Joe Hendren

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Why does Iran want nuclear weapons?

With all the recent talk about Iran resuming its nuclear programme it is a shame the West continues to undermine its own position with selective morality and obvious hypocrisy.

I find it amazing the Press can have so many articles about this issue yet fail to address the obvious question - 'for what reasons could Iran want nuclear weapons?'

As Simon Jenkins points out, the answer is as simple as looking at a map.
"I would sleep happier if there were no Iranian bomb but a swamp of hypocrisy separates me from overly protesting it. Iran is a proud country that sits between nuclear Pakistan and India to its east, a nuclear Russia to its north and a nuclear Israel to its west. Adjacent Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied at will by a nuclear America, which backed Saddam Hussein in his 1980 invasion of Iran. How can we say such a country has "no right" to nuclear defence?"

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the BBC that the West is partly to blame for the Iran nuclear crisis for allowing Israel to develop a nuclear arsenal. He said nuclear weapons benefited no-one, and called for a nuclear-free zone in the Gulf. It would be good to see al-Faisal get some strong support for this idea, as a WMD free Middle East ought to be the goal of any sane policy. Better still, no Security Council Resolution would be required to put such a ban in place, as it is already provided for under existing resolutions.

In 2003 George Bush and Tony Blair attempted to use Security Council resolution 687 as a justification for the invasion of Iraq. While 687 provided no such authorisation, it did call for the elimination of Iraqi WMD and delivery systems as a step towards "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all other missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons." (Article 14). So if 687 is really to be upheld, then pressure must be put on Israel to disarm.

A good start would be for the US and the UK to publicly recognise Israel's possession of nuclear weapons (as far as I know they have never officially recognised this) and ask Israel to agree to arms reduction talks. This would have the advantage of greatly increasing the diplomatic pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear programme, as it would be much more difficult for Tehran to claim they need nukes for defensive purposes. Many Arab states feel threatened by Israel's nuclear status, especially as Israeli nuclear armed submarines have been known to patrol the coasts of Iran and Pakistan.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims Iran 'does not need nuclear arms' and that his country is only asserting its right to peaceful nuclear technology, as allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Unfortunately, countries such as Israel made similar denials in the mid-1960s when they were developing nuclear weapons, so any such denials ought to be taken with a grain of salt, unless said country is happy for the IAEA to make unhinded inspection visits.

In Iran's case, Ahmadinejad needs to be asked why it is so essential for Iran to gain nuclear power stations when the country is sitting on one of the most plentiful gas supplies in the world.

If Iran is successful in developing nuclear arms - this will be yet another dismal failure for the foreign policy of George W Bush. North Korea is named in the 'axis of evil' speech, continues its nuclear weapons programme and withdraws from the NPT. Iran is named in the 'axis of evil' speech, and is now 'breaking the seals' on its three nuclear facilities. It worried U.N chief inspector Hans Blix that in invading Iraq, Bush may have sent precisely the wrong message - the US only attacks countries that cannot defend themselves.

And like most policy questions - it all comes down to who we want to help. Simon Jenkins again.
"All the following statements about Iran are true. There are powerful Iranians who want to build a nuclear bomb. There are powerful ones who do not. There are people in Iran who would like Israel to disappear. There are people who would not. There are people who would like Islamist rule. There are people who would not. There are people who long for some idiot western politician to declare war on them. There are people appalled at the prospect. The only question for western strategists is which of these people they want to help."
Edit 14/9/09: Despite this post being over three years old it continues to generate quite a few hits. It is pleasing to know so many people are asking the same basic question that motivated my post. I turned this post into a longer article for Peace Researcher, where I also looked at some of the arguments related to nuclear power. This was published in December 2007.

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At 3:47 pm, Blogger Rich said...

Of course the hard-right will tell you that Iran wants nukes because they are eeeevil and want to take over the world.

A more likely reason is that once a state convinces the US that they have real, working nukes then regime change drops off the agenda (e.g. North Korea).

I'd suggest that it's fairly inevitable that Iran will build at least a crude (10kT, shipping container sized) uranium device within the next ten years - less if Pakistan or somewhere supplies enriched uranium. In the next fifty years, I'd expect most countries who aren't either dirt poor (Zimbabwe, Somalia) or an established democracy (Germany, NZ) to acquire nukes.

