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UNSC Resolution 1737: Too Little, Too Late

INSS Insight – Editor Mark A. Heller
January 11, 2007 No. 6

Security Council Resolution 1737: Too Little, Too Late

Ephraim Asculai

On December 23, 2006 the UN Security Council (SC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1737. The Resolution imposes sanctions on Iran for failing to comply with previous SC demands and again insists that Iran suspend proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities, including all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, research and development, and work on all heavy-water related projects, including the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water. There is nothing new in these demands, which have been made time and again by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the SC. Moreover, the present resolution is almost four months overdue; the last deadline that Iran ignored was on August 31.

Although Iran has briefly suspended uranium-enrichment-related activity twice in the past, it had been steadily progressing since it resumed work in mid-2005. Since then, it has constructed several enrichment "cascades" and has actually enriched (below the 5% level) very small amounts of uranium-235. This degree of enrichment is needed for power-reactor fuel but it is also the essential step en route to weapons-grade material (about 90%). In practical terms, this means that Iran has been unhindered in the pursuit of its nuclear ambitions. It means that international opinion, in the virtual absence of any real action, has had no effect on Iran's progress. It means that unless something drastic is done, Iran will achieve its aims in the foreseeable future. It is in this light that the present SC resolution should be examined.

The imposition of sanctions on a state is meant to achieve several purposes: to coerce it into taking action mandated by the imposer of sanctions; to prevent undesirable actions, and to punish. The first purpose is clearly defined in the Resolution, which states that the SC "shall suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by the IAEA, to allow for negotiations." Thus, the sanctions have to be severe enough to force Iran to take verifiable actions to stop its weapons-related activities.

The undesirable action to be prevented is continued progress in Iran’s nuclear programs. For this reason, the Resolution requires that "all states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale or transfer directly or indirectly from their territories… to, or for the use in or benefit of, Iran, and whether or not originating in their territories, of… items, materials, equipment, goods and technolog[ies]…" These measures are further detailed in the text of the Resolution.

Punitive action is rarely taken for its own sake. In the case of Libya, for example, punitive sanctions were applied in order to end the regime’s support of terrorism and halt Libya’s nuclear program. These objectives were eventually achieved without a change of regime, and when they were achieved, the sanctions were rescinded.

Can Resolution 1737 achieve the aims of coercion and prevention? The prospects are virtually non-existent. In order to coerce Iran into suspending its nuclear activities, the penalties for failing to do so would have to be much harsher at this late stage of the game. But under Russian pressure, the sanctions originally proposed were gravely watered down to the point where they cannot possibly persuade Iran to suspend its activities. Technical sanctions, for example, cover only the provision of materials, equipment and know-how that are not related to the Russian and the Iranian power and research reactors at Bushehr, Teheran and Esfahan. As a result, much material and equipment applicable to Iran's nuclear program can be imported under these exceptions; restrictions in the form of end-use declarations and some verification can be overcome. Moreover, plutonium (albeit not of very good quality) can be extracted (albeit not easily) from the nuclear fuel in the Bushehr power reactor, i.e., on Iranian soil.

In the economic realm, the Resolution states that "all States shall freeze the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories at the date of adoption of this resolution or at any time thereafter, that are owned or controlled by the persons or entities designated in the Annex, as well as those of additional persons or entities designated by the Security Council…" What does the Annex detail? Because of the Russian pressure, the SC designates seven "entities" (companies/organizations) in the nuclear field, seven persons involved in the nuclear program, three entities and four persons in the ballistic missile area, and one person involved in both. These are ludicrous numbers; there are tens of organizations and hundreds, if not thousands, of people involved in both programs. Moreover, the designated people are not prohibited from travel if the purpose of the travel is related to the permitted activities. Otherwise, only proper "vigilance" should be exercised concerning their travel. It is difficult to imagine a greater display of fecklessness.

But for the pressure by Russia (with the support of China) a much stronger resolution would almost certainly have been adopted. Why did Russia act in this way? There are probably several explanations: economic interests, preemption of Iranian assistance to Islamic dissidents (Chechnya comes to mind), a wish to snub the US, and a desire to maintain Iran as an ally. Underlying all of these is almost certainly the belief that a nuclear Iran does not pose a threat to Russia. Otherwise, Russia would have acted differently.

With the exception of the Iranian representative, all speakers at the SC expressed their satisfaction with Resolution and all stressed that the door remained open to negotiations for a diplomatic solution. On that happy note, they retired for the Christmas holidays. However, the most probable future scenario leads to an entirely different outlook: Iran will not heed the call for suspension but will persist and eventually accomplish its military nuclear goals. The non-proliferation regime, the IAEA and the SC will prove to have been ineffective, and the world will find itself in a much more difficult and dangerous situation. Because it does too little and comes too late, Resolution 1737 will not prevent this outcome.


INSS Insight is published
through the generosity of
Sari and Israel Roizman, Philadelphia

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