Nuclear Rogues: Iran v. North Korea

Russian utilization of the model of North Korea to justify a moderate UN response regarding Iran may bring about ongoing moderation regarding Iran's violations of international norms.

The UN Security Council decided by consensus on Saturday that Iran is subject to sanctions by the international community for its nuclear development program. The highlights of the decision include:

  • Suspend all nuclear enrichment-related and nuclear reprocessing activities, including R & D;and

  • Suspend all heavy-water related projects, including research reactor construction.

  • The International Atomic Energy Commission will report on Iran's compliance in 60 days.1

Russia was instrumental in toning down the level of sanctions, claiming that Iran’s non-compliance with international norms of nuclear non-proliferation is different from that of North Korea. The latter, it emphasizes, has expelled nuclear inspectors, withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and set off a weapons test.

However, according to The Economist, Russia is trying to make the case for special treatment of Iran in order to exempt its Bushehr nuclear reactor project in Iran from international sanctions, “…and to ward off a financial squeeze that might put at risk profits Russia hopes to earn from providing nuclear fuel for the reactor.”

The Reut Institute contends that Russia has utilized the exceptional model of North Korea’s roguish behavior in order to justify a moderate UN response that will protect its economic interests in Iran.

However, the distinctions in this context made between Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs by Russia are misleading, and may push the international community into ongoing moderation in response to Iran's violations of international norms.

Moreover, the relative mildness of UN sanctions reveals an underlying erosion in the international mechanisms intended to deal with nuclear proliferation. In light of this, Iran is likely to reach the conclusion that its membership in the NPT is no longer politically worthwhile. It may, in fact, choose the North Korean precedent of leaving the NPT.


  • International Herald-Tribune, 12/24/06, full article

  • Dealing with Iran and North Korea, The Economist,
    full article

  • Russian nuclear chief says uranium processing center to open by end of January, Kyiv Post, 12/18/06; full article

  • M. Franchetti, Russia defies West to sell Iran nuclear fuel, The Peninsula, [no date]; full article

1 In addition, several parts of the decision relate to the activities of other states, i.e: prevention of the transfer of equipment or technology contributing to Iran's nuclear activities or weapon delivery systems; freezing of financial assets of entities connected to Iran's nuclear programs; reporting the trans-border movements of selected individuals involved in its nuclear development.