Iran: So Are They Gonna Get The Bomb?

Iran Bomb

On October 1, Iranian negotiators are set to meet with representatives from six nations (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) to address concerns over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. This comes to a backdrop of Iran already stating their refusal to suspend any such program – which it stresses is strictly for civilian energy purposes – while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbies the international community for stricter sanctions against the Persian nation. As far as the US and Israel are concerned, there is no question that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although rather pointedly, they have yet to present any evidence that this is the case.  Amid the atmosphere of mutual distrust and recrimination, it appears  likely that the opposing parties will leave the conference in much the same stance that they went in: deadlocked over the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment and firmly convinced that there is no common point of consensus. All too predictably, the ominous possibility of military conflict – with all the dire consequences for the world that this might entail – looms in the background. But the means for a diplomatic resolution are readily at hand – if pursued seriously. As the six nations approach negotiations with Iran, the wider issues contributing to a new and ever more dangerous era of nuclear proliferation for the world are going unaddressed.

The official stance of the US is that a nuclear armed Iran presents a threat to world security. A neutral observer interested principally in the creation of a safer, more stable world might well be inclined to agree with that standpoint. Any increase in the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons potentially hastens the risk of nuclear annihilation, and is therefore undesirable. However, it’s difficult to take the US position seriously, when you consider that no other nation in the world has been more conducive to the increased proliferation of nuclear weapons, through direct choices of policy.

In 1968, the US signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, designed to curtail the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty is reviewed every five years and was extended indefinitely as of May, 1995. According to the treaty:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”

However, the US continues to spend an annual budget of $40 billion on maintaining and upgrading its nuclear arsenal – by far the largest in the world – consisting of some 10,000 nuclear warheads. Enough to reduce the surface of the planet to uninhabitable radioactive slag, several times over. It’s safe enough to say that the US has not adhered to the spirit or principle of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. To be fair, neither have any of the other nuclear armed signatories of the treaty, including Russia, France, China and the UK. But the US, as the leading power, dictates the example that the rest will follow.

The persistent US violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty goes even further, however. According to the treaty, the nuclear weapon states agree not “in any way to assist, encourage, or induce a non-nuclear weapon state to acquire nuclear weapons”. Well, naked US aggression in itself induces other states to seek nuclear weapons, in order to defend themselves. But more directly, the US provides special privileges to their nuclear armed friends. Take the “United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act” of 2006. Make no mistake about it, the use of the word “peaceful” in that title is intended to be deliberately misleading. The agreement essentially exempts India from the usual methods of international control involving the production of fissile material, giving it the option of expanding its nuclear arsenal in contravention of the standard international regulations.

Let’s be serious: if international security and the prevention of nuclear proliferation are really priorities for the US, policy decisions such as this would simply not be made. India is not as stable a state as it’s commonly assumed to be. India’s national security advisor, M. K. Narayanan, estimates that are as many as 800 terrorist cells operating in the country. More than a third of the nation’s 608 districts are afflicted by insurgency movements of various descriptions at any one time.  And despite recent efforts to reduce tensions, India remains locked in a simmering cold war with neighbouring nuclear armed Pakistan, itself a state on the verge of collapse. If you are genuinely interested in reducing the threat of a nuclear conflict, you don’t clear the road for India to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal under such circumstances.

The real reason the US doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons has little to do with international security. After all, more effective avenues to secure a safer world are repeatedly ignored. It’s because a nuclear armed Iran threatens US hegemony in the Middle East. Iran is not easy to intimidate with the threat of aggression. With nuclear weapons, it would never be swayed. Iran would then have the means to retaliate against aggression, with potentially catastrophic consequences. As is very much the case with North Korea, Iran would have to be left well alone. It would consolidate its status as a regional powerhouse and potentially cut energy deals with Russia and China, compromising US economic interests in the Middle East. For US foreign policy planners, this is considered intolerable.

