[This is a slightly edited version of an essay I wrote in 2010 while I was taking a ‘Geography of The Middle East’ course.  Unfortunately, it might actually be more timely now than it was two years ago…]

 

 

 

Should the United States allow Iran Access to Nuclear Technology?

-By: Samson Davis-

As usual, it is important to put this situation into historical context, so that all sides may begin the decision-making process with similar information.

 

PART I–HISTORY:

In 1945, the US completed the development of the first nuclear weapons.  On August 6th of that year, the US became the only country, to this day, that has ever used these weapons on another country.  The two bombs that were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed a total of 200,000 and injured another 83,000–many of these slowly dying from the prolonged results of radiation poisoning (11).  It was later revealed that the argument that ‘the bombings were necessary to end the war’ was false.  Actually, on January 20 of that year (almost six months prior to the bombings), “President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials”; with terms that ended up being “virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2” (11).  Leo Szilard, who had a major part in the development of the atomic bomb, had these words: “If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them” (11).

The US had hoped to keep a monopoly on nuclear weapons, but once that was proven impossible, the strategy moved to containing nukes to ‘friendly’ states (4).  In 1953, Iran’s democratically elected president Mohammad Mosaddeq was overthrown by a coup orchestrated by the US and England– replacing him with the ruthlessly oppressive, but ‘West-friendly’, Shah (7).  In fact, “Some critics accused the US not only of winking at widespread abuses of human rights by the Shah but also of contributing to them” (1-p584).  It was also under the Shah that Iran’s nuclear program began, with full support from the US (7).  This support continued until the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 by the Islamic revolution.

One year after the revolution, Iraq attacked Iran and began the eight-year war between the two countries.  The US backed Iraq, and in 1988, a US naval vessel shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing all 290 people on board (1-p252).  By the end of the conflict with Iraq, Iran had suffered approximately 1,000,000 casualties (1-p562).

In the years from 1945 to 1998, the US detonated over 1000 nuclear weapons, more than half of the total that have ever been detonated in world history.  The actual numbers of detonated nuclear weapons, in that period, are: the US-1,032; the USSR/Russia-715; France-210; England-45; China-45; India-4; Pakistan-2 (13).  Since 1998, other countries have added themselves to the list of nuclear weapon states, such as North Korea and possibly Syria–while “Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms” (4).

 

 

PART II–IRAN IS ATTEMPTING TO BUILD NUCLEAR WEAPONS!?:

One of the underlying arguments against Iran having access to nukes is that they can’t be trusted with them.  Iran is portrayed as desiring these for offensive warfare.  What seems logical is to listen to those who have spent time talking with Iranian officials, not periodically refusing to speak with them at all; as several US officials have.  Hillary Mann Leveret, former National Security Council Director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs recently spoke of “Iran’s feeling of vulnerability as a state with no strategic buffer, weak conventional military forces, and 15 neighbors–none of which are allies, but several of which raise potential security concerns” (7).  It is additionally true that Iran has many nuclear neighbors.  As we have seen, Pakistan, Russia, India, China and probably Israel have ‘the bomb’; with Syria being a possibility as well.  Also, the US obviously has a huge presence in the region–with the French and English having a deep and sordid history in the Middle East.

 

 

IRAN:
The country between the 2 main countries the US has been bombing for the last 2 decades.

 

 

Greg Theilmann, from the Realistic Threat Assessments Project of the Arms Control Association, says this, “Tehran’s perceptions about the possibility of an attack are the biggest obstacle to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state” (7). Additionally, concerning the fear of Iranian nukes making it into the hands of Hizbollah (for possible use against Israel), is this excerpt: “It is difficult for Americans to appreciate fully how warnings against Iranian ‘meddling’ or ‘interference’ in the affairs of its neighbors sounds to an Iranian ear from the officials of a country which has forcibly entered two states contiguous to Iran, leaving nearly 200,000 soldiers deployed in the region…since President Bush designated Iran as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’, US leaders…used military force to change the neighboring regimes in Baghdad and Kabul, identified the goal of ‘regime change’ in Iran, and appeared to collude in Israel’s attack on Syria’s nuclear reactor at al-Kilbar” (7).

 

The hypocrisy didn’t end there.  President Obama, leader of a country which is currently in possession of over five thousand nuclear bombs, has threatened to use military aggression against Iran for allegedly attempting to someday have one (4).  Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is universally believed to have nukes and is also the only one to not have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)(2-p128).  Still, Israel has apparently also determined that Iran can’t be trusted with nukes and has threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities (10).  This is a threat that Iran has surely taken seriously because during the Iran/Iraq War, Israel sided with Iran (due to its policy of “supporting enemies of Arab countries”) and conducted an air strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor (1-p252).

