The US, Mini Nukes And Iran

THE continuing threat of nuclear weapons hanging over the globe has been brought out sharply by two recent developments. The United States has announced the development of mini nukes and bunker buster bombs in complete violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By this treaty, the nuclear powers were supposed to have disarmed and held good faith negotiations for this. Instead, it is clear that the US is continuing its development of next generation of nuclear weapons. The second is the recent imbroglio over Iran, which shows the nuclear covenant is no longer holding as, increasingly, weapons technology is no longer a question of capability but of political will. The acquisition of weapons technology is within the reach of 35-40 countries and if nuclear weapons continue to be retained by the US and sought to be incorporated in dangerous doctrines such as “pre-emptive strikes,” “taking out unfriendly regimes” and so on, this then fuels the desire of others to have the “nuclear deterrence.”


It is important to understand that the danger to the world comes not only from proliferation of countries declared rogue by the US as they want the world to believe, but also from the refusal of the US and other nuclear powers to disarm. Not only are they refusing to disarm, the US — in clear violation of NPT — has now put in place its new doctrine which envisages nuclear weapons being used even against non-nuclear countries. The basis of NPT was that non-nuclear countries would not develop nuclear weapons and the nuclear countries would give up theirs. The nuclear weapons powers also gave a guarantee in the NPT that they would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon countries. The International Court of Justice has already held that NPT imposes good faith negotiations for complete nuclear disarmament and also that the use of nuclear weapons is illegal. The only issue on which the court did not pronounce was: if a country’s existence is threatened, is it then justified in using nuclear weapons for its survival? Obviously, pre-emptive use that the current Bush doctrine envisages is clearly illegal.

The world would become an infinitely more dangerous place if more and more countries develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be justified under any circumstances, just as chemical and biological weapons cannot be justified. The issue here is not only a moral and ethical one of whether weapons that kill indiscriminately, combatants and non-combatants, should be used. The far larger question is that these weapons pose a risk to all living beings on earth: a nuclear exchange or biological weapons gone wild can destroy life, as we know it. For people who play war games, this is a trivial matter as long as they can use such weapons to impose their will on others. For the rest, it is a matter of survival, not only for themselves, but possibly for the entire human race. That these are sought to be made matters of “strategic doctrine” is itself the issue. And that the key violator of this basic doctrine should pose as the world’s conscience, is what is fuelling the failure of the original nuclear covenant.

India had not signed the NPT stating that any treaty that obliges countries to give up nuclear weapons without a time bound disarmament programme, runs the risk of accepting nuclear weapons in perpetuity. This is exactly what the US now claims; they have categorically stated that they have the right to keep nuclear weapons for all times. While the non-nuclear countries were willing to even accept this state, the change started when all nuclear powers connived with Israel turning a nuclear weapons power. Even worse, the whole world knows that this was done with the active help of the US.


A nuclear Israel would automatically fuel nuclear ambitions in West Asia. As long as the technology was expensive and difficult, such ambitions may have been easier to contain. But with increasing spread of advanced technologies and its decreasing cost (in relation to a country’s GDP or the arm budget), more and more countries are capable of building up a nuclear infrastructure. The second impetus for covert nuclear weapons building came from the United States and its display of conventional military might. It now is clear to the world that the US can punch through the military formation of any country: there is a yawning gulf between the US and all other countries in conventional weaponry.

The countries that feel threatened by the US and its open declaration regarding “regime changes” then consider nuclear weapons as their only hope of containing US attacks on themselves. Both North Korea and Iran therefore look upon nuclear weapons as their survival strategy. And irrespective of whatever that countries may say publicly, post Iraq, the attraction of nuclear weapons has grown in the world. And along with it, the attraction of other weapons of mass destruction — chemical and biological weapons or what are called the poor countries’ weapons of mass destruction — have also grown. We are unlikely to see an aggressive US military hegemony in the world and its passive acceptance by all other nations.

