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The Real Nuclear Outlaws
While United States and Israeli leaders, duly assisted by a warmongering media, ramp up war talk against Iran, two troublesome pieces of information are ritually ignored. First, even American intelligence reports conclude that Iran is not close to building a nuclear-weapons program. Second, it is the U.S. and Israel – not Iran – that stand in flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The real nuclear outlaws are located in Washington and Tel Aviv rather than in Tehran.
The consensus of 17 U.S. agencies, as reported by National Intelligence Estimates of 2007 and 2011, finds that Iran has not enriched uranium above 20 percent purity, far short of the nearly 90 percent essential to weapons development. Further, no viable nuclear delivery system or command structure has been uncovered. High-powered U.S. surveillance and espionage operations, many inside Iran, have revealed nothing beyond (an entirely legal) civilian energy program. Recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigations, the latest in November 2011 and February 2012, cite “continuing enrichment processes” but nothing beyond the 20 percent level. The IAEA merely states what should be obvious – that some Iranian sites “could be” used for a weapons program at some point in the future.
Some Western “experts” of the neocon variety say Iran is just 18 months away from producing a Bomb, but they have echoed the same refrain for many years with no weapons in sight. In fact there is nothing yet to suggest that Iranian leaders have made the crucial decision to even embark on such a program..
Meanwhile, in the face of crippling economic sanctions, heightened political pressure, cyber sabotage, assassinations of nuclear scientists, and threats of military attack, the Iranians remain steady in their drive toward what from all credible evidence is a peaceful civilian project. In fact, Iran, a member in good standing of the NPT, is just one of at least 30 nations currently possessing high-level nuclear capacity.
The Iranians have every right within existing international rules to carry out their program – a fact conveniently obscured by the Western media and politicians. Their Israeli antagonists, on the other hand, not only possess a nuclear arsenal of up to 400 warheads – possibly fifth largest in the world – but breezily dismiss the NPT as a worthless nuisance. Its nuclear outlawry, along with that of non-NPT state India, has for decades received material aid and diplomatic cover from Washington. As President Obama and the Republican White House hopefuls boorishly repeat that “all options are on the table” in facing off against Iran, the NPT and kindred global conventions end up as so much camouflage for naked geopolitical ambitions.
Drafted in the late 1960s, the NPT was inspired by efforts to control the spread of doomsday weapons on the world scene. It came into force in March 1970, signed by 189 states including the U.S. and the four other atomic powers. While U.S. leaders endorsed the treaty, beneath the surface they approached it with considerable ambivalence, even hostility, since the NPT was created to limit production and deployment of nuclear weapons for all nations. One inescapable problem was that the U.S. was the only nation to have dropped by Bomb and its nuclear strategy (including first-use doctrine) remained, and still remains, central to its general military outlook. Nuclearism became an indelible feature of postwar American political and popular culture. That Washington had also resorted to other WMD – biological in Korea, chemical in Vietnam – would make the Pentagon even more wary of dismantling its mass-destruction arsenals, much less embrace moves toward disarmament, as the NPT stipulated. Put simply, U.S. rhetorical opposition to WMD never extended to its own policies or its view of the NPT.
The NPT called on all parties to fight proliferation while allowing for peaceful atomic development under international monitoring. Article I stated that nuclear powers agree not to assist non-nuclear countries in their nuclear programs, while Article IV affirmed the right of all NPT members to develop nuclear energy and Article VI obliged nuclear states to begin dismantling nukes in “good faith”. At present nine countries have nuclear arsenals with the strong likelihood others will follow, as an increasing number of states have adequate research, facilities, materials, and reactors for processing uranium at high levels. Several countries, aside from Iran, now have the technology and resources to achieve nuclear-weapons status within the next decades, including Japan, Brazil, Australia, Argentina, Turkey, and South Africa. All of these states, as NPT members, are fully entitled to nuclear sources of energy – though so far only Iran has been singled out for international scrutiny and targeted with economic sanctions and military threats.
As for Article I, the U.S. (along with France) offered substantial aid and protection to the hyper-secret Israeli nuclear-weapons program going back to the 1950s. Israel has never wanted anything to do with the NPT, fearful of any meddling into its accumulation of between 200 and 400 warheads, thinly concealed behind a façade of “ambiguity”. Aside from nukes, Tel Aviv reportedly owns an abundant stockpile of chemical and biological weapons while again refusing to join the relevant global conventions.
