Exclusive for European Phoenix: Interview with Paul Ingram, Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council
Exclusive for European Phoenix: Interview with Paul Ingram
Interview with Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council, who attended the Second International Conference on Disarmament and Non Proliferation in Teheran.
By Federico Dal Cortivo
EP: The Second Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, organized by Iran, has just been terminated where you took part along with many other experts who have come from all over the world. What is your opinion about this second initiative launched by Tehran after the conference that took place in 2010?
Paul Ingram:This conference was a good deal more low key than last year’s. The fact that Iran recognises the need to engage with the disarmament community in this way is very welcome, particularly as they unambiguously accept the frame that disarmament is necessary for global security and international justice. They have a strong case to put, the trouble is that they too often put it in a manner that encourages the image that they are aggressive and unreasonable.
EP: Iranian top politicians have reconfirmed once again that their intention is to use nuclear energy for pacific purposes. What do you think about it?
Paul Ingram: Personally I think that nuclear energy is not appropriate for Iran’s energy needs – they have much better options. I believe their choices have been too heavily influenced by a strong reaction to other countries attempt to coerce them into giving up their development of nuclear technology. Certainly, their priorities in the nuclear programme that emphasises enrichment at this stage in their programme over and above the construction of nuclear power reactors suggests a strong intention to develop a nuclear weapon capability rather than purely civil, but equally I have no doubt that they are also simply making a point that they are technically capable of this development. Iran has just as much a right to develop nuclear energy as any other country, as long as it abides by its responsibilities to reassure the rest of the international community through the application of full scope safeguards, and preferably abiding by their Additional Protocol with the IAEA.
EP: Don’t you believe that a hypothetical military use of the atom by Tehran hides in fact the desire to prevent a real economic development of this nation, which has not launched bombs or declared war to another country until now, but to keep it in technological and economic subordination until the oil reserves get dried out?
Paul Ingram:I do not think this is a deliberate strategy on the part of the west to deny Iran any technology, though understand why it looks that way in Tehran. Their perspective is one heavily influenced by historical experience and enmity built up since the Islamic Revolution (and events before that). The dangers of nuclear proliferation are very real, and the fears just as influential in the policies of western governments. The problem is that influential members of the international community confuse measures to tackle the danger with other competing priorities, so the project is severely weakened and states such as India and Israel are allowed to develop nuclear arsenals with minimal cost in their relationships.
EP:What do you think about “nuclear-free zone” that could be founded in the Middle East, the idea in which Iran believes firmly in order to assure the peace in the Region?
Paul Ingram:The possibility of a zone is critical both to regional security and to the health of the NPT globally. The possibility of a conference next year to discuss the principles behind a WMD free zone has the potential to be a game changer, refocusing attention towards establishing principles for all states in the region, placing the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme in context. Without such an effort to establish universal principles there is little or no chance of escaping the trap that all countries have fallen into where arguments over principle and international security are completely distorted by self-interest and the belief that one bomb is good and another bad.
EP:What is the major obstacle to this peace plan and who may oppose mostly to it, in your opinion?
Paul Ingram:There are many major obstacles. One is recognition of Israel, and the consequent belief in Israel that all its neighbours want to see its destruction – it thinks it is fighting for survival, which justifies any action in their own minds (and those of their US sponsors). Unwillingness to recognise Israel also creates logistical and political problems around negotiations. International pressure on Iran and its nuclear programme today will also ensure that Iran is highly cautious about the traps that will be laid in its path prior to and in the negotiations. But the biggest obstacles is the fact that Israel deploys a sizable and modern undeclared nuclear arsenal in secret, and is unwilling to discuss issues surrounding this until there is any progress on Middle East peace, which right now looks very unlikely. Israeli has already expressed public unease about the conference, but privately there is some optimism that they will take part.
EP:Nowadays, according to your opinion, a sovereign state has the right to have access to nuclear technology for civilian purposes, with all necessary international control in these cases, or in the third millennium this right can be exercised only by the nuclear powers and their allies who arrogate to themselves the right to decide which country can and which not use nuclear energy for civilian purposes?
Paul Ingram:Currently non-nuclear weapon states in the NPT have a right to nuclear technology as long as they are in compliance with their safeguards obligations. The nuclear powers have certainly not applied consistency in their application of non-proliferation measures across the international community, and this is a major problem for the future of the regime. Do I personally believe there should be a right to nuclear power? I am unconvinced, as I believe that nuclear power is overhyped and dangerous in a number of ways, and that humanity needs to be prioritising other technologies that are available, that are safer, and more conducive to building international confidence.
EP: What is the role of UN nowadays in this matter, and along with UN, also the role of the AIEA? Does not it seem that these two international institutions have already lost their credibility, moreover after the bad reputation remedied concerning the story of mass-destruction weapons never found in Iraq in 2003?
Paul Ingram: Credibility is not black and white. Certainly the UN suffered to an extent from the Iraq war, but the UN is bigger than a single event, or even one of its bodies (the Security Council). International organisations will inevitably be heavily influenced by the attempts of more powerful states to manipulate them – such efforts need to be actively resisted if the project of building an effective and safe international community has a hope of success. The IAEA has historically been highly successful in controlling (though not eradicating) such efforts, and retains a great deal of respect from neutral countries, as well as criticism in Tehran and in Washington. IAEA reports are still the objective source of information for anyone interested in forming their own view of Iran’s nuclear programme.
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