IRAN'S NUCLEAR AMBITION: THE NEED FOR PARITY, BALANCE AND DETERRENCE
Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States are members of the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS). According to Article 9, paragraph 3 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Nuclear Weapon States refers to an elite pool of nation-states that have “manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1, 1967.” North Korea was a member but withdrew its membership in 2003 or thereabout. As with the Security Council of the United Nations, this is an exclusive club whose membership is jealously guarded.
India and Pakistan detonated nuclear devices in 1974 and 1998 respectively. A few other States, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Ukraine and Belarus, have either abandoned or dismantled their nuclear programs. And while Iran is seeking such capability, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its capability, possession or detonation. Nonetheless, intelligence chatters indicate that Israel has been a nuclear powerhouse beginning in the 1960s because of a growing fear of being driven to the sea by her Arab neighbors.
In the mid-1980s, Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician and who has since been repeatedly jailed for violating Israel’s national security revealed that Tel Aviv has between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. And in the spring of 2008, former President Jimmy Carter posited that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal of 150 weapons. But of course, Carter should know. Even without its nuclear arsenals, most military and security experts believe that the State of Israel has more than enough conventional and nonconventional military firepower take on her neighbors.
Whatever Israel’s reasons for acquiring the devices might be, the West seems not to mind. It is as if Israel can do no wrong or that its wrongful deeds are less egregious and less injurious to peace and stability. On the other hand, the world seems hell-bent on discouraging Iran (Israel’s and America’s archenemy) from acquiring nuclear weapons. Leading the pack of objectors is the United States -- a country with more nuclear weapons and an assortment of military means to incinerate the world a dozen times over.
For a while now Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington have been at it -- puffing and huffing, exchanging threats and diplomatic double-talks, playing to the gallery, back-pedaling and at the same time currying favor and sympathy from the wider international community. For the Iranians, acquiring nuclear weapons seem to be a matter of national survival, national prestige and balance-of-power in the Middle East. For the Israelis, it seems like a matter of survival, preservation and deterrence against neighbors with whom she has been at war. In fact, Israel’s worldview and approach to intermetic politics is shaped by its history and current experiences.
For the Americans, however, there seems to be the need to (1) control membership of the Nuclear Weapon States’ club; (2) demonstrate her preeminence in world affairs; (3) sanction Tehran for being a member of the so called axis of evil; and (4) help to uphold and further Israel’s supremacy in that part of the world. In all of these, there is a simple question: Why is the United States bent on taking on Iran and not North Korea, Israel, India and Pakistan? Isn’t Pakistan more volatile than Iran, India and North Korea put together?
In my view, and in the estimation of many, there are no compelling reasons as to why Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons. Some commentators have argued that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons because she is a rogue state with untold intentions; harbors terrorists and fundamentalists; and that her rulers are unstable and erratic. In addition, some policy wonks have opined that in such a volatile region as the Middle East, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction should be forbidden at any cost in order to maintain stability. Well, I don’t share that view. Nuclear weapons in the hands of Tehran are no more dangerous than in the hands of Tel Aviv.
Within a period of twenty-five years or so, the US broke the will and or brought the vast majority of the countries in the Middle East to their knees: nations that were once strong became shells of their former selves while others became puppets or toothless tigers. Consider recent events: Saddam Hussein was thrown overboard, Muammar Ghadafi capitulated, and the new strongman of Syria is afraid to go to bed with both eyes closed. The “last man standing” is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current and sixth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
If Iraq wants to go nuclear, she ought to be able to do so since every state has the right to safeguard her national interest. Nations have the right to military projection. No one is afraid that India will attack Pakistan, or that China will attack Russia. And why did the United State not attack the Soviet Union or vice versa during the Cold War? Every state knows the consequence of attacking another state with nuclear weapons. This fear and the fear of the unknown have brought about balance in force and parity in potential or real violence.
Today, or at any time in the nearest future, if Israel were to willfully attack Iran’s nuclear and military facilities, the international community, especially the United States, may not bat an eye. When Israel attacked Iraq because she suspected Saddam Hussein of furthering his nuclear ambition, Israel did not incur any penalty; when the government bulldozed homes, kill and maim the innocents, she suffers no sanctions or public condemnation. Recent events have shown that Tel Aviv can get away with roaming that part of the world any way she wants.
To be sure, internationalism, pooled sovereignty and idealism are lofty ideas. In today’s world, however, the pervasiveness of anarchy and security carpet crossing compels states to pay greater attention to national security. Within the global landscape, friends don’t always answer clarion calls, and alliances don’t always stand guard. In the case of Tehran, there is not a single state, in or outside of the region that will openly come to her assistance if/when Tel Aviv starts raining awe-inspiring bombs on her facilities. Hezbollah is a non-state actor. It is expected that before the end of the decade, Iran’s sovereignty and security will be breached. If not by Israel, then by the United States. Right now, there are no viable structures to restrain either Washington DC or Tel Aviv from bloodying Tehran’s nose. It is up to the Iranians to fend for themselves. In this instance, therefore, nuclear weapons may act as a deterrent. From now until the foreseeable future, Iranians must be their own cause, champion their own destiny; and must rely on no one if they are to survive.
For a long while the US was not certain whether to isolate or to engage Iran. In recent times, however, successive US Secretary of State -- Madeline Albright, Collin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton -- have all posited that direct talks with Iran were possible only if Tehran would stop uranium enrichment. Tehran agreed to talks but only if there are no preconditions. The Europeans have offered carrots, lots of carrots. But what if Iran went ahead in defiance of the US and her allies? Well, I think Iran will get away with it. There is nothing in the horizon which points to Iran putting a stop to their nuclear ambition. After all, this is a program that is more than 30 years in the making -- dating to the era of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (the former Shah of Iran).
Should Israel or the US bomb Iran, well, there would be grave repercussions at home and abroad. No one is sure that the US would be able to contain the commotion that is likely to follow. We have yet to factually complete the mission in Iraq; and we still have Lebanon, Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan and homegrown terrorists to deal with. And should Tel Aviv take on the mission, the implications would be graver and far-reaching. I see no condition under which the Iranian would truly give up their nuclear ambition. It should not. America and her allies should turn a blind eye or simply allow Iran to continue with her program as there is nothing to fear from Tehran. In the end, Iran will simply behave like every other nuclear power: responsibly: fearing retaliation for waywardness.
Sabella Abidde is at [email protected] and is also on Facebook.