Make no mistake: despite the media fiction of a small, weak, relatively defenseless country isolated and surrounded by aggressive foes, Israel currently rivals Britain, France, and China as a world nuclear power, central to its shared goal (with the U.S.) of military supremacy in the Middle East. Credible sources indicate that Israel possesses not only neutron bombs but an array of tactical nukes, ballistic missiles, atomic land mines, cruise missiles, nuclear-armed subs, and high-explosive artillery shells. The subs alone are armed with four cruise missiles each, replete with multiple warheads. The general Israeli military arsenal dwarfs the actual or potential armed forces of all other Middle Eastern nations combined. Several U.N. resolutions calling for Israel to join the NPT, open up its nuclear facilities to inspection, and agree to a regional nuclear-free zone have been stonewalled by the U.S. and Israel. After the CIA reported that Israel had the Bomb in 1968 (fully 18 years before Mordecai Vanunu’s insider revelations), no outside visits to Israeli military sites have been allowed.
Meanwhile, India – still a non-NPT state – has long benefitted from a massive transfer of atomic resources and technology from the U.S., dating to years before the Indian weapons breakthrough of 1974. As an imagined counterweight to Chinese military power, India was empowered to build as many as 65 warheads, manufactured and deployed in the absence of external monitoring and made possible by the work of 1100 U.S.-trained scientists. Like Israel and also Pakistan, India maintains a hostile attitude toward IAEA monitoring. In July 2005 the U.S. signed an historic deal with New Delhi for nuclear cooperation, just when India was busy modernizing its illegal atomic stockpile and delivery systems. (The deal was approved by Congress in October 2008.) Those profiting, of course, included dozens of U.S. technical and military corporations.
Non-NPT states naturally fight international pressure to limit their weapons systems, so that reducing nuclear arsenals in the midst of such outlawry, consistent with Article VI, is unthinkable. Nor has U.S. membership as such meant compliance with Article VI: while lecturing and threatening others about proliferation, Washington unapologetically modernizes its own nuclear research agendas, facilities, weapons, and delivery systems, fueled by the decades-old aim of world atomic supremacy. Alone among nations, the U.S. retains a first-use doctrine embellished by its unparalleled global nuclear presence across land, sea, and air, bolstered by a fleet-based missile defense system. The U.S. deploys several dozen tactical nukes in such NATO countries as Germany, Belgium, Italy, Holland, and Turkey, in another violation of the NPT.
As it preaches against the horrors of proliferation, the U.S. spends hundreds of billions to upgrade its own state-of-the-art weapons systems. Obama’s 2009 plea for a “world without nukes” is best understood as a preposterous deceit. According to a 2011 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report, Washington now devotes more resources to nuclear weapons than the rest of the world combined – that is, roughly equivalent to the general military picture. The U.S. earmarked $61.3 billion for nukes in 2012, compared to $14.8 billion allocated by Russia, $7.6 billion by China, $6.0 billion by France, and $4.9 billion by India. The most recent (2010) Nuclear Posture Review restates the long-term U.S. priority of a nuclearized military, a linchpin of Pentagon strategy. The NPR calls for designing, testing, construction, and deployment of a new class of atomic subs to replace the aging Ohio-class fleet, which, armed with eight multiple-warhead missiles apiece, already has enough firepower to incinerate most of the planet. The Review calls for a “robust SSBN [missile] Security Program” to upgrade Pentagon nuclear capacity. Among nine distinct U.S. nuclear modernizing schemes, the Air Force has on the drawing boards a new long-range penetrating bomber with enhanced nuclear capacity. The 2012 Procurement Plan calls for 80 to 100 of these aircraft at an outlandish $550 each – a total of some $50 billion.
The U.S. nuclear establishment has recently fixated on a plutonium bomb-core production facility at Los Alamos, referred to as the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR), with costs already running into several billions. The bomb-core project has emerged as the centerpiece of a new generation of modernized warheads even as Washington feigns interest in atomic demobilization and negotiates with Russia to reduce its general stockpile. The Obama administration favors a “surge” in nuclear development, with CMRR one of the vital programs. Started in 2006, this project – to be completed in three stages – may not be finished until 2022, with a price tag likely in the tens of billions. It is expected to triple the plutonium-storage capacity of the Los Alamos lab, expanding infrastructure needed for new weapons systems – surely a violation of the spirit if not letter of the NPT.
