The Qom Facility and International Law

Spencer Ackerman interviews some experts on the subject of whether Iran’s Qom nuclear facility could really have any non-weapons purpose and the basic consensus is that realistically it couldn’t. If the facility is of the scale that we’re being told it is, it’s too small to be something any reasonable person would want for electricity generation purposes. The trouble, as I was told yesterday by a European diplomat with experience on the legal aspects of such matters (and on the merits much more hawkish views on Iran than I have) is that these kind of appeals to common sense don’t have any clear legal force in terms of Iran’s commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

You can look at the economic logic of a civilian project and make inferences about what’s really motivating it, but that’s not what the standard is. The good news (again in legal terms) is that the UN Security Council has more-or-less carte blanche to regard situations as a threat to international peace based on their judgment, so it’s not as if legally-grounded international action is hamstrung by these considerations. But it’s a bit of a problematic situation; the fact of the matter is that the NPT gives countries a lot of latitude in terms of their nuclear activities.