The Real Nuclear Threat
If war were only “itself” — the violence and horror, the conflagration and death — it would be bad enough, but it’s also an abstraction, a specific language of self-justifying righteousness that allows proponents to contemplate unleashing it not merely in physical but in moral safety.
War, the abstraction, is an instrument of policy, an “option” that can be waged or threatened to get one’s way. It is always contained and sure of itself, limited in its goals and, of course, necessary. Its unintended consequences are minimal and quickly neutralized with an official apology, then forgotten. If we didn’t forget, the next war wouldn’t seem like such a viable, enticing option.
The next war that has been gestating for so long now is the one with Iran, and its proponents, I’m sure, will do what they can to dismantle the framework of the agreement recently negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 nations. The incompleteness of the agreement — the fact that only Iran has accountability in the realm of nuclear weapons — raises profound questions about the future of the planet, but this flaw is obscured, certainly in most mainstream coverage, by the “controversy” that the agreement has been reached at all, supplanting the possibility of a military response to Iran’s nuclear energy program.
The interests opposed to the agreement, which wouldn’t be possible without mutual trust, maintain a belief in nothing but one-sided force to achieve their ends: either ongoing sanctions against Iran or military action.
Former Iranian diplomat Seyed Hossein Mousavian, interviewed recently by Democracy Now, noted that the sanctions have been “100 percent counterproductive,” causing an increase, not a reduction, in the Iranian nuclear program.
“Before sanctions,” he said, “Iran had a few hundred centrifuges. After sanctions, Iran reached to 22,000 centrifuges. Before sanctions, Iran had a few hundred kilograms of stockpile of enriched uranium. After sanctions, about 9,000 kilograms. Before sanctions, Iran was enriching below 5 percent. After sanctions, Iran increased the enrichment to 20 percent.
“. . . More pressure, more threat, Iran would become more aggressive. But if you go for mutual respect, negotiating with Iran based on mutual respect and based on international rules and regulations, you would find a very, very cooperative, a flexible Iran.”
Regarding the more extreme option, a military takeout, Robert Parry recently wrote at Consortium News: “Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities could cause a massive human and environmental catastrophe, unleashing radiation on civilian populations and possibly making large swaths of Iran uninhabitable.”
Here we begin to get at the extreme recklessness and foolishness that is the context of so much geopolitical pontification. War is evoked with such brainless ease. A dozen years ago, Team Bush and its legion of political and media crusaders were screaming for the invasion of Iraq. One pseudo-argument for the invasion invoked World War II: We don’t want another Munich (where Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain reached an agreement to allow Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia).
As Juan Gonzalez noted on Democracy Now, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois recently dismissed the Iran agreement by proclaiming, “Minister Neville Chamberlain got a better deal from Adolf Hitler.” War and its justifications spring eternal. Scholar Peter Conolly-Smith, for instance, has pointed out that Munich has been invoked to justify virtually every American military action or threatened action since World War II: Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq.
The icons of military righteousness are endlessly reusable. They’re never damaged, apparently, by the slaughter that follows in the wake of their invocation. But I suggest that hearing this justification for a potential new military action should alert one to the shallowness of the thinking behind it.
The deeper problem with the P5+1 agreement with Iran is not the controversy it has generated among the bomb-Iran contingent but the unacknowledged hypocrisy of the P5 nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain and France — which, of course, are all nuclear powers themselves. They have made no real effort to pursue global nuclear disarmament by getting rid of their own arsenals, as they agreed to do when they signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which went into effect in 1970.
Four and a half decades later, and despite the end of the Cold War, many thousands of nuclear weapons, in nine nations (also including Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, none of which have signed the non-proliferation treaty), remain poised to destroy Planet Earth. The focus on the possibility that Iran might someday develop a nuclear weapon too, while perhaps not irrelevant to the goal of global disarmament, is a minute part of the enormous danger we’re in.
Indeed, the United States is in the process of investing billions of dollars — as much as $1 trillion over 30 years — to rebuild its whole nuclear arsenal, “including the warheads, and the missiles, planes and submarines that carry them,” according to Stephen Young of Union of Concerned Scientists, writing at Defense One.
And as Greg Mallo of the Los Alamos Study Group has noted, three privatized nuclear laboratories — Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore — are behind the immense investment in upgraded, more destructive nuclear warheads. This aggressive pressure from the American business sector is a lot more frightening than any aggression emanating from Iran, and may indicate where the real push for war comes from. War is profitable to too many people. We need a peace treaty with the military-industrial complex.