The Iran issue brought out the problems with the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Iran was a signatory to the NPT and, as such, had agreed it would not develop nuclear weapons. The NPT, however, does not prevent any country from building weapons capability. This is what Iran set out to do. Over the last 18 years, it has built up an infrastructure for uranium enrichment. As per the original NPT agreement, Iran could build uranium enrichment facilities and was only prevented from building the actual weapon. It was also not required to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of these activities, unless they introduced nuclear material there. Only when it signed the additional safeguards protocols in February 2003, Iran was obligated to disclose the building of the nuclear facilities. The two violations that Iran is charged with is that it did introduce nuclear materials in these facilities without informing IAEA and it did not inform IAEA of the uranium enrichment plant even after signing the additional safeguards protocol.


What are the facilities that Iran had built? They had built a pilot plant at Natanz, approximately 250 kilometres from Tehran. This was pilot plant designed to enrich uranium, using centrifuges and could deliver one small nuclear bomb with one year’s production. They were also building a larger plant capable of delivering, if used for the purpose of uranium enrichment, about 15-20 bombs a year. It is important to note that uranium enrichment is also a legitimate part of the nuclear power fuel cycle and Iran’s argument has been that they were building these facilities for their power programme and nuclear capability.

There is little doubt that Iran’s uranium enrichment programme had, from the beginning, this twofold objectives built into it. This allows weapons capability without officially turning a weapons power. The country then has the option of walking away from the NPT by giving notice, as prescribed, or bargaining with others. The Iranians now tacitly admit that they were building weapons capability. They have now agreed to make their enrichment programme open to IAEA and under its safeguards. Though the US was initially pushing for sanctions on Iran, it found very few takers either on the IAEA board or in the UN Security Council and has been forced to give it up for the time being.

However, Iran is also making clear that the issue of proliferation can only be solved through a global approach. Looked at the world through their eyes, they are a nation of 70 million people and economically a powerful nation. To have a nuclear Israel, a nation of only three to four million people and dominate West Asia is obviously not acceptable to them. Perkovitch, an American strategic analyst admits (Yale Global, October 27, 2003): “A wide range of Iranians resent the perceived arrogance and hegemony of the US government, loathe the double standard surrounding Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and treatment of the Palestinians, fear US control and military presence in Iraq, and want the deference now accorded to neighbouring nuclear Pakistan.”


Iran’s deputy director general of international political affairs, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, at the second Moscow International Proliferation Conference, September 18-19, argued that Israel’s WMD programmes have led to regional instability. Elaborating further, he said, “According to several reports, Israel has developed chemical and biological weapons and the ability to weaponise them… Israel has an extensive nuclear stockpile…[and] long-range ballistic missiles that can hit any target in the Middle East… It is evident that such achievement in weapons of mass destruction and missile technology has not been possible without full technological and financial support, particularly by the US and its strategic allies in Europe… Stability cannot be achieved in a region where massive imbalances in military capabilities are maintained, particularly through the possession of nuclear weapons that allow one party to threaten its neighbours and the region…. We call for the total and complete prohibition of the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices, and the extension of assistance in nuclear-related scientific or technological fields to Israel.”

Any attempt to impose a long-term non-proliferation regime on others without the nuclear powers disarming themselves is unlikely to hold indefinitely. It is a matter of time before nuclear weapons technology will be within the reach of any nation willing to go this route. The option of not turning is a political decision that countries will take, based on their perceived security concerns. Armed interventions by the US or local bullyboys such as Israel will only help to tip the world into the hotbed of nuclear weapons and make this world an infinitely more dangerous place. For us, we need to campaign for nuclear disarmament, both locally and globally. Imperialism may be quite willing to declare, like Madame Pompidou before the French Revolution, “Après moi, le deluge” (After me, the deluge). For the rest, our stakes are much higher. This is the task of the global peace and nuclear disarmament movement. The cold war may have gone and the immediate threat of a nuclear holocaust may have receded. The long term danger to the globe remains and will remain as long as imperialism remains.

7th Dec 2003