From the point of view of Israel, a nuclear armed Iran poses an imminent threat to its continued existence. If we are to accept that premise as true, then naturally we must also accept the reverse: that Israel’s existing nuclear arsenal poses an “existential threat” to Iran. Israel has been in a state of almost constant warfare with its immediate neighbours for much of its 60 year existence. In the majority of cases, Israel has used thinly veiled excuses to attack and occupy its neighbours in a campaign of territorial expansion. Iran, on the other hand, has not attacked another nation for several centuries. The only wars Iran has been involved in have been defensive wars, such as when it was attacked by Iraq (with US backing) in 1980. We might therefore be entitled to ask whether the US and Israel pose a greater threat to Iran than Iran poses to the US and Israel. A cursory glance at recent world history provides us with all the answer we need.

Regardless, the actual extent of the “existential threat” posed by a nuclear armed Iran has been drastically overestimated. Official propaganda would have us believe that Iran is controlled by irrational and fanatic extremists who will risk everything – even self destruction – in order to destroy the US and Israel. That if Iran had nuclear weapons, it would immediately use them against its enemies as a matter of course. This is a fanciful notion. Iran has plausible and achievable ambitions to become a regional power in the Middle East. These ambitions do not include mutual nuclear annihilation. Nor do they include anything so foolhardy as placing nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. A theoretical Iranian nuclear arsenal would  be subject to the same security and methods of control as nuclear weapons are anywhere else. If a state as dangerously insecure as Pakistan has managed to contain their nuclear arsenal,  then nuclear security is surely not an issue for the (comparatively) stable Iran.

Of course, any sort of nuclear proliferation must be considered undesirable, in the interests of creating a more secure world for future generations. However, the world would not become an immediately more dangerous place if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon.

All of which raises the question: does Iran actually want nuclear weapons, and are they actively pursuing them? This is taken on assumption by the US and Israel. However, according to Yukiya Amanoto, the incoming head of the International Atomic Energy Agency – the world governing body responsible for monitoring Iran’s uranium enrichment program – “I don’t see any evidence [of an Iranian nuclear weapons program] in any IAEA documents”. This is true. Despite continued close monitoring, the IAEA has never found any evidence of a weapons program in Iran. Iran does have the right to enrich uranium for civilian energy usage under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that Iran may have managed to conceal a weapons program from the IAEA. And the methods of enriching uranium appear increasingly similar for both the development of nuclear weapons and the development of civilian nuclear power. Meaning that – at this stage – the difference between a military and a civilian program is not necessarily detectable.

For what it’s worth, I would surmise that Iran’s government is at least aiming to retain the option of developing nuclear weapons, for as long as they can get away with it under the auspices of their present program. In fact, it would be difficult to conclude that they would act any differently, unless we are to assume that they are naive and stupid, given the current climate of hostility and aggression imposed by the US and Israel in the Middle East. It’s well understood that the possession of nuclear weapons is the only sure method to deter an attack.

Let’s give serious consideration to the point of view of the Iranian government. I think it’s more than worthwhile to do so. There are serious fears in Iran that the nation will one day be the subject of an attack by the US and / or Israel. These fears are not without plausible foundation. Far from it in fact. Apart from the well documented history of disruptive Western meddling in Iranian affairs (Shah Pahlavi’s CIA backed coup which overturned Iran’s popular parliamentarian government and instituted a brutal reign of terror, US support for Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 etc) the US apparently seriously considered military action against Iran in very recent history, even getting as far as the planning stages for an invasion. Reportedly, one of the options considered by US military planners was the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. Dick Cheney cheerfully admits that he pushed heavily for a “pre-emptive” strike against Iran during the Bush II regime. Thankfully, saner heads prevailed in this instance. But in the aftermath of the Coalition invasion of Iraq – leaving perhaps as many as 1,000,000 Iraqis dead and much of the country a smouldering ruin – Iran could only have been all too aware of the catastrophic dangers posed by a potential “pre-emptive” strike conducted against them by the US.

The persistent rattling of sabres aimed by the US at Iran made the situation starkly clear: without nuclear weapons, Iran would have no means to deter a US attack.