I'd also expect a few actual nuclear conflicts (either conventional or guerilla). These won't be the end of the world - I doubt the weapons will be high yield - maybe 50,000 dead if used aginst a city, less if used against troops or facilities. (the Asian tsunami killed 280,000+).

Not nice, but probably a better outcome than world dictatorship or perpetual warfare.

At 7:08 am, Blogger BerlinBear said...

A very thoughtful post, Joe, in a sea of shrill and hypocritical jumping up and down. The obvious contention to your "pressure Israel to disarm" suggestion - which in principle I agree with - is this: Why would any sane Israeli leader feel inclined to bow to hypothetical Western pressure to disarm just at the time when a neighbour is trying to attain nuclear weapons and that neighbour happens to be one whose leader has publicly said Israel should either be wiped off the map or moved to Europe? It's a vicious circle. As long a Israel remains nuclear armed, Iran will want to get nuclear weapons to defend itself. And as long as Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, Israel will not feel it can disarm.

What to do? I wish I knew. The only solution is total nuclear disarmament, but that would take much stronger, more rational leaders than we currently have. It would take a US President *and* a Chinese President *and* an Indian Prime Minister (or some similar constellation) to be simultaneously utterly committed to total nuclear disarmament. Sadly, I can't see that on the horizon, or even the grass roots movements around the world, lobbying to get candidates who would run on such a platform.

Finally, God I desperately hope rich is wrong. I fear he may not be. How desperately sad.

At 12:44 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

I really hope you are wrong rich, even though I believe the scenario you outline is a likely outcome unless there is a significant change in US foriegn policy.

I would not use the word inevitable just yet - political choices do exist that will prevent widespread proliferation, even if those choices may be difficult for political elites in the nuclear club to swallow. It would require the nuclear states to get serious about the committments they made under the NPT to disarm themselves, as so far they have reneged on the bargin they made with the non-nuclear states not to gain nuclear weapons themselves.

I suspect historians will look back on the period after the end of the cold war as a great lost opportunity for widespread nuclear disarmarment. Of course the hard right will attempt to blame the breakup of the USSR (ironically an outcome the hard right also attempt to take credit for), and ignore the clear intention of the US to use (abuse?) its position as the sole remaining 'superpower' to continue to develop its nuclear arsenal in contravention of the NPT. Bush I and Clinton do deserve some of the blame here, but I think it can be quite reasonably argued Bush II shares the vast majority of the responsibility, especially given the hawkish 'nuclear posture review' and misguided US foriegn policy that has only encouraged nuclear possibles to become nuclear probables.

As for a 'few actual nuclear conflicts' I would hope the prospect of worldwide condemnation would give those in possession of nuclear weapons pause for thought before pushing the button (that said an assumption of rationality on Bush's part may be too generous). I would also note that in the cold war era nuclear war was probably regarded (sadly) by a large percentage of the world population as being 'inevitable' yet it did not happen, however I would agree with McNarmara that it was nothing short of a miracle it did not.

At 12:55 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

thanks BerlinBear :)

"Why would any sane Israeli leader feel inclined to bow to hypothetical Western pressure to disarm just at the time when a neighbour is trying to attain nuclear weapons and that neighbour happens to be one whose leader has publicly said Israel should either be wiped off the map or moved to Europe?"

I was envisaging the diplomatic pressure on Iran to strenously continue - but at the same time also apply pressure to Israel - IMHO the later would give more moral force to the later, especially in the middle east.

I also hope such a move would help to destroy any possible constituency for extremist views that advocate Israel being 'wiped off the map'. As Jenkins says, its about the people in the middle east we wish to help.

I agree it is not likely any real moves to total disarmarment are likely with the current world political leadership, although I must say I am happy the nutty nationalists in the BJP are no longer in control of India.

I am also very pleased to see the improvement in relations between India and Pakistan, as this is probably still the most likely situation that could lead to a nuclear exchange between states.

The fact that India and Pakistan are currently playing a cricket test series is wonderful, and is probably of greater diplomatic importance than is recognised in the west!

At 3:34 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

"IMHO the later would give more moral force to the later"

that should read "IMHO the later would give more moral force to the former"!

At 10:43 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Bush, 9/20/2001:
“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make.
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.)
From this day forward,
any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism
will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime“
On whose side is Pakistan on? Which way will the Islamic bomb drop?See how:

At 5:20 am, Blogger Sarah said...

Was just googling Iran and nuclear weapons and came across this post. Nice post :) Game theory. Either everyone has a right to them, or no one should have them. Simple as that.


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