Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Nuclear Iran

In yesterdays post, I questioned the legal and moral authority of the United States to assert the unilateral right to go to war to prevent Iran, or any country for that matter, from developing nuclear weapons. In the case of Iran, my premise was far ahead of the facts.

Whether one believes the assertions of the Iranians that they only intend to develop nuclear generating capacity as opposed to weapons is almost beside the point. Iran is years away from developing nuclear power and probably a decade away from developing a bomb. However, it would not be totally farfetched to believe their assertions. There are dozens of countries that have considerable commercial nuclear generating capacity that are not believed to have developed nuclear weapons. While no one doubts that Brazil, Germany, and Japan, to name a few, could not develop such weapons, they are all believed to be complying with their nonpriferation obligations

All that notwithstanding, some would say that an Iran with nuclear weapons is only a matter of time. That may be so, but we should always remember - THE PASSAGE OF TIME CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING. In the absence of hostile intent, a real threat, and actual capacity to do us serious harm it is dumb, immoral and illegal for us to start a war.

The U.S. was at the forefront of helping other nations develop nuclear power and, working through the United Nations, has been largely successful in limiting the proliferation of weapons beyond the five nation nuclear club that included us, the USSR (now Russia), France, Great Britain, and China. (Two of the three known cheaters who have since acquired nuclear weapons are discussed below.). This was done by getting most countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran signed the NPT and, because of that, has been the recipient of legal nuclear power development assistance. They continue to largely comply with the NPT but the IAEA has recently raised concerns, which have been the subject of the current diplomatic dustup. But the inspectors are still there and there has not been a total breakdown of the NPT regime.

Iran's nuclear history started when Iran was our ally, under the Shah. When the Shah was overthrown in. 1979 our relations with Iran soured (an understatement), beginning with the hostage standoff and continuing largely because successive Iranian regimes began and continued to support Palestinian groups, some of which perpetrated acts of terror. So we continue not talking to each other, officially, and limit our contacts to subjects like trading arms for hostages. (OOPS, I digressed.) But does the animosity between our two countries have to continue in perpetuity?

If history is any guide, the answer is no. As with many other countries in the past we could seek to establish normal relations with Iran and try to resolve our differences peacefully. If we were able to have diplomatic relations with the USSR while fighting several proxy wars against each other and with each living under the constant threat of being blown up by the other, certainly we can deal with Iran. Similarly, we were able to normalize relations with a nuclear China, notwithstanding having fought them in the Korean War, competing for power and influence against each other throughout Asia, and nearly going to war over the independence of Taiwan.

Some would say those examples are different, they weren't "rogue regimes." Well, if that term has any meaning in the context of nuclear proliferation it must refer to countries that are not part of the NPT regime. Two of those rogues are India and Pakistan, neither of which signed and has ever complied with the NPT and both of whom have developed nuclear weapons.

When India began its nuclear ambitions it was nominally a "third world" (nonaligned) country but in reality orbited the Soviet sphere. And now it is a new found friend to whom this administration wants to provide U.S. nuclear technology. Are we asking that they join the NPT? No. Are we asking that they open up their military reactors and facilities to inspection? No. They are our friends now so what's the need?

And then there is Pakistan, also a non-signer of the NPT. We turned a blind eye to their nuclear development plans because they were viewed as a counter force to India. They were a friend in name only though, because they were one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and checkmated our desire to take forceful action against that regime during the nineties. Only after 9/11 did they change their position and thereby pave the way for the military intervention that unseated that Taliban and temporarily defeated Al Qaeda.

All of which says - times change. We have no irreconcilable differences with Iran and no differences justifying war. The only real enemy the Iranians had - Sadaam Hussein - is gone. Someday in the future, they will again be our friend. Let's hold off the bombing for a while.

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