This is the insane paradigm of logic that has been established for a post Bush II world, following on from the dictates of the US National Security Strategy of 2002, which outlined the intent of the US to engage in “preventive” war against regimes it “perceives” to pose a threat, even if this threat is not imminent. Nations hoping to pursue their own course in the world, free from outside interference, must now as a matter of necessity obtain terrifying weapons of mass destruction, as a means to deter aggression.

Perhaps Iranians might be forgiven for believing that the world’s dominant nuclear power – the only nation to thus far use nuclear weapons in anger – dictating to them the terms of their own nuclear development program, is rather too rich in irony.

Nonetheless,  it would appear that Iran has taken steps in good faith to reach a diplomatic resolution over its uranium enhancement programs in the past, only to have the efforts rebuffed. In 2003, Iran’s government, then under the moderate, reformist President Mohammed Khatami, drafted a comprehensive proposal offering to negotiate with the US over all of their mutually contentious issues, referring to the proposal as a “grand bargain”. The proposal offered full cooperation in the campaign against terrorism (referencing both Al Qaeda and the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq – a dissident Iranian organisation) involving a free exchange of relevant information. Iran also offered to accept tighter controls from the International Atomic Energy Agency, including full access to any nuclear facility on short notice, in return for access to peaceful nuclear technology. Iran offered to dramatically soften its stance against Israel, approving the standard two state resolution of the Palestine / Israel divide, with Israel reverting to its traditional 1967 borders (already universally agreed as reasonable by all states in the world apart from Israel and the US). Furthermore, Iran offered to cease support for militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, instead working to develop them into non-violent political organisations. The proposal had the full approval of Iran’s head of state, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US response, issued through Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, was as follows:

 “We’re not interested in any grand bargain.”

Vice President Dick Cheney then made the usual noises about the US refusing to “talk to evil” – apparently labouring under the misconception that the US government is a Jedi Council dealing with the machinations of Sith Lords.

Such unequivocal refusal to engage in constructive diplomacy on the part of the US has left Iran with few options. Faced with such a blunt and arrogant dismissal of their national concerns, Iran might well have concluded that their only viable path is to develop nuclear weapons out of defiance, since complete submission or the threat of force are the only avenues that the world’s leading power will comprehend, let alone take seriously. Khatami was succeeded as President by the more hardline and querulous Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meaning that the window of opportunity for meaningful diplomacy has narrowed even further. This follows a fairly typical template in international affairs. A relatively moderate regime, threatened by hostile powers and denied the opportunity for constructive engagement, will become increasingly hardline, isolationist and uncooperative, as its best means of defense.

Nonetheless, achieving a nuclear free Iran – as well as a nuclear weapon free world in general – is not necessarily out of the question, providing that the world’s most powerful state demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice some of its means of intimidation in the interests of achieving greater overall security. It’s not difficult to conceive of a situation in which all nations agree to hand control of nuclear materials over to a UN recognised international authority. Each nation would be subject to the same rigorous IAEA inspections, permitting free and unrestricted access to ensure that no further nuclear weapons are developed. In fact, a proposal very much like this has been on the table for a considerable length of time – the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FISSBAN). When the issue was presented to the UN Committee on Disarmament in 2004, the vote was 147 – 1 in favour. The nations that supported the treaty included Iran. The lone nation that voted against the treaty was the United States (Israel and the UK – the closest allies of the US – both abstained). The lesson could not be made any clearer: the US accords greater importance to retaining its own capacity to produce and maintain a nuclear arsenal than it does to reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation in the world in general. It might be instructive to bear such lessons in mind as the international community heads for showdown talks over the issue of a nuclear armed Iran.

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6 Responses to Iran: So Are They Gonna Get The Bomb?

  1. James H says:

    This has always been the way with America. A nuke in the hands of the US or her allies is a necessary tool for the defence of the West (despite America being the only nation to ever use them…), but when some loco towel head who doesn’t eat Big Macs has them, it’s the biggest threat to civilisation since the superpower Nicaragua “threatened” Texas in the 80s. Of course the language about nuclear weapons falls in with the general double speak of American foreign policy, while Pinochet supported freedom, Mandela was a terrorist. The SOA death squads in El Salvador were keeping the region stable, Oscar Romero was destabilising it with such evil acts as helping the poor, the bastard.

