Monday, April 17, 2006

Iran v the USA - maneuvring and posturing

It was Seymour Hersh who recently broke the story that Iran is now very much in the sights of the Bush administration, and that was before Iran declared itself the newest members of the nuclear club.

What does this actually mean? Iran has of course been wanting to join the nuclear club for years, as this article from more than two years ago indicates, and they’ve been at loggerheads with the IAEA for a long time about it all.

But what is the Nuclear Club? According to the above article, only five countries, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China (who also happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) are members of this club, though it’s common knowledge that Israel, India and Pakistan also have nuclear weapons. Wikipedia provides a good start to getting your head around all this.

From an Iranian perspective, the current saber-rattling about its possession of enriched uranium (which it claims is entirely for peaceful purposes) must seem profoundly hypocritical, since Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is an open secret, and the IAEA’s treatment of Israel over its nuclear capability has been very different from its treatment of Iran, which is nowhere near as far down the road as Israel in nuclear terms. On February 6 this year, Iran was referred by the IAEA to the United Nations Security Council due to suspicions in the US and some European nations about its nuclear ambitions. As noted in Wikipedia, ‘according to many sources, Israel has succeeded in developing over two hundred nuclear warheads without having been questioned or investigated by the UN Security Council.’ For a considered, if self-serving, Israeli perspective on all, this, especially with regard to Israel’s position in the region, read this.

Interestingly, considering claims that there’s a plan by the US military to make a limited nuclear strike on Iran, Wikipedia has this to say in its entry on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):

The 5 NWS parties have made undertakings not to use their nuclear weapons against a non-NWS party except in response to a nuclear attack, or a conventional attack in alliance with a Nuclear Weapons State. However, these undertakings have not been incorporated formally into the treaty, and the exact details have varied over time. The United States, for instance, has indicated that it may use nuclear weapons in response to a non-conventional attack by "rogue states".

There is no evidence, as yet, that Iran is anything other than a non-NWS (Nuclear Weapons State), so an attack of this kind by the US might be technically illegal, apart from everything else.

Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), along with some 188 other countries. There are 3 ‘pillars’ of the NPT – non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. Of course, it’s this third pillar that causes problems. Iran is claiming, at least to the international community, that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons, but enriched uranium, required for weapons, is also used for light water reactor nuclear power stations. Iran is enriching uranium (I think this is the basis for their claim to have joined the nuclear club), but many international observers are wondering why they would be doing so, since they don’t need nuclear energy as a resource, at least not in the short term.

Iran is possibly obfuscating about its nuclear plans, but from their perspective, seeing quite clearly that the IAEA has been soft on Israel’s nuclear program, and that the NPT and the IAEA favors nuclear weapons states generally, defiance seems quite justified, even more so after the invasion of Iraq, an invasion they would’ve seen as both illegal and profoundly self-serving. They might feel the need for a deterrence Iraq didn’t have, and it would be difficult to argue with that.

Of course, the US doesn’t argue these days, it prefers to act, in what it perceives to be its best interest. Members of the Bush administration are describing Iran’s new President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a madman and an Adolf Hitler. Talk of regime change is in the air, though most are playing this down, with arguments about fatigue within the military and a tendency towards overblown rhetoric on the part of Iranian leaders. Certainly other leaders, such as former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenai have called for the destruction of Israel, and it has to be noted that within the context of the Middle East, Ahmadinejad’s fulminations against Israel and the West are not particularly extreme.

Finally, the growing popularity of figures like Ahmadinejad and of political groups like Hamas are a sign that US belligerence in the region is having a polarizing and counter-productive effect. Not surprisingly, the US administration’s disdain for diplomatic solutions is percolating through that nation’s supine media – as witness the pessimistic attitude to Middle Eastern diplomacy reflected in Jim Lehrer's News Hour. The fact is that diplomacy really offers the only way forward, and the claim that it has been tried before with no success is simply false. Mutual demonisation is not only unproductive, it's positively juvenile. Opening channels of communication is the best way to sort out this problem before it becomes a crisis. After all, the US has some explaining to do – which is probably why it prefers non-diplomatic solutions. It needs to explain to Iran why it invaded Iraq, and why it has allowed its ally Pakistan to obtain nuclear weapons clandestinely. It has to come clean about its own hypocrisy and double dealing. That would be the more mature approach. It would also take courage. But when you have more, and more powerful WMDs than anyone else, you get used to having everyone listen to you and quake before you. Not a good basis for developing maturity. No wonder the US bully boys hate Iran so.



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