While the much-celebrated START agreement with Russia (only with Russia) anticipates a reduction to 1550 American warheads by 2017, the present count is more than 5000 warheads, but even the lower number will carry far more explosive potential than the larger, older arsenals. It should also be remembered that START places no restrictions on research, testing, production, or deployment of nuclear weapons.
The NPR is hardly timid about its strategic objectives: “The U.S. will modernize the nuclear weapons infrastructure, sustain the science, technology, and engineering base, invest in human capital, and ensure senior leadership focus.” Pentagon atomic capability remains as much of an obsession today as it was during the height of the Cold War, with its modernizing agenda, first-use doctrine, and multiple “contingency” plans for unleashing nukes against nations deemed in violation of the NPT. So much for Article VI of the (now thoroughly-bankrupt) NPT.
In 2006 Hans Blix, former chief U.N. weapons inspector, authored a report titled “Weapons of Terror”, sponsored by the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, addressing the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological stockpiles. It called on major powers to take international laws and treaties more seriously, pointedly urging the U.S. and its closest allies to refrain from blocking arms control, disarmament, and moves to curtail nuclear proliferation. It states: “All parties to the [NPT] should implement the decision on principles and objectives for nonproliferation and disarmament [embraced in] the resolution of the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction.” The latter idea had been proposed by Egypt, Iran, and a few other states but was quickly dashed by the U.S. and Israel – two nations deploying a combined several hundred warheads in the region. The report also recommended that the strongest nuclear states offer security guarantees to weaker non-nuclear states, but neither the U.S. nor its clients were ready to comply.
In his book laying out the WMD Commission recommendations, Why Disarmament Matters (2008), Blix predicted imminent catastrophe in a global setting where the leading nuclear states randomly and brazenly violate the NPT. A question recurs: how can proliferation be reversed when the nuclear outlaws routinely privilege their own military ambitions over international rules and norms? By 2008 efforts to induce Israel, India, and Pakistan to submit to NPT protocols had been effectively abandoned, Blix adding: “Convincing states that do not need weapons of mass destruction would be significantly easier if all U.N. members practiced genuine respect for existing [U.N.] restraints on the threat and use of force.” Aside from NPT considerations, threats like those made by the U.S. and Israel constitute a flagrant violation of the U.N. Charter.
Back to Iran: it turns out the mortal challenge posed by what Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu calls a “nuclearized mullocracy” does nothing so much as threaten Israeli hopes for regional domination. Iranian “defiance” and “belligerence” is ultimately less a matter of Iran rejecting NPT statutes or IAEA inspections than of resisting (illegitimate) demands for total nuclear shutdown. The famous Israeli “red line”, or threshold of tolerance, refers not to an actual Iranian military threat but to the “technical capability” of some day reaching weapons status – a “capability” already held, as mentioned, by more than 30 nations. Further, while Iran is completely encircled by U.S. and Israeli military forces, possessing advanced nuclear arsenals, an Iranian attack on Israel (for which no motive is evident) would be suicidal, as large parts of the country would be quickly reduced to rubble.
Current U.S./Israeli threats against Iran are based much less in fear of a military attack than in prospects for a challenge to regional supremacy it raises. The “red line” barrier pertains to an eventual Iranian surrender to U.S./Israeli geopolitical interests that, sooner or later, lead to “regime change”. For the moment, however, it appears that a campaign of atomic sabotage has emerged as the key methods for subverting Iranian nuclear objectives. A military attack, now or later, remains fraught with enormous risk and uncertainty.
In the end, the Iranian “crisis” is symptomatic of a deeper predicament: nothing will be resolved until every state – not just the targeted villains – is held accountable to the same universal norms. This means, above all, the U.S., Israel, and other nuclear outlaws. Blix noted that the NPT “is not a treaty that appoints the nuclear-weapons states individually or jointly to police non-nuclear weapons states and threaten them with punishment. It is a contract in which all parties commit themselves to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.” There can be no meaningful “contract” without an internationalization of security arrangements that, in the end, will require a dismantling of the American warfare state that underpins its nuclear outlawry and that of its clients.