[The thoughts below are speculative and opinionated, with most supporting evidence omitted for brevity. The purpose is to generate comment, rebuttal, and a wide, even undisciplined, variety of ideas — with no off-the-wall or weird ideas barred — on how the world might work toward a solution of the nuclear proliferation problem that afflicts mankind more seriously with each passing year. Bill C.]
Two events involving nuclear weapons may happen more or less simultaneously this summer. Those of us interested in peace ought to use the likely coincidence of these events to catch the attention of all people who, like us, enjoy having our species described, often undeservedly, as sapiens.
One event, the 60th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, occurs on August 6, 2005. The date commemorates a never-to-be-forgotten act of U.S. terrorism that — along with the bombing three days later of Nagasaki — is still glorified by most citizens of this country as having brought victory over Japan in the shortest possible time with the fewest possible casualties. The thinking in the U.S., of course, is largely limited to U.S. casualties. The hundreds of thousands of non-American civilians killed and maimed are easily rationalized and ignored, as self-centered Americans have done on numerous other occasions in their history.
The second event as yet lacks a specific date, but when and if it happens, it will be a series of large-scale military actions intended to destroy the capability of Iran to produce its own nuclear weapons. Chances are that these attacks will occur shortly before or after August 6, and, if they do, the U.S. will either instigate them directly or participate in them by proxy. The “by proxy” possibility arises because Israel may actually order its own air, missile, and naval forces to carry out the deed, with the implicit — and possibly explicit — approval of the U.S. Early in 2005, Vice President Richard Cheney said publicly that Israel “might well decide to act first” to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. He added that the Israelis would let the rest of the world “worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward.” Cheney certainly did not appear overly concerned about having to “clean up” for Israel. He made these remarks on the Don Imus show on Inauguration Day, obviously as a deliberate threat meant for wide public consumption. It would be risky to assume that the threat was only a threat.
It should be noted that at the same time as we threaten Iran, the U.S. is acting with extreme hypocrisy in planning to design and produce new types of nuclear weapons for its own arsenal, and shows no objection to Israel’s continuing efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities. Other governments and peoples are well aware of this hypocrisy. Furthermore, the Bush administration, privately supported by many Democrats, adamantly refuses to move even an inch toward serious negotiations on reducing its own nuclear capabilities, as called for in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which was ratified by the U.S. and entered into force 35 years ago. The U.S. also refuses to encourage Israel to join a Middle East nuclear-free zone that would include both Israel and the Muslim states of the region.
Today the NPT is a dead letter, mainly because the original compromise that induced many nations to support it stipulated that the non-nuclear powers who signed agreed not to pursue nuclear weapons, IF the present owners of nuclear weapons would agree to work seriously toward reducing and finally eliminating their own weapons. It is true that India, Pakistan, and Israel refused from the start to sign the treaty, but most other nations went along. North Korea originally signed, but recently renounced, the treaty. Now, however, the old compromise seems irretrievably broken. Other nations are unlikely to advertise their plans, but will feel under pressure quietly to turn their own thoughts toward developing nuclear weapons. The head-in-sand attitude of many Americans that we are exceptional and can do anything while ignoring others has probably already lost us the battle against a further and unrestrained spread of nuclear weapons.
Assuming no change in U.S. and Israeli nuclear policies, what is likely to happen in Iran? First, without a full conquest and long-term ground occupation of Iran by many hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, Iran will never give up its intention to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran’s population is pushing 68,000,000, and Israel’s is one-tenth that size, no more than 6,500,000. It is impossible to believe that an Iranian government would willingly accept a permanent status of having no nuclear weapons while Israel has several hundred and is backed by a United States having thousands. Air and naval attacks with conventional weapons may be able to postpone the day when Iran acquires nukes, but they cannot permanently prevent that day from coming. Furthermore, bear in mind that if it takes 125,000-150,000 U.S. troops to occupy Iraq with its 24,000,000 people two years after the initial invasion, it will take two-and-a-half or three times that many troops to occupy Iran. Will Iranian casualties, and U.S. casualties, also be two-and-a-half or three times higher? Even George Bush should fear that such an occupation could not last for six months without a collapse of domestic support for his administration. But given his willingness to use force to dominate other nations (forget the propaganda about democracy — domination is indeed what he wants), who can say for sure that he will not try to occupy Iran whatever the difficulties?
Beyond occupation is a final, more extreme possibility: an offensive rather than defensive “first use” of nuclear weapons by either the U.S. or Israel not only to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and kill many Iranians, but also to show Iranians that further resistance is hopeless. Such acts of terrorism — although the government itself would certainly not use that word are allowable under the Bush administration’s current nuclear strategy, just as they were under the 1945 rules. In the case of Iran and whatever Iran has done or not done, to believe that the present U.S. government would actually launch a nuclear attack on that country, or acquiesce in Israel’s doing so, seems inconceivable. It is, nevertheless, a possibility that cannot be excluded.
Neither the U.S. peace movement nor peace movements elsewhere seem to have seriously addressed the question of what policy we should pursue toward Iran if the Iranian government does continue moving toward the development of nuclear weapons. It seems quite likely that the newly elected Iranian government will do precisely that. What do we do beyond wringing our hands? And should global peace movements be rethinking in any way the appropriate policies to support in the entire area of nuclear proliferation as we face not only the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also a 35-year old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that is going nowhere and a militarily all-powerful United States that has become the greatest nuclear rogue state of all?
Here is one person’s first cut at suggestions for new policies on nuclear proliferation for peace activists to consider.
ONE. Establish, by emphasizing and reemphasizing the point, that U.S. policies on nuclear proliferation should always support and be consistent with global justice and an expansion of human rights.
TWO. Oppose all military actions and/or sanctions intended to prevent Iran or any other nation from obtaining nuclear weapons, until the U.S. and all other nuclear nations have eliminated such weapons from their own arsenals, and the elimination has been verified by international inspectors. If this policy allows Iran and certain other nations to acquire nukes, so be it. If justice is one of our goals, any other policy is simply untenable. This policy is also the only way to force the U.S. into serious negotiations to eliminate its own nuclear arsenal. Unless we succeed in bringing about such negotiations by the U.S., there can no longer be any hope for a meaningful nonproliferation policy.
THREE. Use the August 6 anniversary to emphasize the negative, not the positive. E.g., “Sixty years have passed, and while there has yet been no further use of nuclear weapons in warfare, we have made NO progress in inducing possessors of the weapons to negotiate away their arsenals. Furthermore, it has become gradually easier over the years for nations to acquire the weapons, so we need to change SOMETHING in our policies to meet the new situation.” Then, and only then, we might start talking about some positive things. We should show more understanding that in almost every case, a nation’s or group’s desire for nuclear weapons arises from political issues on which the nation or group believes it has been mistreated, justice for its people ignored, or its people’s human rights violated. We should be helpful, and be seen to be helpful, in solving the political injustices and changing our policies to stop violating human rights anywhere. Above all, until we in the U.S. peace movement can bring about major changes in U.S. foreign policy, and resolve some of the political grievances against us (including our own massive and growing nuclear arsenal), we should simply stop talking about not wanting other nations to go nuclear. All we accomplish with our carping is to intensify already existing global hatreds against the U.S.
BILL CHRISTISON was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s new history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be reached at: email@example.com.