Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post #87 - Nuclear Proliferation

St. Nicholas, saving the condemned men
"But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all they who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

What do we know about Iran's intentions vis-a-vis war-making? Iran's position is that it has never initiated the use of force or resorted to the threat of force against a fellow member of the United Nations. “We have not invaded another country in 250 years.” (This obviously begs the question of Iran’s aid to others who have engaged in hostile acts. But if we follow that line of inquiry it would open the door for critics of the U.S. to bring up our own implication in aiding movements such as the Nicaraguan contras, when we were opposing leftist rule in that country, or the taliban in Afghanistan, when we were focused on reducing Soviet influence there.)

Saddam, in his heyday
The United States in that same period of time has invaded Afghanistan, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Iraq, Panama, the Philippines and other countries, to say nothing of all the various territories previously controlled by Native Americans. Despite its rhetoric of freedom, our country has supported and encouraged a long string of tyrants and despots around the globe – unsavory people such as Ferdinand Marcos, Idi Amin, Manuel Noriega, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan currently (he just had his latest inauguration last April) and, of course, Saddam Hussein. Even more directly pertinent is the fact that the United States has built up a military presence on every one of Iran’s borders – Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq and Turkey to the west and Kazakhstan to the north.

And what about Iran's nuclear program? Everyone alive since the Manhattan Project in the United States, and similar research efforts elsewhere in the world, has come to know of the awesome energy held captive in the core of each atom. Nuclear fission, when provoked into a chain-reaction, can produce either enormous destructive power, or surprising amounts of harvestable power. The radioactive and heavy metals that are the by-products of nuclear fission are dangerous as well, making even “civilian” nuclear programs problematic over a long time-frame. However, nuclear power has some clear advantages over fossil fuel generation, and many countries, such as France, have embraced the technology to meet ever-increasing energy demand.

Sharing a meal in Natanz
On my trip to Iran lin 2006, our bus drove by the nuclear facility near Natanz, about 180 miles from Tehran, that has become known in the West as a symbol of Iran’s entry into the nuclear “club” -- whether for energy alone or for weaponry is the “$64,000 question.” Ironically, we (the United States) were responsible for encouraging Iran to begin a nuclear program in the first place, back when the Shah was in power; according to James Risen, who won a Pulitzer Prize for work at the New York Times which he published in a book called State of War, the CIA gave Iran plans to build a nuclear bomb. (If that in fact was the case, then it would surely have been a violation by the United States of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported that in 1976 the Ford administration “endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium - the two pathways to a nuclear bomb.” Noam Chomsky has pointed out that “the top planners of the Bush administration, who are now [in 2007] denouncing these programmes, were then in key national security posts: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.” Noam Chomsky quotes Henry Kissinger as saying recently that Iran's seeking of nuclear energy capability would be "a wasteful use of resources." In the time of the Shah, when Kissinger was secretary of state, he said it would "provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals." Kissinger's explanation for the discrepancy?-- that before the revolution "they were an allied country."

The Supreme Leader of Iran
During the Islamic Republic period, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful political leader in the country, has issued a religious decree, or fatwa, against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. (One does not hear nearly as much in the mainstream press about this pronouncement as about President Ahmadinezhad’s inflammatory rhetoric on Israel.) Historians may recall that the Muslims were slow to accept the “unchivalrous” gunpowder and associated weaponry that gave Europeans their ultimate victory over Islamic powers. Iran may or may not be interested in having a nuclear weapon; we cannot know for sure. We know that the United States has had nuclear capabilities for over fifty years, is the only nation in the world to have used them against an adversary (indeed, on civilian population centers), has the largest collection of such weapons, and has not lived up to its own obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to move toward nuclear disarmament. Former secretary of defense Robert McNamara has called our current policies "immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous." In fact, the United States has facilitated the development of nuclear capabilities by non-signatories such as Israel and India, and ignored others, such as Pakistan. (There is a debate going on now in Israel, also a non-signatory to the NPT, about whether the country should shift to using explicit threats -- “open deterrence”, rather than the implicit threat of its unacknowledged nuclear capability.)

