At a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament held during the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke about the ills of nuclear weapons, and stated that nations should work towards nuclear disarmament within five years. Rouhani also noted that Israel should, like Iran already has, sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has come out against nuclear weapons proliferation, so much that earlier this year he issued a fatwa against their production, citing that it goes against Islamic law.
Unfortunately, Rouhani's hopes for a nuclear-free world, or even a nuclear-free Middle East, are unrealistic. Worldwide nuclear disarmament is, sadly, a pipe dream. Nuclear weapons are here to stay, not so much as a deployable weapon, but as a bargaining chip and an overall deterrent against war. Take for example North Korea, a country hellbent on building up its nuclear arsenal not as a means of using it offensively, but as a way to deter perceived outside threats like the United States or South Korea. For the North Korean government, it's also a way of building national prestige and becoming a major player on the international stage. And don't expect the United States or Russia, owners of 94% of the worlds' atomic weapons, to dismantle their nuclear arsenals anytime soon.
The chances of Israel signing the NPT are about as realistic as Rouhani's desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The worst-kept secret in the international community, Israel is alleged to possess somewhere between 60-80 nuclear weapons, according to the Ploughshares Fund. The Israeli government's policy is purposely ambivalent, with the only official statement being: "Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East." As a defensive measure, Israel will never give up its nuclear weapons, nor even acknowledge their existence.
According to Article VI of the NPT, countries that are recognized as nuclear weapons states should in good faith take steps towards disarmament, which has simply not happened. For countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, of which Rouhani is the acting Secretary General, this has been a point of contention for years: that the five recognized nuclear armed countries (U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, and France) have not been diligent enough in their attempts to disarm. Rouhani's speech on disarmament was very much in line with the stance of the Non-Aligned Movement on non-proliferation and disarmament.
Rouhani has taken great pains to champion a less belligerent Iran. His reaching out to the United States on reaching a deal over his country's nuclear program has hit all the right notes, and his speech on nuclear disarmament is another step in the right direction.