Why did Russia and China vote to
By Jorge Hirsch
Clearing House" -- -- In the
aftermath of the
Dec. 23 United Nations Security Council unanimous
vote imposing sanctions or Iran for failing to
suspend uranium enrichment
(see text of resolution here), one has to wonder:
why did Russia and China go along with it?
Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment for civilian
nuclear purposes is
allowed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and
IAEA has found no indication that Iran has diverted any
nuclear material to military purposes. While Russia
may prefer for its own reasons that Iran not enrich
fully recognizes that Iran's pursuit is
legal under international law. Furthermore,
as Western news media constantly emphasize, Russia and
China have extensive commercial ties with Iran,
hence it is not in their interest to antagonize Iran.
Their support of UNSC1737 doesn't seem to make sense.
The UNSC vote is ominous
because it allows Bush to cut and paste from his
March 17th 2003 speech on the impending Iraq attack,
substituting "q" for "n":
The (Iraqi) Iranian
regime has used diplomacy as a ploy to gain time and
advantage. It has uniformly defied Security Council
[The regime] has a deep
hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided,
trained and harbored terrorists, including
operatives of al Qaeda. (see
9/11 commission report)
Recognizing the threat
to our country, the United States Congress voted
overwhelmingly last year (to support the use of
force against Iraq) to
"hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its
America tried to work
with the United Nations to address this threat
because we wanted to resolve the issue peacefully.
For the last
four-and-a-half months, the United States and our
allies have worked within the Security Council to
enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet,
some permanent members of the Security Council have
publicly announced they will veto any resolution
that compels (the disarmament of Iraq) the
denuclearization of Iran. These governments share
our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to
The United Nations
Security Council has not lived up to its
responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.
Should (Saddam Hussein)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad choose confrontation, the
American people can know that every measure has been
taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken
to win it.
[T]he only way to reduce
the harm and duration of war is to apply the full
force and might of our military, and we are prepared
to do so.
In the case of Iran, this
last statement would be especially ominous, because
it would signal that the US will use nuclear weapons
against Iran. Recall that Bush has
explicitly refused to take the option of a US nuclear
strike against Iran off the table.
Many other statements in the
March 17th 2003 speech apply even better to Iran than
they did to Iraq. "Inteligence gathered by this and
other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime
continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal
weapons ever devised" was false, but that Iran is
enriching uranium is true. Saddam could not disarm of
weapons it didn't have, but Iran could bow to Bush's
demand and stop its nuclear enrichment program, hence
the statement that by refusing to do so it would be
"choosing" war is somewhat less farfetched. Iran's
against Israel will undoubtedly be prominently
featured in Bush's speeches defending military action
Iran will not stop its
enrichment program, certainly not as a precondition to
negotiations. This should be obvious to Bush, as well as
to Russia and China. Hence one must ask: why is Bush
pursuing this approach, and why are Russia and China,
albeit reluctantly, supporting it?
What are Bush's
intentions toward Iran?
If Bush had any
intention of reaching a negotiated agreement with Iran,
plenty of opportunities to pursue such options, as
detailed by Flynt Leverett (see
complete article here) [pdf]. In the absence of any
concession by the US, Iran will not submit to US
demands, and weak sanctions resolutions do not exert any
real pressure on Iran. This has been clear to many
including this author for many months. The only
rational explanation to understand the US push to pass
resolutions against Iran, no matter how weak, is that
its purpose is to lay the ground for
planned military action.
If the intention is to
attack Iran, it was important for Bush to have this UNSC
and the preceding one of July 31st) approved
unanimously, that makes a demand on Iran that Iran
will not meet, to provide a fig-leaf argument that "the
world" demands action, as UNSC 1441 did in the case of
Why did Russia and China
Russia and China
could have chosen to veto
the resolution, or at least abstain. Instead, after
negotiating to water it down, they voted for sanctions.
One could argue that they
sincerely would prefer that Iran stops enriching
uranium, permanently or at least temporarily, to defuse
tensions. That may well be so. However, there has never
been any indication that Iran would be inclined to stop
enriching uranium if such sanctions are imposed, quite
the contrary. These sanctions have essentially no effect
on Iran, and Iran is in a position where it could live
with even much stronger sanctions without much problem.
Iran's defiant reaction to the latest UN resolution
was entirely predictable.
So I argue that Russia and
China's vote is understandable only under the assumption
that private discussions have been going on between them
and the US. Their vote is understandable if in those
Bush strongly indicated
that he would use military force if Russia and China
didn't agree to support sanctions.
