A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016.

Can US limit Iran’s missile program?

What kind of legal and normative tools does the US government possess in order to rally international support against Iran’s missile program? And what opportunities does the Islamic Republic have at its disposal to safeguard its defense capabilities?

Resorting to international norms:

The reality is that choosing to mount pressure on Iran over its missile program would be a challenging path ahead of the US as it has faced with the fierce resistance of emerging powers as well as the unwillingness of the international community despite Washington and its allies’ efforts to expand the domain of Weapons of Mass Destruction’s (WMD) norms and attribute them to conventional weapons during the past decades. This is because former bit players have now turned into emerging key players and their international capabilities cannot be denied as before.

It seems very unlikely that the international community will once again capitulate to the discriminatory distribution of new capabilities like nuclear energy. This reasoning is very reactionary to say that recognition of some countries’ right in the past (US, Russia, China, France, Britain) for owning nuclear arms will commit them to having any weapons in the future and denial of other non-nuclear countries’ rights to acquire nuclear arms based on Non Proliferation Treaty will also carry a burden for them in acquiring conventional weapons.

Although the NPT has limited share of nuclear power to only 5 countries, this model cannot be employed to space-missile capabilities of the world states because today many countries own missile and space might and cannot be pushed back.

Therefore, the conventional weapons’ norms, unlike the NPT norms, cannot remain unconcerned about military symmetry and concerns over imbalance of power between countries which are in possession of conventional weapons and nuclear arms. Every universal decision about ballistic missiles hinges upon nuclear disarmament and the need for paying attention to the balance of power with regard to the conventional weapons.

Basically, resorting to stigmatization and political and military pressure, which have been the basis for forming the WMD’s norms, cannot be used against the conventional weapons. The failure of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) shows that innovative technologies are not only restricted to the West and one cannot limit its proliferation to the Western bloc. In addition, Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC), which had been defined to attribute WMD’S norms to ballistic missiles, came to a dead end at the global level as new emerging powers avoid every norm that denies the issue of symmetry in countries’ defensive capabilities.

Asymmetry in nuclear power, either legally based upon the NPT or illegally which emanates from discriminatory implementation of the NPT universal norms, has seriously hindered the control of conventional weapons at the global and regional levels. Military asymmetry in the Middle East has forced the regional countries to resort to various alternatives in order to help establish security. This, from one side, has complicated the security situation and from other has ruined all the measures needed to make regional security arrangement to restore a stable security in the region.Inaction of major powers to the issue of the Israeli regime’s nuclear disarmament in the Middle East region is the main reason behind the region’s insecurity, instability and complication.

Therefore, upgrading conventional weapons capability, as one of the ways for reaching a military symmetry in a region with security situation, is reasonable .

Thus, the perspective of symmetrisim is a serious obstacle in the way of extending the domain of weapons of mass destruction’s norms to conventional weapons, which is almost impossible without taking into account the development and security concerns of the international community.

Resorting to the UN Security Council’s resolutions:
One of the other ways which the US pushes with ahead in order to limit the Islamic Republic of Iran’s missile program is through resorting to UN Security Council resolutions.It is the same approach that they had adopted toward Iraq and now are pursuing with regard to North Korea on a case by case basis. The question is: Is this approach a proper way to deal with Iran’s missile program?

It seems however that UNSC’s resolutions are the most accessible and easiest way for the US to do this. But it should be kept in mind that this is the toughest way as well. The following points need to be taken in to account here:
Firstly, there is no strong and approved international approach and norm, which per se considers boosting missile and space might as a danger and threat to the peace and international security. Thus, there is no lawful approach and norm whereby one can refer to and mount pressure on Iran over its missile program.

Secondly, in retrospect, the resolutions adopted by the UN on Iraq,and North Korea, the issue of ballistic missiles has never been a cause for concern alone rather the UNSC has always attempted to raise alarm over Iraq and North Korea’s missile program over the existence of weapons of mass destruction in this countries. Hence, this demonstrates that the international community does not regard the missile capability alone as a restriction.

Thirdly, dealing with such issues on a case by case basis calls for resorting to stigmatization source and normative legitimacy. The legitimacy of international resolutions over Iraq’s disarmament stem from the illegitimacy of Iraq’s Ba’athist regime, its flagrant violation of human rights, use of chemical weapons and military aggression against neighboring countries. Also, legitimacy of the UN resolutions on North Korea are emanated from the country’s nuclear tests, which are breach of the nuclear taboo.

Fourthly, the Islamic Republic of Iran, unlike Iraq and North Korea, is a government which enjoys popular legitimacy, global discourse, and high-level of diplomatic relations. Iran has always taken a lead in accepting and implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Biological Weapons Convention and the NPT. Therefore, a lasting nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), between Tehran and six world powers, the country’s commitment and clarification with respect to its peaceful nuclear program, and the International Energy Atomic Agency’s (IAEA) acknowledgment of this will block the path for resorting to an effort to limit Iran’s missile program.

Fifthly, Iran’s close ties with Russia and China, as two countries with veto power at the UNSC, is also another great impediment in the way of limiting Iran’s missile capability. Apart from this, efforts aimed at restricting conventional ballistic missiles could alter balance of power at the international level. This, certainly, will not be in the interest of Moscow and Beijing.

This article was written by Hassan Molaei for Basirat.ir on Apr. 16, 2016. Hassan Molaei is a senior expert and researcher in Arms Control and Disarmament Diplomacy. His major field of expertise is global Non-proliferation regimes.He has published abundant articles in Persian and English in various journals and publications.