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Continuities in Nuclear Hegemony: US and Iran

America believes itself the product of Immaculate Conception, nowhere more evident than in having global custodianship of nuclear weaponry, originally, exclusive possession and use, as though perhaps part of God’s design, and later, when after 1949 that was no longer attainable, presumptive use as a moral right and, as with all armaments, possession of an overwhelmingly preponderant stockpile. The US had a giant head-start, Alamagordo, July 16, 1945, Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, Nagasaki, August 9, 1945, the latter two the only times used for the annihilation of human populations, all brought on by the presumably exigencies of war when unity of the Great Powers was imperative, yet already conceived as a warning to the Soviet Union, and hence even before World War II was concluded the beginning of the Cold War. American atomic policy, quickly shifting from a defensive to offensive posture, became under Truman a cynical mode of power politics aimed at the dissolution of wartime unity, his presidency which betrayed a gross personal ignorance and arrogance only rivaled by that of Reagan and G.W. Bush having therefore imperial ambitions fueled by an obsessive, irrational anticommunism. Truman contributed to the climate of fear by his lack of remorse over the nuclear devastation and endeavor through the Baruch Plan to maintain the postwar US monopoly on the Bomb, as if to say America could be secure only when it has frozen into place the differential relationship, when it comes to dealing death, with others, a kind of ethnocentric/paranoid mental-set, enemies everywhere requiring and necessitating a total response.

One cannot understand 2015 without going back to 1946, John Kerry the Dean Acheson of our time, and Truman sui generis as encapsulating all of the retrograde features of America’s political-military leaders, lacking even Obama’s finesse at deception and warmongering. Return, then, to the war’s aftermath; the Baruch Plan in microcosm points toward the future, its purpose–coming June 14, 1946–after the bombs had been dropped and the war over, signifying both the confirmation of American power and a holding action to keep its atomic monopoly in place. Baruch did not warn, much less consult with, the Soviets before presenting his plan to the UN International Atomic Commission. Yet as in a key provision, that the veto would not, despite being part of the Security Council structure, apply to nuclear matters, it was clear Russia was to be denied, down to every detail, research and development on the Bomb itself but also peaceful applications of nuclear energy. This attempt at exclusiveness was, of course, a fool’s game in that scientists at the time warned that enjoying a monopoly of the Bomb could not last (the Acheson-Lilienthal Report gave Russia 5-20 years to catch up; it did so in three). The US wanted stability. Russia, however, was not passive.

If the Baruch Plan was not implemented, it was not for want of trying. To read the meticulousness of the enumeration of provisions in the Plan is to see the resemblance to the negotiations in Vienna, the US again—and at all points in between—fully committed to preserving a privileged position objectively at odds with the reality of proliferation, starting with Russia. This clinging to a hegemonic vision speaks volumes about the urgency of the US effort in Iran and worldwide, as though America could have its way come hell or high water, and, frequently, through resort to nuclear blackmail, usually subtly expressed. Indeed, the Baruch Plan was inseparable from the Truman Doctrine, a God-given right of containment, in which, as now, all enemies look alike as communist under the skin, the aforementioned ethnocentric mindset, Iranians feared and hated as a legacy of decades’ long anticommunist hysteria. Too, parallels between then and now can be seen in the way the US internationalizes its goals of self-interest, in 1946, the UN, in 2015, the Group of Six plus One, while still firmly guiding the structure of negotiations (also, just as we use NATO in the present confrontation with Russia).

International control was a misnomer from the start, the Baruch Plan defining those competent to serve on the International Commission being only those who had a “proven competence,” which meant, given that the US was the first on the scene, only those involved with the Bomb in the first place, the regime of tight controls preventing other nations from developing nuclear weapons. Control was predicated as well on the Soviets giving up the veto in this area. A happy, one-sided arrangement, taking us again to Vienna nearly seventy years later. Sanctions have been in place for nine years. Nuclear nonproliferation is the boast of having been achieved and chief talking point. (Yet if the US was opposed to proliferation, how explain its failure to stop Israel’s nuclear development, as was done with Iran?) Like Baruch, Vienna was meticulous: reduction of enrichment capacity and stockpile of low enriched uranium, the core of Arak’s heavy water reactor to be removed, an elaborate inspection protocol, restrictions on the trade of conventional weapons and ballistic missile technology, etc., and then at some point a lifting of sanctions and the unfreezing of Iranian assets abroad. Even then, one can hear the howls, from Netanyahu and the US Congress.

Finally we have New York Times reporters David Sanger and Michael Gordon’s article, “Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Built on Verification,’ Obama Says,” (July 14), showing the requisite enthusiasm: “The deal culminates 20 months of negotiations on an agreement that President Obama had long sought as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency.” Like Angela Merkel and Greece, achievement is measured by how greatly Iran has been demeaned, its sovereignty reduced, the mistrust in which it is enveloped still obvious. It must come before the International Atomic Energy Agency within three months, stated Kerry, “’to address all questions’” about its past actions, completion of this being “’fundamental for sanctions relief.’” The cruelty of the sanctions, the reporters readily admit: “Across Tehran, many Iranians expressed hope for better economic times after years in which crippling sanctions have severely depressed the value of the national currency, the rial. That in turn caused inflation and shortages of goods, including vital medicines, and forced Iranians to carry fat wads of bank notes to pay for everyday items such as meat, rice and beans.”

Meanwhile B-52 bombers have been engaged in maneuvers in Latvia, near the Russian border. How take seriously US claims to opposition to nuclear proliferation (and nuclear war itself, given the role of B-52s) on behalf of a peaceful world?

My New York Times Comment on the Sanger-Gorder article, same date, follows:

America is the archetypal expression of chutzpah. Its strategy of nuclear preeminence has not changed since the Baruch Plan following World War II. Rather than work for the elimination of nuclear weapons, it attempts to restrict their development by others and continues to modernize its own stockpile. Who gives America this dispensation to regulate the world, especially when its own arms budget dwarfs that of the remainder, and itself has engaged in wars and interventions, not to say covert operations, at its own choosing?

The US nuclear umbrella protects Israel, which has its own arsenal. How secure can Iran feel under those circumstances? Perhaps the present agreement is a good thing because it limits further nuclear proliferation. But the sanctions could not but have turned Iran into a critic, when, as now, it nonetheless has opposed ISIS (for which it has been given little credit). One cannot but feel that Israel with its regional monopoly is the elephant in the room, Netanyahu today threatening to lobby Congress to obstruct/destroy the deal.

Yes, it is right that Iran cease planning and the production of weapons-grade materials leading to the achievement of the Bomb. If peacetime use of atomic energy was its goal in the first place, that much the better. Nuclear weapons are the kiss of death, a moral curse, a contamination of humane values. Iran is better off without them. But this does not let the US off the hook for arrogance and failures at disarmament.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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