Research Director, International Security

The lesson from the examples of South Africa and Brazil, and Iran’s chemical weapons programme in the 1980s, is that rollback and restraint is possible and realistic, writes Patricia Lewis.

Photo:Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images.Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini attend the nuclear talks between the E3/EU+3 and Iran in Vienna. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed between the E3/EU+3 and Iran in July 2015, allows for Iran to exercise its right to develop a full fuel-cycle capability for peaceful purposes, including the low enrichment of uranium.
  • Iran will thus retain the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons for some considerable time to come. This ’freeze and rollback’ period is seen by some, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, as a concern, but it could actually be useful in enabling a genuine approach to building trust with Iran.
  • The forthcoming period of nuclear restraint in Iran is also a period that will be characterized by some as ‘nuclear hedging’. The two, are, however, inextricably linked. Nuclear restraint is part of a hedging strategy, and a hedging strategy is part of nuclear restraint. Allowing for some restrained nuclear hedging during the rollback period provides the cover that politicians often need to demonstrate that they are playing their cards well, and that they will not be made to look naive or foolish.
  • The lesson from the examples of South Africa and Brazil, and Iran’s chemical weapons programme in the 1980s, is that rollback and restraint is possible and realistic. There is no genie to be squashed back into a bottle. Iran will retain the ability and the right to enrich uranium, and that capability may well be the vital factor that allows the JCPOA to work in both the short and the long term.