    Of course if we look back at 1962, we see the same American hypocrisy. The Cold War was marked by the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, yet even before the Superpowers of America and the USSR this was not equal. While NATO had missiles throughout Europe pointing at the USSR, in 1962 the Soviets did not have missile silos that could get America. They could aim missiles at Europe, but America was to a large extent out of reach. Unless the Soviets had a deep desire to nuke Alaska and take out Sarah Palin and a few penguins, America would avoid the brunt of the Soviet attacks in the case of a nuclear war (although if anything on earth would have survived is uncertain). So when the US saw the Soviets begin to use Cuban as a missile silo, they knew they could be facing a Soviet base that could hit 2/3 of the States. Some Ruskies taking aim at America eh? Well they couldn’t have that. You can understand Khrushchev’s desire to have some kind of parity in the nuclear situation. As he pointed out in the aftermath of the crisis, the USSR faced multiple Cuba’s all the time. As a result of this fear of a kind of parity, Kennedy was willing to risk the nuclear holocaust. As you yourself acknowledge in your post on the crisis, America could have dissolved the crisis by their own nuclear climb-down, but as with the situation in Iran, America reducing it’s arms is out of the question, so the world will face another crisis, now in the Middle East, except this time war may well break out…

  2. robertod says:

    Yes indeed.

    I think we’re going to come out of this situation deadlocked, because the US will expect Iran to suspend their uranium enrichment programs without having to make any concessions of their own.

    The question is: what will follow?

    I think that Obama genuinely wants to avoid military conflict with Iran, recognises how destructive it will be, and may have even reconciled himself to the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran at some point in the future.

    The problem is that the Obama administration is currently under fire from all sides. It’s crazy when you consider it, but Obama is actually facing more ferocious opposition for his (very much moderate) policies than Bush II had to face down when he was slashing corporate taxes and dragging America into an illegal and dishonest war. In fact, Bush was hardly opposed at all and was able to get everything he wanted out of congress. Obama can’t even seem to get moderate health care reform (even in a severely compromised form) through the system.

    The Iran situation will become one more stick to beat the Obama administration with. If the negotiations fail to yield a resolution – which seems likely, since Obama has no real leeway in which to manoeuver – then the war drums will begin beating again. The Neo-Cans will declare this as evidence that they were right all along – that the only viable option is to strike Iran. A lot of people will genuinely believe that this is the case.

    Will Obama’s administration submit to the pressure and commit to such folly? Perhaps. They are getting it from all sides right now.

    The other question is whether Israel will simply take it upon themselves to act independently, with or without US sanction. They are already baulking over the fact that the US is willing to engage in any sort of negotiation with Iran at all.

    If Israel decides to force the issue independently, then there’s no telling where this might lead us. It’s pretty much inconceivable that Iran would not retaliate in some fashion, which would inevitably draw a US response.

    It’s an incredibly dangerous situation, but it’s still surely possible to avoid the worst case scenario.

  3. James H says:

    Well I wouldn’t call myself his biggest fan, but it is situations like this that I’m glad Obama is in the White House, and not Bush et al, or McCain. I mean, he ain’t exactly Noam Chomsky but at least he doesn’t seem to be one of the “crazies”. The idea of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfelt, Bolton et cetera being in charge for this would give me nightmares.

    Did you catch the far right in America campaigning against Obama’s “Socialist” reforms to the health service? I generally ignore this kind of rubbish but some of it was great. Some right crackers in there. In fact you could do a top 5 of mad arguments:

    5. Healthcare is the work of Hitler: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2009/08/12/obamahitler460x276.jpg
    Yep that’s right, wanting health care for the poor and needy makes you a Nazi.

