This is the foreword to Would Airstrikes Work? a report by the Oxford Research Group.
The ultimate aim of the 1968 non-proliferation treaty was a nuclear-weapon free world. All states without non-nuclear weapons were invited to commit themselves to remain without these weapons and the five states, which had tested such weapons, were invited to commit themselves to nuclear disarmament.
Incentives to acquire nuclear weapons flow in most cases from perceived security interests or from a wish for recognition and status. Success in preventing a spread of the weapons and in eliminating existing arsenals depends on states coming to the conclusion that their security interests and status do not call for nuclear weapons.
The end of the cold war has been and remains singularly helpful to lower tensions and to increase security in many parts of the world. Practical cooperation between states bilaterally, regionally or through international organisations has the same effect. By contrast, new nuclear arms programmes in nuclear weapon states, anti-missile programmes, space weapon developments and threats of armed attacks or of actions to bring about regime change through armed force or subversion, increase security concerns. In cases like North Korea and Iran it is not the threat or use of armed force but the absence thereof that will help to ensure non-proliferation.
This report does not reject the contention that a wish to develop nuclear weapons or at least the option to acquire such weapons may be part of the reason for Iran's programme for the enrichment of uranium. Today, it does not matter much what the Iranian intention is, if, indeed, there is an agreed intention. After all, whatever the intention today, it could change in two years time.
Inducing Iran to suspend the enrichment programme at least for a prolonged period of time would - all agree - be desirable to reduce tensions in the Middle East and to give time for other efforts with the same aim. The question is how to induce Iran to join this conclusion.
With much technical knowledge this study argues, that it would be several years before the present Iranian programmes for the enrichment of uranium and possible production of plutonium could result in weapons and that there is time for diplomacy. It further argues that military attacks on Iranian nuclear installations would be disastrous and counterproductive.
I fully agree. In the case of Iraq, the armed action launched aimed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction - that did not exist. It led to tragedy and regional turmoil. In the case of Iran armed action would be aimed at intentions - that may or may not exist. However, the same result - tragedy and regional turmoil - would inevitably follow. Further, as argued in this study, armed attacks on Iran would very likely lead to the result they were meant to avoid - the building of nuclear weapons within few years. It is inconceivable that the security council would authorise armed action against alleged intentions. Such action would therefore present another contravention of the UN charter, raising the question whether anything was left of the charter's provisions on the threat and use of force. If Iranian nuclear power plants at Bushehr were to be targeted, when they have begun to operate, such attacks would also violate the 1977 additional Geneva protocol (article 56), which protects such plants.
The conclusion is clear: diplomacy must be used to persuade Iran at least to suspend its enrichment programme for a prolonged period of time. However, it is illogical to ask Iran to suspend its enrichment programme before any diplomatic negotiations take place about the conditions for the suspension. It is time for serious talk - not for humiliating preconditions.
Hans Blix is chairman of the weapons of mass destruction commission.