Iran Negotiations and the Broader Nuclear Agenda

The number of nuclear weapons in the world tops 17,000, yet none of them belong to Iran.

While negotiators work for a verifiable deal that would prevent Iran from ever obtaining nuclear arms – it’s important to remember that the current negotiations also have the potential to strengthen international security, and move us forward on a path to a nuclear weapons-free tomorrow.


Eliminating any immediate threats to the U.S. and its allies is of primary concern, but so too is preventing the spread of nuclear arms in the Middle East. Iran currently has no such weapons, but without a verifiable no-nukes agreement, it may seek and achieve the capacity to produce them. This could lead, in turn, to an arms race – a reality that the U.S. remembers all too well from the Cold War era, and which we’ve watched play out again between India and Pakistan.

Moreover, those likely to benefit if diplomacy fails include Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the hardline paramilitary force which maintains its own army, navy and air force. The IRGC is one of Iran’s most powerful political and economic actors, and also has close ties with terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other hand, a successful nuclear deal could bolster Iran’s moderates, such as President Rouhani, and help cut off avenues for the spread of nuclear know-how or materials to some of the region’s most dangerous players.


Likewise, an agreement with Iran would help facilitate reductions in existing arsenals. Given the Administration’s policy of promoting such reductions, we need to especially consider Russia’s and China’s involvement in the current negotiations: Russia has some 8,500 nuclear weapons, China 250 (and the U.S., 7,700). The collaboration of these powers toward a nuclear-free Iran is an important step toward developing an international norm against nuclear weapons and increasing the momentum toward zero.

This cooperation becomes even more significant when we consider that in the four years since the New START treaty was signed, progress toward further arms reductions has stalled. In 2013, President Obama reiterated his commitment to bringing American and Russian nuclear stockpiles down to 1954 levels; success in Iran talks could thus serve as an important turning point, advancing American nuclear policy in other arenas.


Finally, an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful ends would also significantly boost US efforts to secure nuclear materials internationally, and help build support for ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty here at home. In particular, a deal would provide terrific support for the 2014 and 2016 Nuclear Materials Summits, the latter to be held in Washington, D.C.

International diplomacy is about the recognition that no nation is an island. Nothing proves this adage more conclusively than the specter of nuclear attack – a specter that frankly looms larger in an age of terrorism and geopolitical upheaval.

As long as these weapons exist anywhere, they are a threat everywhere. A deal by the P5+1 countries (the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany) to create verifiable safeguards against a nuclear-armed Iran would make not just the region safer, but the entire world.

Photo from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center