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Nuclear Disarmament: Beyond Iran

Iran! So long our enemy-in-waiting, just asking for it, y’know?(Credit: CNDP)

No wonder Americans are confused about the idea of maybe not going to war with that country one of these days, at least according to USA Today, which reported: “The White House and Iran face an uphill selling job to convince Americans to embrace the interim nuclear pact negotiated with Tehran last month.”

Two out of three Americans who have actually heard something about the accord don’t trust it, the paper explains, because, in essence, Iran took American hostages that one time (for no reason) and have been uncooperative toward our interests ever since. Thus, however hopeful or problematic the Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 nations (the U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. and Germany) may be, here in the land of all-that-is-exceptional, pop culture and superficial opinion polls rule and cynical ignorance counts as news.

Not only did the story fail to address or even hint at the history of U.S.-Iranian relations back to, let us say, 1953, and the CIA’s involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, followed by the installation of the hated (but West-compliant) shah, it overlooked — this seems to be a requirement of mainstream journalism — the glaringly obvious fact that the P5 powers, adamant in their determination to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, actually possesses thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons themselves.

Even without Iran’s joining the nuclear club, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is set at five minutes to midnight. We’re as much in danger of destroying ourselves as we’ve ever been. Why isn’t this relevant?

As Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, wrote in an op-ed published by CNN: “The world is focused on forging a durable agreement to prevent Iran from developing a single nuclear weapon. While critically important, these efforts ignore a far greater danger: the thousands of weapons that already exist.”

There are 17,000 of them out there, Helfand notes — in a world that still careens with hatred and irresponsibility. Their use, even as a first-strike option, comes up time and again in geopolitical discussions. And even a “limited” nuclear war — a suicidal showdown between India and Pakistan, say — would, he writes, directly kill 20 million or so people and, beyond that, likely bring on a nuclear winter by clogging the atmosphere with soot, thus putting 2 billion more people’s lives at risk through famine.

In its interim agreement with the world’s major powers, Iran would, among other things, stop producing weapons-grade uranium in its pursuit of nuclear power and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its facilities, in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions. The deal, which Congress could undermine by demanding tougher sanctions on Iran at this point, would be a step toward the permanent curtailment of Iranian nuclear ambitions. This is no doubt in the best interests of global peace.

But what heartbreaking irony that such news is not routinely reported in the larger context of complete global nuclear disarmament. A silent decree has gone out: This ain’t gonna happen, so let’s just stop talking about it.

Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, wrote recently in the Guardian that the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which all the major powers signed, did more than deny non-nuclear nations the right to acquire them. “In exchange,” she wrote, “the countries that do have them will disarm. That too is a nuclear deal. But it is one that the nuclear weapons states have ignored for more than 40 years. They are eager to police aspirational states — and rightly so — but are completely at odds with international law themselves.”

Indeed, nuclear proliferation in the form of modernization is alive and well. You might even say that nuclear weapons exist independently of anyone’s rational control.

“Due to the aging of the current (U.S.) force and plans to replace each leg of the nuclear triad — land and submarine-based missiles and bomber delivered nuclear weapons — costs for the nuclear mission are expected to grow substantially to approximately $500 billion over the next 20 years,” according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“In 2005,” the center notes, “the Government Accountability Office reported that even the Department of Defense itself did not know precisely how much the nuclear mission costs. At present, there is no Congressional requirement that a stand-alone nuclear budget be developed . . . and no single budget account contains all known or expected nuclear-related costs.”

So we’re sort of still fighting a Cold War that ended decades ago and maintaining and modernizing our stockpiles without accountability or oversight. Helfand, for instance, writing about the devastating consequences of limited nuclear war, adds: “By way of comparison, each U.S. Trident submarine commonly carries 96 warheads, each of which is 10 to 30 times more powerful than the weapons used in the South Asia scenario. That means a single submarine can cause the devastation of a nuclear famine many times over.”

Iran and its nuclear-weapons potential are no more than a distracting blip in our mega-armed world. And the nations that do possess nuclear weapons have far more history of international recklessness than the ones that don’t.

The question of the moment may be: What force is large enough to get the attention of the Nuclear Club and cause its members — the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — to move resolutely toward disarmament? Does such a force exist, even in the collective imagination?

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