On the Bomb


1. Some More Equal Than Others

The world is again a-buzz with talk of Iran's nuclear ambitions, as more evidence of its military nuclear development surfaced this week. The calls for tougher sanctions will get louder. Some pundits claim that President Obama laid the foundation for war with Iran in his Nobel Price acceptance speech.

Most Americans seem to think accept without much question that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons must be stopped at any cost. War, it seems, is preferable to allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons. This is defended on the principles of nuclear non-proliferation. The arguments are always supported by reference to Iran's violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the various disclosure obligations it has under that treaty. Just as similar arguments were made in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

But what are those principles exactly? Why couldn't Iran simply withdraw from the NPT regime and develop its weapons as it likes? India and Israel refused to join the NPT regime, and thumbed their nose at the world in developing nuclear weapons. No one in the West called for military strikes to prevent that. Indeed, last year the U.S. entered into an agreement with India to provide it with nuclear fuel and technology, in utter violation of the fundamental principles of the NPT bargain.

What is more, the essential bargain struck by the nuclear and non-nuclear countries when the NPT was negotiated, was a three-fold commitment from the nuclear countries: 1) they would make genuine efforts towards disarmament, including adherence to the comprehensive test ban treaty; 2) they would never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state; and 3) non-nuclear states that entered into and adhered to the principles of the NPT would be assisted with the development of peaceful nuclear energy.

The nuclear states, with the US in the lead, has violated each of these commitments. The nuclear countries have made little headway towards disarmament, and each of them have continued to develop new generations of weapons. The US and China have yet to ratify the CTBT. The US, during the Bush administration, also made explicit that it would not rule out first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. And finally,the US deal with India made a mockery of the third commitment, since it rewarded a state that had refused to enter into the NPT, and had violated its principles, with nuclear material and technology.

In the face of this betrayal, and given the increasing insecurity created both by the US and other nuclear states threatening to use their nuclear weapons, and by the increased number of nuclear states in the world, it is little wonder that middle powers seek to find security in the acquisition of nuclear weapons. And since we have responded with equanimity to some states doing so, we need to consider carefully the principled basis for our objection to others doing likewise.

I do not for a minute think that the world will be better off with a nuclear-armed Iran. It will be deeply destabilizing and will significantly raise the risks of serious war. But we need to look to our own behavior as a contributing factor, and start to address our own hypocritical policies, if we are to really deal with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. - Gamma.


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