09 January 2008

The Question of a Nuclear Iran


By Stephen Tash

The Michigan Socialist

In 2003, President Bush accused Iraq of attempting to start a nuclear program by acquiring yellowcake from Niger; it was pretext to war. America was stricken with fear that Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction on the United States or its allies; which one they feared depended heavily on how much they knew of Iraq’s missile range. Nearly five years later, at the prompting of Israel, he echoes the same fears with Iran. The difference is that this time Iran admits to its nuclear program.

For many, the same fears apply. Meanwhile, the stresses of war with Iraq make many others wary of diluting US forces any thinner than they already are. Saddam Hussein, despised by Osama bin Laden as the primary reason for US forces in Islamic holy land, was drummed up as an Al Qaeda mastermind and close confidant. Similarly, Iran’s President Mohammed Ahmadinejad was reviled by New Yorkers when he attempted to lay a wreath upon Ground Zero with a vague sense that he too was behind this plot. Such feelings lack the understanding that Sunnis and Shiites hold great mutual animosity; and accordingly, a radical form of Sunni Islam (Al Qaeda) is not going to, and did not, work closely aside a theocratic and periodically fundamentalist Shia state (Iran). In fact, Iran denounced the attacks and its citizens were outraged at the attack, even if it was upon the “Great Satan.” One way or another, however, few believe that another nuclear armed state would have a positive effect upon world security.

The United States was once loved by Iranians. They were under brutal imperialist rule of Great Britain for decades and the United States seemed the model of freedom, democracy, and overthrowing colonial British rule. When President Truman was approached by British diplomats requesting help in overthrowing the popular, nationalist and democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh who dared nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he turned a deaf ear. However, the same was not to be said of President Eisenhower shortly thereafter. In 1951, a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt Jr, grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, successfully overthrew Mossadegh’s government in Operation AJAX. Mohammed Reza Shah, son to the previous Shah, was installed and led a brutal, extravagant, and pro-Western reign. Radical Islamic mullahs deposed of the Shah in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and formed a semi-democratic and theocratic Shia state, holding American diplomats hostage until the day Jimmy Carter left office. A once beautiful relationship turned bitter.

Within the Middle East itself, several Sunni-dominant states are deeply concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran. King Abdullah of Jordan has stated concern about Iran attempting to bring about a Shiite Crescent by supporting Shiite militants in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has stated that they will arm Sunni militants in Iraq if the US withdraws and is believed to likely attempt acquiring nuclear arms if they believe Iran is equipped. Israel, which is believed to already be nuclear armed, has already threatened military action against Iran despite the verification process; a military action which Sunni-dominant states have expressed an openness to.

On an international scale, the proliferation of nuclear weapons has raised concerns world-wide as India, Pakistan, North Korea, and several ex-soviet states have been added to the recognized nuclear powers. Such tensions have made it possible for the United States to invade Iraq despite a lack of international support and deter current nuclear powers from engaging in nuclear disarmament. If it weren’t for the insubordination of a soviet naval officer, the United States would have begun a nuclear war in 1962. Both the prevention of the rise of new nuclear-armed states and the disarmament of those states which already possess nuclear weapons are of vital importance to the security of the entire world.

Now Iran wishes to build a nuclear program, something the United States had promoted as late as 1973 as vital to the Iranian economy’s well-being, while under the Shah. In fact, the Arab League has strongly promoted the idea of all its members forming nuclear programs for just that peaceful purpose. This is not a trend unique to the Middle East either; European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, has been speaking up for European nations to enter a “third industrial revolution” towards a carbon-free economy via peaceful nuclear programs despite the fears of some European states. President Bush and Israel are immediately accusing Iran of being motivated with a desire to be nuclear armed, while Iran defends its program as peaceful purposes. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) turns out to be a vital tool in navigating through the storm of misinformation.

