Nuclear Iran is not a threat
By William Pfaff
Age" -- -- Paris: Why is all this pressure being
mounted against Iran when both Washington and Jerusalem
unofficially concede that there is nothing to be done to prevent
Iran’s government from continuing along its present course of
The contradictions in Western official and unofficial discourse
about Iran and its nuclear ambitions are so blatant that one
might suspect disinformation, but it probably is simply the
cacophony of single-minded bureaucracies working at cross
purposes, and the effect of the multiple lobbies involved and of
US domestic political exploitation, and the paradox of the
American policy itself, whose nonproliferation efforts actually
provoke nuclear proliferation.
The Washington official line seems meant to build pressure at
the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran, even while
conceding that nothing practical is expected to result, and that
nothing can be done about Iran’s resumption of nuclear
processing. Iran at present is doing no more than it has a right
to do in international law.
The crossfire of public pronouncements draws attention to the
inherent criticism of the Western position: the US and the other
Security Council members can have nuclear weapons, and Israel,
Pakistan and India (non-Security Council members), can have them
too, but Iran shouldn’t proceed with its (currently)
non-military programme. The US is even in discussion with India
to supply nuclear materials (for strictly peaceful purposes, of
All of this piles up in righteous Iranian eyes as evidence that
Iran needs to go beyond its present programme and actually build
nuclear weapons. National prestige and pride are involved,
obviously — and nationalism is probably the most powerful of all
Military strategy is also involved. So far as anyone in the
non-Western world can see, Iraq’s mistake in 2003 was not to
have a nuclear bomb or two in working order. That would have
kept the US at bay, just as uncertainty about North Korea’s
nuclear arms inhibits US policy in the Far East.
Iran already possesses non-nuclear deterrents to American
attack, which Iraq did not, and they are probably strong enough
to keep both the US and Israel away from Iranian nuclear sites.
Iran can close down a major part of Middle Eastern oil shipments
by closing the Strait of Hormuz. It has combined Revolutionary
Guard and ground forces three times the total of American forces
now active in Iraq, where Tehran also has influence on the Shia
clerical leadership, which holds the key to Iraq’s future.
Nuclear weapons proliferation in the non-Western world is an old
American preoccupation, but it is directly linked to Third World
perceptions of the threat of American military intervention. The
main, if not the only, advantage that nuclear weapons provide a
country such as Iran is the deterrence of intervention by the US
or Israel. The urge to possess these weapons is directly
reciprocal to American non-proliferation pressures, and the
threat of attack.
(The India-Pakistan case is an exception to these
generalisations, since there the perceived threats are strictly
bilateral, and the two countries have simply replicated for
themselves, at great cost, the balance of terror that existed
between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.)
Possession of the bomb would also bring comfort and prestige to
Iran in dealing with its nuclear-armed neighbours, which include
Pakistan and Russia, as well as Israel.
In theory, a threat of aggressive use of nuclear weapons exists,
but in the Middle East it is accompanied by certainty of
overwhelming Israeli (or even American) retaliation. Warning by
American politicians that "rogue states" might attack Israel,
the US, British bases on Cyprus, or Western Europe, are
manipulation or propaganda. Individual Muslims may welcome
martyrdom, but nations, even Muslim nations, do not.
Israel, with its conventional arms and weapons of mass
destruction, is amply capable of assuring its own military
deterrence and defence, whatever Iran’s President, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, thinks or says. But Israel cannot expect long-term
security without resolving its conflict with the Palestinians.
As Israeli leaders know, solving the problem is chiefly up to
Israel. Forty years of American involvement have mainly enabled
the Israelis to avoid doing so.
The danger of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons exists, if
barely. This would be possible only with a nuclear state’s
complicity. The political plausibility of any government giving
terrorists control of such weapons is next to nil, considering
the risks involved for the benefactor state. The technical and
logistical complexity of such an operation would also be great.
There are serious problems in international affairs and there
are baroque ones. This one is baroque.
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