    4. Healthcare for the poor is “Orwellian” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/11/nhs-united-states-republican-health
    In reference to that great novelist who wrote about a dystopian future where the poor were allowed healthcare. That man, who in no way was a socialist and supported the creation of the NHS…

    3. The main flaw in the NHS dentist service is that it is, errr, mainly privitised. Yep, it seems no matter of facts will stop Fox News’s Sean Hannity from attacking the NHS become this man in Liverpool couldn’t find an NHS dentist so had to glue his tooth back. Lovely, except what he doesn’t mention is that most of the NHS’s dentist services have been privitised, and he couldn’t find a NHS dentist because they’ve been privitised. So really we have a story here of a man who suffered because he couldn’t afford private healthcare and the problem with the NHS is that it isn’t “socialist” enough.

    2. Steven Hawking would have died if the country he grew up in had the NHS. Only problem being, Hawking was born in England, and replied ““I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS, I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/12/birthers-stephen-hawking-paul-rowen

    1.Universal healthcare is a terrorist recruitment tool: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c-JEx-Kfvc

    Err…

    Mental…

    • nck says:

      YEAH
      Dipomacy with lunatics has reaped such a high level of success in the past, huh?

      These lunatics know ONE thing……and unless the opposition has the fortitude to do what is needed, no matter how devastating, the outcome of “diplomacy” is ALWAYS be worse. Ask Chamberlain.

      • robertod says:

        The comparisons with Chamberlain are entirely spurious, since there is little basis to compare modern day Iran with the Third Reich. And whatever else might be said about Ahmadinejad, even accepting that some criticism may be justified, there is no basis to compare him with Hitler.

        Hitler was a psychopath with an agenda of world conquest and racial genocide. Nazi Germany posed a legitimate military threat to the world at large. Modern day Iran is just a minor regional power with fairly routine ambitions to increase their degree of influence in world affairs. You’d have to go back centuries – predating the formation of modern Iran – to find the last time the Persians initiated a war of aggression.

        The outbreak of World War II was preceded by a massive military build-up on the part of Germany. Iran’s military budget constitutes just 2.6% of its Gross Domestic Product (the lowest percentage out of all the Persian Gulf states). If they have any plans for expansion, it’s certainly not reflected in their military spend. Indeed, the thought of Iran initiating military aggression against any of its neighbours is patently ridiculous, considering the kind of repercussions that would be in store for them.

        The notion that diplomacy never solves anything is so preposterous that it scarcely needs to be addressed here. Diplomacy has been used to successfully resolve all manner of disputes in all kinds of situations throughout history. In this case, “diplomacy” has been used to attempt to force an issue for which there is no clear evidence. Iran may or may not be attempting to use its nuclear program to develop a nuclear arsenal. But whether or not “diplomacy” is successful in this instance is ultimately besides the point. There is no justification to go to war with Iran in any case. In the unlikely event that Iran attacks one of its neighbours, then a range of options might be explored. Until that day, the threat of military action should not even be on the table.

  4. robertod says:

    The whole health care “debate” in the US has reached such a pitch of hysteria that its become little more than shrill noise. Its demented really. I think its an indicator of how far the US has fallen more than anything. There appears to be a certain tolerance for utter batshit lunacy in that country that to any outside observor it looks like the whole place has just gone totally off the rails.

    Almost everybody outside the US (and probably a majority within it) are capable enough of recognising that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world’s most powerful economy being completely incapable of offering effective health care to its people. I don’t even think that’s a debatable point, quite frankly.

    But Obama can’t even push through a debased, compromised version of a universal health care system. And the reason for that, quite simply, is that there are too many powerful interests profiting from the situation as it is. And these people have the funds, the wherewithall and the sheer ruthlessness to stamp out any meaningful reform. This isn’t the first time planned health care reform has gone down the tubes in the US.

    The worst thing about it is that these people have managed to get a significant faction of the US population to actually believe that universal health care is not in their interests. A lot of these people are poor whites from small towns in the red states. These people don’t have money to pay for medical bills. But they will go to their graves swearing that universal health care is “anti-American” – even if it means going bankrupt to pay for Uncle Jed’s throat cancer treatment.

    When you’re up against that kind of mentality, it’s difficult to conceive of how anything meaningful can be done.

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