Sahib Singh is a Visiting Lecturer of International Law at the University of Vienna, a Visiting Fellow at the British Institute of International & Comparative Law and a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. The legal principles and arguments put forward are addressed far more extensively, albeit in the context of a different enquiry, in a forthcoming book chapter on Countermeasures and Non-Proliferation Law (draft here).
Since the publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on Iran of 8 November 2011, the Iranian nuclear issue has continued to slowly escalate. This escalation has largely been constrained within its own narrative and of economic sanctions but, at other points, has spilled into diplomatic rows and military threats (see here and here). In the forthcoming weeks, certainly the US, and possibly the EU, shall significantly broaden existing sanctions, introducing a spate of new sanctions as part of a marked shift in sanctions strategy. However, despite familiar policy issues arising with such a shift, this post shall examine a foundational legal question: do states, beyond the scope of existing Security Council mandated sanctions, have standing to take unilateral countermeasures against Iran, and if so, upon which particular legal grounding? In particular, I wish to examine the question of standing, under the law of State responsibility (particularly under Article 42(b)(ii) of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility), to respond to alleged breaches of the collective non-proliferation obligations contained in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The post shall determine that there is a considerable ambiguity in the law, arising from the tension between the law of treaties and the law of state responsibility, and arguably, states undertaking unilateral sanctions as a form of countermeasures against Iran may not have strict legal standing to do so (see here, pp. 10-24 for a more detailed examination).
Background & Delineating the Legal Question
Since 2002, when Iran revealed uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz and Arak that had been previously concealed for nearly 18 years, the IAEA and the international community has viewed Iran’s nuclear program with concern for its possible military dimensions. Iran has continuously sustained its ‘inalienable right’ to peaceful use of nuclear technology (including acceptable levels of uranium enrichment) under Article IV NPT. Despite mere suspicions and no conclusive evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, and acting in discordance (although not necessarily in breach) with Article XII(c) of its Statute, the IAEA referred the case of Iran to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in February 2006. Since the passage of UNSC Resolution 1696 (2006), Iran’s rights and obligations in relation to its nuclear program have been severely transformed, and the first of four rounds of UNSC Chapter VII economic sanctions were put in place. The latest and most extensive of these was UNSC Resolution 1929 (2010), passed on 9 June 2010 (see pp. 39-44 of my paper for a discussion of parts of it). Read the rest of this entry…