Monday, 9 August 2010

Using nuclear weapons

The anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have passed almost without notice, surely an irony given the continued use of atomic bombs by the United States.

I say ‘use’ in the same sense that a gunman ‘uses’ a pistol when robbing a 7/11. He does not have to fire the weapon to commit ‘armed’ robbery—the mere threat is enough in the eyes of the law and to any rational observer.

The United States in the person of our current president, Barack Obama, continues to hold a gun to the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ratcheting up the stakes day by day. Granted, these are not nuclear pistols at present (unlike the Bush II Administration, which openly and irresponsibly talked about using ‘bunker-buster’ nuclear weaponry against that country). But the ongoing demands to conform to U.S. geopolitical interests—or else—are quite unmistakable.

The screaming hypocrisy of the drumbeat on Iran’s supposed nuclear intentions is that the main U.S. ally in the region, Israel, has long possessed them, an escalation of the armaments race that all the western powers colluded in despite their pious pronouncements about non-proliferation. Restricting membership in the nuclear club has never been a real or consistent policy of the United States, but rather restricting it to our friends.

What is the motivation of non-nuclear states to acquire these weapons? To dissuade attackers and of course to feed national prestige/chauvinism (choose one). The criminal North Korean state probably would not exist today except that the Kims prudently acquired a few nukes and Junior constantly displays such extreme eccentricity and disdain for everything that he looks nuts enough to use them—even if the entire peninsula goes up in smoke.

The Iranian mullahs are loathsome in many ways, but their reading of U.S. attitudes toward them is not irrational. The Harvard foreign policy wonk Stephen Walt (yes, the same one who called out the Israeli lobby for excessive influence over our lives) says Obama’s treatment of Iran is based on fantasy and contradiction:

We say we want better relations, but in the meantime we are almost certainly engaged in covert action inside Iran, and we rarely miss an opportunity to remind the world that all options are still ‘on the table’.

The Teheran beards accused the CIA of responsibility for a big terrorist attack in Iranian Baluchistan last month, and who can confidently believe the CIA’s denials? Meanwhile, a guest editorial in Juan Cole’s essential blog, Informed Comment, notes ominously that Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s highest ranking officer, has now stated publicly that the U.S. ‘has plans to attack Iran to prevent that country from acquiring nuclear weapons’, an escalation that the writer, one Mahan Abedin, says ‘is being treated with the utmost seriousness in political, intelligence and military circles in Tehran’.

The U.S. and Israel have determined that pointing the nuclear gun at the heads of the Iranian state and nation is the way to insure that the Iranians never obtain a similar gun to point back at us. This logic escapes me, frankly, and the steadily rising tone of the verbal confrontation is not reassuring. Neither is Obama’s capacity—Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding—to resist the siren songs calling him to solve a political problem by military means, which in this case would generate a disaster of epic proportions. Here is Abedin again on the consequences of carrying out such an attack:

[Asymmetrical and more conventional] . . . attacks on American bases in the region will likely result in thousands of American military casualties in the space of a few weeks. The [Iranians have] both the will and wherewithal to inflict a level of casualties on American armed forces not seen since the Second World War.

The political effect of this will likely be even more explosive than the actual fighting. Not only will it awaken the sleeping giant of Iranian nationalism, thus aligning the broad mass of the people with the regime, it will also shore up Iran’s image in the region and prove once and for all that the Islamic Republic is prepared to fight to the death to uphold its principles. Suddenly Iran’s allies in the region—particularly non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas—would stand ten feet tall.

Ironically, U.S. military aggression will likely accelerate the actualisation of the very scenario that American political and military leaders insist they are determined to prevent, i.e. a nuclear armed Iran. . . . [T]he immediate reaction of Iran’s rulers to military aggression would be to start a crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon, as a means of deterring future aggression.

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