in Congress. Under Section 123 of the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1954, the Congress has the option to review any NCA for 90-days of continuous review and debate sessions. The House Foreign Relations Committee, which was active in demanding additional restrictions in the U.S.-UAE agreement, can be expected to make the same demands in other cases.


In fact, Congress considers legislation as a means to strengthen its role in approving NCAs. On April 14, 2011, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously approved H.R. 1280, a bill intended to close what the committee considered to be gaps in U.S. law related to bilateral NCAs. The bill would require an affirmative Congressional vote on an NCA unless the text includes commitments by the recipient country to forgo ENR, adopt the Additional Protocol and seek U.S. approval before allowing third-party nationals to gain access to U.S. nuclear exports. Notably, in 11 countries in the Middle East the Additional Protocol is not in force (Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen). By contrast, the bill requires those NCAs that do not contain the restrictions to win a vote in Congress in their favor, making it easier for opponents to stall or defeat them.


In light of the mounting obstacles to close a NCA with the United States, some Middle Eastern countries may conclude that there is no real need for such an agreement, since they do not plan to import U.S. nuclear reactors. However, the following could alter this calculation. Under new regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy in November 2011, reactor vendors whose reactors are based on U.S.-origin technology would need to obtain U.S. approval before selling them to any state that did not have an NCA with the United States.  Of the five vendors of light water reactors (Japan, France, U.S, South Korea and Russia), most designs by the first four countries are based on U.S.-origin technology. Under this legislation, if adopted, the United States could veto any sale to a country that has not concluded an NCA with the U.S. As mentioned before, so far only Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and the UAE have done so.


In conclusion, any country embarking on a nuclear energy program does it for various strategic reasons. Its decision whether to conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States is driven by its need or a desire to get U.S. blessing for its program and hope to gain access to U.S. technology. The terms of a specific agreement are driven by the leverage the United States has over a particular country. It will be harder for any country, especially from the Middle East, to conclude an agreement without ENR renunciation if the United States managed to gain agreement from both the UAE and Taiwan, especially because of the more favorable term in the UAE agreement. However, a decision not to conclude such an agreement with the United States may mean it will not be able to buy a reactor from most rectors suppliers.