 

While I am certainly not a supporter of nuclear weapons (or even nuclear fission for power), it seems Iran has a solid argument for the possession of a substantial defense–the idea being that the fear of a nuclear counter attack would keep anyone from attacking a nuclear-armed nation.  To deny this as a valid argument is to deny the ‘mutually assured destruction’ justification that the US used for the arms race with the USSR during the entirety of the Cold War.

 

 

PART III–IS IRAN ATTEMPTING TO BUILD NUCLEAR WEAPONS?:

 

In 1974, “Iran was one of the first states to formally call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, joining with Egypt to propose the goal to the UN General Assembly” (4).

 

Iran has never claimed to be developing nukes or argued the reasoning for doing this.  In contrast, “the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeni, did just the opposite, describing nuclear weapons as anathema, a theological position later reinforced by a 2004 fatwah, which explicitly ruled that developing, deploying, and using such systems would be un-Islamic” (7).  Also in 2004, H.E. Reza Aghazadeh, the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, made a formal statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Here are two excerpts:

 

“For more than a quarter of century, in spite of sanctions, discrimination, deprivation and 8-year imposed war, our great nation has been able to stand on her feet and to struggle for independence and sustainable development. Unjustified continuous sanctions on various items even with direct impact on humanitarian needs as well as the ones with peaceful application of nuclear energy left no other option than the national mobilization for self-sufficiency.  Our great nation will not (permit) any interference and or interruption in our purely peaceful and indigenous nuclear program…

…It is just too extreme an irony, that Israel’s nuclear weapons program is not only tolerated, but indeed assisted and aided and impunity is prescribed and applied to the fullest, while peaceful programs with no established evidence of diversion are scrutinized.  Such acute double-standard can not, must not and will not be sustained at the Agency” (8).

 

Meanwhile, from the biggest critic of Iran, comes this, “The US intelligence community is…sticking with its 2007 assessment that Iran halted the weaponization portion of its nuclear program in the fall of 2003” (6).

 

So, what has come of all these inspections we’ve heard about? Here is a direct copy of the conclusions of the IAEA inspections from the Arms Control Association website:

Iran: No known weapons or sufficient fissile material stockpiles to build weapons.  However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the institution charged with verifying that states are not illicitly building nuclear weapons, concluded in 2003 that Iran had undertaken covert nuclear activities to establish the capacity to indigenously produce fissile material.  The IAEA is continuing its investigation and monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program. (4).

 

Here are some comments from an interview with career diplomat Yukiya Amano:

KURIER: Are Iran and its nuclear program a threat to global security?

AMANO: “I have never said that Iran is a threat or that it has an atom bomb.  I choose my words very carefully.  Iran is not complying fully with its obligations.  There are activities which could have a military context, and they must be clarified.”

KURIER: The IAEA promotes the expansion of nuclear power – is that in keeping with the times?

AMANO: “Every country and its people have the right to decide entirely for themselves about the civil application of atomic energy.  I respect that right fully.  But there are currently 60 countries with a major interest in using it…That being so, should we simply look on, or should we help them make nuclear power safe?  It is not our role to tell a country whether it should build nuclear power plants or not” (9).

 

In addition to those words, we have this insight into the degree that weapons development can be kept secret from inspectors:

“Enrichment at declared facilities…would be detected by International Atomic Energy Agency monitors, sending an unambiguous signal of weapons intent long before use of the weapon could be credibly threatened” (6).

 

The argument has also been made that Iran seeks more highly enriched uranium for medical reasons.  The Christian Science Monitor wondered why this was the case in late 2009 and here is what they found:

“Iran says it needs the fuel to power a small research reactor, originally supplied by the US, that produces medical isotopes. Western experts agree that this crucial reactor probably is nearing the time at which it needs more uranium…The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), as the facility is called, is a 5-megawatt, light-water type reactor located in the Tehran suburbs.  The US provided it to the Shah of Iran under the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program.  It began operation in 1967 and was the foundation of Iran’s nascent nuclear program…As supplied by the US, the TRR actually ran on weapons-grade uranium of over 90 percent enrichment.  After the initial fuel load was used up, Iran contracted with Argentina to refurbish the core to burn lower-enriched fuel and to provide that fuel…In 1992 Argentina sold Iran the reactor’s current fuel supply, which is enriched to 19.75 percent.  Iran began to use this fuel the following year…The medical isotopes produced by the reactor are used in diagnosis and treatment of some illnesses…Iran does have its own nuclear enrichment facilities, of course.  These are of great concern to the West, which worries they could be used to produce uranium enriched enough to use in nuclear weapons…But at the moment, Iran only enriches uranium to a level of about 3 percent…If Iran ships about 1,200 kilograms (2,650 pounds) of its low-enriched uranium abroad, Russia could turn it into about 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of 19.75 percent enriched uranium for the TRR” (12).

