Ultimate Nuke Hypocrites: That
Would Be the U.S.
by George Monbiot, The Guardian
www.alternet.org/, August 1, 2008
By failing to disarm and breaking the
rules when it suits them, nuclear states are driving proliferation
as much as Ahmadinejad is.
What is the Iranian government up to?
For once the imperial coalition, overstretched in Iraq and unpopular
at home, is proposing jaw, not war. The U.N. Security Council's
offer was a good one: If Iran suspended its uranium enrichment
program, it would be entitled to legally guaranteed supplies of
fuel for nuclear power, assistance in building a light water reactor,
foreign aid, technology transfer and the beginning of the end
of economic sanctions. The United States seems prepared, for the
first time since the revolution, to open a diplomatic office in
Tehran. But in Geneva, the Iranians filibustered until the negotiations
ended. On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that
Iran has now doubled the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich
uranium. A fourth round of sanctions looks inevitable.
The unequivocal statements Barack Obama
and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made in Israel last week
about Iran's nuclear weapons program cannot yet be justified.
Nor can the unequivocal statements by some anti-war campaigners
that Iran does not intend to build the bomb. Why would a country
with such reserves of natural gas and so great a potential for
solar power suffer sanctions and the threat of bombing to make
fuel it could buy from other states, if it accepted the U.N.'s
Those who maintain that Iran's purposes
are peaceful clutch at the National Intelligence Estimate published
by the U.S. government in November. While it judged that Iran
had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, it saw the country's
civilian uranium program as a means of developing "technical
capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons,
if a decision is made to do so." The latest report from the
International Atomic Energy Agency notes that no fissile material
has been diverted from Iran's stocks, but raises grave questions
about some of the documents it has found, which suggest research
into bomb-making (Iran says the papers are forgeries). Those of
us who oppose an attack on Iran are under no obligation to accept
Ahmadinejad's claims of peaceful intent.
Nor do we have to accept the fictions
of our own representatives. The Security Council's offer to Iran
claimed that resolving this enrichment issue would help to bring
about a "Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction."
But like every other such document, it made no mention of the
principal owner of weapons in the region: Israel. According to
a leaked briefing by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Israel
possesses between 60 and 80 nuclear bombs. But none of the countries
demanding that Iran scrap the weapons it doesn't yet possess are
demanding that Israel destroys the weapons it does possess.
This subject is the great political taboo.
Neither Brown nor Obama mentioned it last week. The U.S. intelligence
agencies provide a biannual report to Congress on the weapons
of mass destruction developed by foreign states; the report covers
Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan and others, but not Israel.
During a parliamentary debate in March, the British defense minister,
Bob Ainsworth, was asked whether he thought that Israel's nuclear
weapons are "a destabilizing factor" in the Middle East.
"My understanding," he replied, "is that Israel
does not acknowledge that it has nuclear weapons." Does Ainsworth
really buy this nonsense? If so, can we have a new minister? If
Iran builds a bomb, it will do so for one reason: that there is
already a nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, by which it
But we make the rules and we break them.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obliges the five official
nuclear states, of which the U.K. is one, to work toward "general
and complete disarmament." On Friday, the Guardian published
the notes for a speech made last year by a senior civil servant
that suggested that the decision to replace the U.K.'s nuclear
missiles had already been made, in secret and without parliamentary
scrutiny. Since then defense ministers have told the Commons on
five occasions that the decision has not yet been made. They appear
to have misled the House.
At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva
in February, one delegate pointed out that the "chances of
eliminating nuclear weapons will be enhanced immeasurably"
if non-nuclear states can see "planning, commitment and action
toward multilateral nuclear disarmament by nuclear weapon states"
like the U.K. If the nuclear states "are failing to fulfill
their disarmament obligations," other nations would use this
as an excuse for maintaining their weapons. Who was this firebrand?
Des Browne, the secretary of state for defense. A man of the same
name is failing to fulfill our disarmament obligations.
Browne claims that Britain must maintain
its arsenal because of proliferation elsewhere, just as those
proliferating elsewhere say that they must develop their arsenals
because the official nuclear nations aren't disarming. With the
exception of France, none of the other European states feels the
need to deploy nukes. But the U.K. keeps preparing for the last
war. Of course, no one is refusing to disarm; it's just that the
task keeps getting pushed into the indefinite future. Opponents
of British nuclear weapons maintain that a new generation of warheads
would survive until 2055.
The permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council draw a distinction between their "responsible"
ownership of nuclear weapons and that of the aspirant powers.
But over the past six years, the U.K., United States, France and
Russia have all announced that they are prepared to use their
nukes pre-emptively against a presumed threat, even from states
that do not possess nuclear weapons. In some ways the current
nuclear standoff is more dangerous than the tetchy detente of
the Cold War.
The danger has been heightened by the
U.S. government's current offensive. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary
of state, is demanding that other countries accept her plans to
destroy the last remaining incentive for states to abide by the
NPT. The treaty grants countries that conform to it materials
for nuclear power on favorable terms. It's a flawed incentive
-- as the spread of civil nuclear programs makes the proliferation
of military material more likely -- but an incentive nonetheless.
Now Rice insists that India should have special access to U.S.
nuclear materials despite the fact that it has not signed the
NPT and has illegally developed nuclear weapons.
If she is successful, this effort -- and
the concomitant U.S. demand that India be recognized as an official
nuclear power -- will blow the NPT to kingdom come. The treaty
that survived the Cold War and that remains the most important
of the wilting guarantees against global annihilation is being
nuked for the sake of a few billion dollars of export orders.
Here's where it gets really depressing.
The Bush administration's proposal has been supported by both
John McCain and Barack Obama. The contrast between Obama's position
on India and his statements on Iran could not be greater, or more
destructive of the inflated hopes now vested in him.
Ahmadinejad's insistence that Iran enrich
its own fissile material, and the guessing game he is playing
with Israel, the atomic energy agency and the U.N. Security Council
is irresponsible and staggeringly dangerous. But if I were in
his position, I might be tempted to do the same.
George Monbiot is the author Heat: How
to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at
Monbiot.com. This article originally appeared in the Guardian.