Thursday, November 10, 2011

Iran and Nuclear Weapons

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011 the “New York Times ran a piece reporting on The long-awaited report, [of the] International Atomic Energy Agency noting it to be the harshest judgment that the agency has ever issued in its decade-long struggle to pierce the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program.” The report from United Nations weapons inspectors inside what the Times calls “a trove of new evidence“  makes a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” and that the project may still be under way.

An important element in this report, based in part on “over a thousand pages, presumably leaked out of Iran,” is the clear fact that Iran has moved “beyond the blackboard,” and in 2008 and 2009 constructed necessary implements to test nuclear triggers.  The report states that “research, development and testing activities on a range of technologies that would only be useful in designing a nuclear weapon.”

For some, debate has existed until now whether Iran’s nuclear research was under development for peaceful means, but most, especially in the Western alliance (and in the opinion of this writer reasonable people) assumed that Iranian military purposes were either central or at the very least contemporaneous with whatever research might also have been under way for the sake of providing energy for the country.  It has been pointed out that Iran having vast oil and natural gas reserves, hardly needs nuclear energy.  Iran counters says that its goal in developing a nuclear program is to generate electricity without dipping into the oil supply it prefers to sell abroad.

Predictably President Ahmadinejad is “outraged” by the U.N. findings, seeing in them the cunning designs of the United States, “Why do you exploit the I.A.E.A. dignity in favor of the U.S. administration?” Mr. Ahmadinejad asked rhetorically in a question directed at Yukiya Amano, the director general of the agency, who oversaw the production and content of the report. And herein lies the crux of the matter. In the minds of Ahmedinejad and Iran leaders  the US (and by implication Israel) is the source of all that’s wrong in the world.  These are a presence in the world that are just bad by all measure.  And, it is not merely the US-Israeli bond that fits into and animates President Ahmedinejad’s narrative of enmity, but also that the roots of current political Iran are born in the 1979 expulsion of Reza Shah Pahlavi.  Paragraph one in the Wikipedia article reminds us that “the nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The support, encouragement and participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran's nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.”  

The simple fact is that Iran will not countenance lectures about nuclear weapons from two nuclear powers (US and Israel)

The final piece in the puzzle has to do with Russia, which plays an intensely contentious game against US and European interests in the Middle East, and Eastern European borders. The Russian construction of nuclear reactors in Bushehr was built under an agreement between the Russian and Iranian governments for $800-million, and Russian hopes to build many more reactors in Iran, and Japan, hoping to sign a lucrative oil agreement with Iran for developing Iran's huge Azaadegaan oil field (the largest oil field in the Middle East).  

The debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions (military or peacetime) should be understood by reasonable people as moot.  That Iran holds the US and Israel as enemies is not a matter of doubt, so the obvious assumption must be that if Iran can gain nuclear weapons capacity it will surely do so, whether or not it need declare such intentions while developing nuclear energy for consumption.

The IAEA report, rife with evidence, this time fully compelling that Iran seeks nuclear weapons has drawn as the immediate response of Western powers the plan for further economic sanctions.  These may be a necessary way to proceed in the short term, and may in fact slow down the pace of Iran’s nuclear programs. But ironically these responses simultaneously serve to strengthen Iran’s resolve, and strengthen the operative foreign policy narrative that imagines the development of nuclear arms responsible in the ideal of national self-interest and self-defense.

Recent years of a jittery and more brashly aggressive US (see Iraq, Libya, Pakistan) put the US in a more difficult position to lead in non-proliferation ideals from a moral posture. What is most needed now from creative foreign policy experts is thinking and workable proposals for penetrating and dissolving the position of hostility that defines US-Iran relations.  Until real progress is made in substantially improving these relations, Iran’s nuclear weapons program will continue by hook or by crook.  The first step in this direction will require forging steps that both the US and Israel, on the one hand, and Iran on the other can recognize as beneficial to the national self interests of "both sides," of all involved.

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