 

Iran has expressed reservations about shipping its uranium out of Iran for this ‘fuel swap’, probably correctly assuming that it will not be returned.  The Iranian government has, however, still agreed to this idea as long as the swap is conducted within the borders of Iran, and is under the supervision of the IAEA (10).  In response, the US has expressed its desire to “get new sanctions imposed in the coming weeks over Iran’s nuclear enrichment work, after failing to reach a fuel-swap agreement with Tehran” and has threatened nuclear aggression against Iran that can only be avoided by its complete “compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” (10).  Iranian President Ahmadinejad replied with these two sentences: “American politicians are like cowboys. Whenever they have legal shortcomings, their hands go to their guns” (10).

 

 

PART IV–WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

We have been talking about a country that is possibly developing nuclear weapons because it feels threatened.  If the goal is to keep them from doing this, how can it possibly be a good idea to threaten them?  I cannot understand this line of ‘reasoning’.

 

Here are some ideas that the Arms Control Association has come up with to effectively diffuse Iran’s threat perceptions:

 

“The United States must:

Stop identifying ‘regime change’ in Iran as a foreign policy objective and explicitly reject the unilateral use of military force.

Seek agreements with Iran in areas of mutual interest such as Afghanistan, even before the nuclear issue is resolved” (7).

 

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, has said there will be no attempt to resolve the occupation of Palestine until the Iranian nuclear situation is concluded (3).  Possibly, this stance could be used to present the option to Iran of being the regional hero by trading nukes for Palestine–with the US as the intermediary.  The pressure would then be on Israel to back up their words.  One could imagine it would be very appealing to Iran to be in the position of putting pressure on Israel.  Israel would benefit by hushing the worldwide roar over their seemingly endless human rights abuses and their world record for the most broken UN Security Council Resolutions (a total of 224 as of January 2009)(14).  It would not be surprising if it increased the daily level of security and safety for Israeli citizens as well.  This proposal could additionally be appealing to the US in that it gives an opportunity to save face internationally by taking a break from its unfathomable support for Israel’s genocide in the Occupied Territories, which in turn, takes away the major source of US-targeted hatred & terrorism in the region.  Everyone wins.

 

 

 

(1) Colbert Held, Middle East Patterns: Places, Peoples, and Politics (Paperback), Westview Press; 4th edition (July 15, 2005) ISBN-10: 0813341701; ISBN-13: 978-0813341705

(2) Dan Smith, The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict and Resolution (Paperback), University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2008 (ISBN- 0520257537)

(3) Charles Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents (Paperback), Bedford/St. Martin’s, Seventh Edition, 2009, ISBN: 0312535015

(4) The Arms Control Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/countryresources

(5) Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, ‘Preventative Military Action: The Worst Way to Deal With Iran’s Nuclear Program’, Published by the Arms Control Association, June 18, 2009; http://www.armscontrol.org/system/files/TAB_PreventiveMilitaryAction.pdf

(6) Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, ‘Is There Time to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon?’, Published by the Arms Control Association; September 10, 2009; http://www.armscontrol.org/system/files/TAB_PreventingIranianNuclearWeapon.pdf

(7) Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, ‘To Curtail the Iranian Nuclear Threat, Change Tehran’s Threat Perceptions’, Published by the Arms Control Association, Revised April 14, 2009; http://www.armscontrol.org/system/files/TAB_IranianNuclearThreat.pdf

(8) H.E. Reza Aghazadeh, the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ‘Statement to the Forty-Eighth Regular Session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency’, September 2004, http://www.iaea.org/About/Policy/GC/GC48/Statements/iran.pdf

(9) Konrad Kramar, ‘Iran Is a Special Case’, Kurier interview with Yukiya Amano, June 26, 2010, http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Transcripts/2010/kurier260610.html

(10) Parisa Hafezi, ‘Iran’s President attacks Obama on Nuclear “Threat”‘, Thompson Reuters, April 7, 2010; http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6362IJ20100407

(11) Mark Weber, ‘Was Hiroshima Necessary?’, From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1997 (Vol. 16, No. 3), pages 4-11.; http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v16/v16n3p-4_Weber.html

(12) Peter Grier-Staff Writer, ‘Why Does Iran Need More Potent Uranium? Medical Care.’, Christian Science Monitor, October 21, 2009; http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2009/1021/p02s23-usfp.html

(13) Isao Hashimoto, ‘1945-1998’, (a multimedia presentation concerning the use of nuclear weapons used around the world for all purposes); http://current.com/news/92537094_1945-1998-by-isao-hashimoto-nuclear-explosions-around-the-globe.htm

(14) Jeremy R. Hammond, ‘Israeli Violations of U.N. Security Council Resolutions’, Foreign Policy Journal, January 27, 2010; http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2010/01/27/rogue-state-israeli-violations-of-u-n-security-council-resolutions/0/

 

 

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