By Rahul Gupta
On 30th January 2017, the White House affirmed reports of a “ballistic missile” test carried out on the 29th by Iran. The missile was launched from a well-known test site, Semnan, approximately 220 km from Tehran. The missile was in the air for about 1010 km before exploding. Whether this detonation was intentional or not is yet to be confirmed. Even though the technology was by itself non-nuclear, it is possible that this technology could be adapted for nuclear use in the future.
Violation of the nuclear deal?
In 2015, Iran entered into a nuclear deal with the US, France, Germany, Russia and China. According to the agreement, sanctions imposed against Iran would be relaxed in return for curtailment of the Iranian nuclear programme. Curtailment measures included shutting down reactors and centrifuges, in such a way that the ‘breakout time’ or time required to complete its bomb was majorly extended. In June 2010, the UN Security Council resolved to prohibit, inter alia, all ballistic missile testing by Iran.
The 2015 deal and its complementary UNSC Resolution 2231 do not expressly prohibit Iran from testing ballistic missiles, but prohibit nations from trading those materials with Iran.
Despite various allegations regarding violation of treaties, it is still not clear whether Iran’s test has really violated the letter of the agreement.
Mixed reactions from the international community
Iran claims the missile test was outside the purview of the nuclear deal. It justifies this claim by pointing out that the warhead was not intended for nuclear application. Further, the news that Iran would start production of this missile was made public 4 months ago. While it is possible that Iran’s test is purely in a non-nuclear capacity, the actions by itself were predictably controversial.
Russia supported Iran’s view in claiming that the nuclear deal was not violated. However, the EU claimed the agreement had been violated in spirit and expressed concern over the test and the US administration’s attitude towards the nuclear deal.
The US has had a reserved reaction to the test. Stating it was aware of the test but was “looking into the exact nature of it”. Tel Aviv took a strong stand against the test, terming it a “flagrant breach” and expressed the will to re-assess the entire nuclear accord concerning Iran with the US. Prime Minister Netanyahu also stated that he intends on discussing the possibilities of renewed sanctions against Iran.
What the future holds
Global opinion is divided on this issue. Nations seem wary in expressing any sentiment that may undermine the deal and cause it to unravel. The text of the resolution and the actual deal could be read in a manner allowing such a test, this gives states the opportunity to condemn the test without actually getting rid of the nuclear deal.
President Trump has previously called the nuclear accord a “bad deal”. However, Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary took an alternate view during his confirmation, stating the deal made the world safer. Though at this point it’s difficult to assess what Washington’s view on the deal is, one thing is certain. Tel Aviv will try it’s very best to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Iran will be a strong ally against ISIS, so the Trump administration will have to prioritise and choose its interests. As things stand, ISIS should take priority and partnership with Iran should not be easily thrown away.