Bruno Pellaud, Chairman of the Experts Group on Multilateral Approaches to the Fuel Cycle at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and former head of their Safeguards Program, has said (at a February 14, 2003 conference) about the plant at Natanz:

" should never forget that there are international inspectors all over the place in [Iranian nuclear] facilities. It is not exactly a secret facility...if Iran would like to produce additional quantities [of enriched uranium] to get to a significant quantity, they would have first of all to kick out the IAEA inspectors and this will be known...For the time being, the inspectors are on the ground and the centrifuges are few and they are not operating very well, so there is time for diplomacy."

During the period of time when Iran was engaging in development activities that were not open to scrutiny (that is, in the 1980's when Iran was illegally embargoed from obtaining nuclear technology openly), there are indications that this was done for precisely the same reasons that the United States went into Iraq: faulty intelligence on threats from neighboring Iraq (with which Iran was engaged in a life-and-death struggle on the battlefield). Here is Mr. Pellaud again:

"Coming back from Baghdad to go to the United Nations, [Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] wrote a doctoral thesis covering the Iran nuclear work in 1979, and there he has a very nice sentence regarding Khomeini. He said the Ayatollah may have an interest in nuclear weapons; however, this interest would really be increased if they find out that their neighbors – in particular Iraq – would do so. He had a pretty good insight of what has happened because it's clear that in the '80's, during the Iraq-Iran War, Iran did start activities which were of a dubious nature in a sense with military dimension -- polonium, half spherical spheres of metallic uranium, and so on. There were attempts. There was a program without [fissile] nuclear materials, but there was an interest clearly during the war...I would not call it a weapons program, but I would say illegal activity that should have been declared to the IAEA...
"In the '90's...Saddam Hussein had been beaten. There were two governments who did not believe that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction – a nuclear weapon – Washington and Tehran...My own conviction is that in 2003, with the fall of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini thought, well, okay, we have a new situation now, let's hide what we did in the past and let's call in the IAEA with the additional protocol...At the same time [they] sent a letter to the U.S. Government on a broader agreement...Since that time, Iran has been under very strict control..."

Centrifuges, destroyed by a cyber-attack
The latest development in the modernization of our own nuclear infrastructure is the establishment of a new uranium enrichment facility near Piketon, Ohio. This will house 11,500 centrifuges and supply enriched uranium to nuclear plants around the world. News reports noted that these machines are “technical marvels, much larger than those of Iran or other nations in the international centrifuge club, which includes Russia, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Pakistan and Brazil.” The plant will cost at least $2.3 billion of our tax dollars. Another $175 billion has been proposed for new nuclear weapons production, though the state of our economy may mitigate such enthusiasm for new expenditures.

Here is a succinct summary of NPT basics, from the group called Reaching Critical Will, a nuclear disarmament advocacy group:

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty contains two central bargains:

1. Non Nuclear Weapon States agree to never acquire nuclear weapons, and in exchange are guaranteed access to civilian nuclear energy; and
2. Nuclear Weapon States agree to eliminate their arsenals. 

Civilian nuclear energy is legally guaranteed under Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but has serious proliferation risks. 

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle capabilities has been the focus of U.S. and EU efforts because the same technology used for energy can be used for weapons. 

The five nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States), Pakistan and Israel used nuclear reactors to create the materials for their nuclear weapons. India and North Korea acquired nuclear weapons through so-called peaceful civilian nuclear programs. 

Nuclear power is never peaceful due to the devastating health and environmental impact. There is no safe way to dispose of the waste produced by nuclear power. 

There is an inextricable link between non-proliferation and disarmament. 

Lackluster progress on nuclear disarmament, especially in the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) undermines support for nonproliferation and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. 

The breakdown of the last NPT Review Conference signals that the non-nuclear weapon states are increasingly unwilling to accept the concessions demanded of them regarding the development of nuclear technology without similarly demonstrated progress on the total elimination of nuclear arsenals. 

The exclusion of nonproliferation and disarmament from the 2005 United Nations World Summit illustrates that nonproliferation efforts will be stymied without the nuclear weapon states implementing commitments already made.

(More on this subject in my next post.)

No comments:

Post a Comment