Macomb, IL – Iran is enriching uranium to a high degree. Most believe they are working toward making nuclear weapons. North Korea has developed a nuclear bomb and has conducted two nuclear tests. There has been a lot of rhetoric at the UN on the subject. Is either or both of these countries in violation of international law?
Yes. Both states are in violation of international law.
Both Iran and North Korea have signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Under the NPT Non-nuclear-weapon States Parties agree not to acquire or produce nuclear weapons, and to accept Safeguards to detect diversions of nuclear materials from peaceful activities to the production of weapons.
This means they must agree to inspections of their activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) . Iran has refused. This is a violation of Iran's treaty obligations, a violation of international law.
The Middle East is a dangerous place. Under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, the Security Council can take action to keep or restore peace that is binding on all states. So if it finds a threat to peace, it has the power, for example, to demand, that a state stop developing or testing nuclear energy or weapons. The Security Council can also impose sanctions on a state.
Article IV of the NPT provides for the "inalienable rights" of states to nuclear energy. Iran says it is pursuing that right under the NPT. By ignoring its safeguard obligations under the same treaty, Iran engages in selective treaty obligation compliance, a treaty violation.
The Security Council has said Iran's activities are a threat to the peace and issued binding resolutions, demanding that Iran stop uranium enrichment and submit to safeguards as required. Iran continues in defiance. Iran signed the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Its Article 26 says states must fulfill their treaty obligations.
North Korea also signed the NPT, but Article X of the NPT says: "Each party shall...have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country." In 2003, alleging a threat to its security by the US, North Korea withdrew from the treaty and said that its withdrawal left it free from the binding force of the NPT.
Even if North Korea's withdrawal by itself is appropriate under Article X of the NPT, the UN Security Council has determined that its withdrawal along with North Korea's stated intention to resume missile testing, to reactivate its nuclear facilities with no IAEA inspectors and test nuclear weapons, threatening their use against its neighbors, together are a threat to international peace.
The Security Council has issued a number of resolutions, demanding that North Korea abandon missile and nuclear weapons testing, and that it retract its announcement of withdrawal from the NPT. North Korea is in violation of those resolutions.
Both Iran and North Korea are parties to the UN Charter, which requires that they obey Article VII Security Council Resolutions. Despite violations of international law being brought to their attention and despite Security Council resolutions, Iran and North Korea continue to violate international law respecting nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.