Why is the EU training Iranian scientists?

Prohibiting Iranians from studying science at EU institutions may not be part of the correct solution to the Iranian nuclear problem. But surely it is profoundly improvident to be funding such studies?

Is this where our money ends up being put to use?
Jacob Campbell
On 30 April 2012 13:53

In 1975, Abdul Qadeer Khan – an engineering graduate from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium – stole plans for a uranium enrichment centrifuge from his workplace in the Netherlands. By 1976, he was heading up Pakistan’s nuclear weapons research team.

When Saddam Hussein launched his own effort to develop weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s, it was Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azawi – an alumnus of the University of East Anglia – who took the helm.

With precedents such as these, it is little wonder that when the international community became convinced that the Islamic Republic of Iran was seeking to build the bomb, UN Security Council Resolution 1737 was passed, prohibiting, inter alia, UN member states from allowing Iranian citizens to acquire information or technology which might assist Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Recognising its obligations under international law, the European Union duly agreed in 2007 to “take measures to prevent Iranian nationals from studying proliferation sensitive subjects within the EU.” So far, so good.

What soon became obvious, however, was that the EU was merely paying lip service to the new UN sanctions. Actual enforcement was left to the individual member states. And since many of those states – as well as the EU itself – have very strict anti-discrimination laws, denying Iranian nationals an education in certain fields proved virtually impossible.

Indeed, when in 2008 the Netherlands became the only EU member state to introduce legislation banning Iranian students from academic courses with potential application in nuclear research, outrage from civil rights groups culminated in a Dutch court overruling the ban.

Absent the necessary safeguards, it seems unwise for European universities to offer technical and scientific training to Iranian citizens. And yet they continue to do so, subsidised by European taxpayers.

Last year, Friends of Israel in UKIP asked the European Commission to disclose the exact number of Iranian students who had been awarded scholarships to study physics and/or chemical, biological and material sciences at European universities under the EU-funded Erasmus Mundus scheme. To our surprise, the Commission obliged. The number was 20.

What this means is that, at a time when the Iranian regime is widely believed to be pursuing the development of WMD, the EU has not only permitted Iranian nationals to study the sciences in Europe, but actively facilitated them – all paid for by you and I.

It is true that Tehran generally prefers to send its prospective nuclear scientists to institutions in Russia and China. But it is also true that European universities are among the finest in the world, which is why the (now outdated) technology underpinning the respective nuclear weapons programmes of Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea is derived from cutting edge research undertaken in Europe.

And whilst it might well be the case – as argued by critics of the Dutch ban – that most Iranian students in Europe are in fact dissenters with no affinity for their country’s current government, we ought to remember that authoritarian regimes such as the Islamic Republic are not above recruiting scientists to work on their weapons projects under duress. The Ba’athists of Iraq did just that, as did the Nazis and the Soviets before them.

To be sure, striking a balance between minority rights and the exigencies of global security is no easy task. Simply prohibiting Iranians from studying science at European institutions might not be the correct solution. But surely it is profoundly improvident of the EU to be funding such studies?

Jacob Campbell is Press Officer for Friends of Israel in UKIP

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