Bush gave private
assurances to Russia and China that he would not
initiate military action against Iran without UNSC
Bush demanded that his
private assurances remain private, arguing that
making them public would underminde the diplomatic
effort by reducing the pressure on Iran.
Bush said that if his
private assurances were made public deliberately or
accidentally after the UNSC vote, they would no
longer be binding.
A hint suggesting that such
private assurances have been given is that Bush and
Putin have publicly
stressed the importance of a "unified position" on Iran.
As long as there is a "unified position" Iran will not
be attacked, because Putin would never agree to such a
course of action.
Are Bush's private
I will not make a
judgment of how trustworthy President Bush is. However I
argue that the evidence clearly indicates that any
private assurances given by Bush to Russia and China
that he will not resort to military action against Iran
without Security Council approval were only given to
induce them to support the UN action, and that he has no
intention of honoring them.
The reason is simply that
there is no other way to understand what Bush's purpose
is in the approach being pursued, other than to reach a
diplomatic impasse and subsequently resort to military
action. The more sanctions are imposed, the less
inclined and the less likely Iran will be to engage in
On the other hand, any
public assurances that Bush may have given Israel
regarding US support of
Israel against Iran are likely to be honored by
The final conditions for the
impending military action are being rapidly put in
place as we speak:
How will it get started?
Gulf-of-Tonkin-like incident, or an
attack by Israel, or an incident in Iraq that will
be blamed on Iran. Anything to provoke an Iranian
response, argue "self-defense", and escalate the
confrontation till it leads to
taking out our big guns, nuclear weapons.
How can it be prevented?
As I and
other authors have argued, a military confrontation
is bound to lead to the US use of nuclear weapons.
That is the only way the US can hope for
"rapid and favorable war termination on US terms".
In the absence of a
"nuclear option" the US is highly unlikely to attack
it would carry a huge military cost. However it
should be clear to most rational people that a US use of
no matter how small, against Iran
would have disastrous consequences for the future of
Consequently I argue that to
prevent a military confrontation with Iran and
facilitate a diplomatic solution it is essential to
focus on getting the
US nuclear option against Iran
off the table.
Russia and China may already
have privately assured Bush that a US use of nuclear
weapons against Iran would not be acceptable to them
under any circumstances, no matter what the
"military necessity" or the
"surprising military developments" are, and that any
US preparations planning for contingency use like
forward deployment of tactical nuclear weapons would
not be acceptable to them. Russia and China may already
have privately warned Bush of actions they may take in
response to a US nuclear use against Iran, from
diplomatic to economic to military. Russia and China
could ask that Bush publicly takes the "nuclear option"
off the table as a condition to support any further
diplomatic action against Iran. The US nuclear option
against Iran is not going to pressure Iran to abandon
enrichment, quite the contrary, and taking it off the
table would certainly help to defuse tension.
The newly elected democratic
Congress could take the US nuclear option against Iran
off the table. Congress could pass a law prohibiting the
US military from using nuclear weapons against
Here is an example of such a bill. While the
Constitution makes the President the "Commander in
Chief", it assigns Congress the responsibility to
"make rules for the government and regulation" of
the armed forces. Hence Congress could pass a law
authority of Bush to order the use of nuclear weapons
against Iran, unless
Congress first declares Iran to be a nuclear power.
Members of Congress should
bring this issue to the forefront of public attention,
call for hearings and introduce bills addressing the US
nuclear weapons use issue.
Representative Dennis Kucinich has taken the lead by
publicly calling for the US to renounce nuclear
first-strike policy. Any private assurances that members
of Congress may have been given regarding US plans for
nuclear weapons deployment and use should be made
public. The public has a right to know.
The US use of nuclear
weapons against Iran will affect America for generations
to come. It is the responsibility of every member of
Congress to do everything possible to remove the
possibility that such a momentous decision could be made
singlehandedly by a President that has earned a
record low approval rating. Just as
"obeying orders" is no excuse under international
law for committing illegal and immoral acts, each member
of Congress will be fully responsible for choosing to
ignore this issue.
Jorge Hirsch is a
Professor of Physics at the University of California at
San Diego, a fellow of the American Physical Society,
and organizer of a recent petition, circulated among
leading physicists, opposing the new nuclear weapons
policies adopted by the US in the past 5 years. He is a
frequent commentator on Iran and nuclear weapons. Email