Signed July 1, 1968, the NPT was the child of a world where promising nuclear energy was desired by various non-nuclear states and various nuclear powers feared the proliferation, or spread, of nuclear weapons that would diminish their own power, much like today. Brokered by the UN and with the support of the United States, a signatory, the treaty outlines how nations may exercise their “inalienable right… to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination” without endangering the hegemonic power of the preexisting nuclear states.

The NPT holds signatory nations, in general, subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and requires specific agreements to be reached between the IAEA and the non-nuclear states. It printed off in a mere 5 pages. The agreement between Iran and the IAEA, cleverly named The Text of the Agreement between Iran and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, prints off in 27 pages. Some highlights are the strict set of protocol as to how Iran shall account for every bit of radioactive uranium, plutonium, depleted uranium (used in US bombs), and thorium within its borders, every concerned facility, the rights of both inspectors to be unimpeded and Iranian facilities to be uninterrupted, periodic checks with little to no notification to Iran, and reasonable suspicion rights of inspectors to seek out suspected facilities. Use in ceramics, yes it does happen, and minute quantities used in scientific measurement instruments must also be accounted for, contact information of the scientist included.

Close examination shows that there is little leeway for Iran, and only as reasonable for their ability to operate efficiently. The only possible loopholes are if the agency lacks the funding to properly operate in Iran or the amounts of nuclear material that are allowed to go unaccounted for. For example, one kilogram of special fissionable material may go unaccounted for, it takes 4 kilograms to make a nuclear chain reaction in a fission bomb according to the Department of Energy, and that’s a small bomb. Fusion bombs, which are much more advanced, require less fissionable material but are not likely to be any nations initial nuclear weapons. With very careful years of plotting, Iran might hoard enough fissionable material and successfully produce a single, small, nuclear weapon which would likely prompt a war when tested. The less refined uranium or plutonium is useless as fissionable material must be in the form of Uranium-235 (92 protons + 143 neutrons) or Plutonium-239 (94 protons + 145 neutrons).

Iran correctly points out that the state threatening to strike immediately, Israel, has refused to submit to the treaty or similar treaties for WMDs and is commonly believed to have a nuclear arsenal of its own, by its enemies and allies alike. They, however, have submitted to a treaty along with the United States and various other political states to be heavily inspected. Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General, has spoken to UN General Assembly on October 29th about Iran, noting that they have been able to verify that Iran has not diverted any declared nuclear material and that Iran has been very forthcoming with information and cooperative in working with the IAEA to discover the full scope of its nuclear operations.

There is no reason to assume that Iran is attempting to obtain nuclear weapons through its nuclear initiative. Protocols are already in place as recognized to be both prudent and proper by the international community for all states, not only those who are friendly to American interests. Other Middle Eastern states such as Egypt have reinstituted their previously abandoned nuclear programs as well. Though there is a valid concern for a nuclear-armed Iran, just as there would be valid concern for the addition, rather than subtraction, of any nuclear-armed states, these protocols are capable of ensuring a peaceful Iranian nuclear program. The motivations of the current detractors: Israel and the United States are much more dubious to the informed.

Israel is likely to feel it has more to be concerned with than a nuclear-armed Iran, a peaceful nuclear program in Iran could mean an economically prosperous Iran as well. The Shiite-Sunni conflict in the Middle East has meant funding of various sectarian religious militias throughout the Middle East, including the Shiite militia Hezbollah, with which Israel has had recent conflict with. The immediate concern of Israeli leadership is that Iran may increase funding to its immediate enemies. However, police states such as China have been finding, as well as the historical results of economic sanctions, that economic prosperity strengthens the average citizen and poverty weakens them. The theocratic nature of Iran is challenged more and more by its citizens and an economically viable Iran will only empower them to create a lasting secular democracy the only workable way, the old fashioned way, from the inside, from the grass roots. If this indeed catches on among the various Sunni and Shiite states, the sectarian warfare so precisely characterized by Iraq may cease to be in the relatively near future.

The United States is not interested in oil this time. Iraq had the second most plentiful oil reserve and the cheapest to pump; Iran doesn’t have nearly as productive an oil industry these days. Iran does, however, possess the world’s greatest reserves of natural gas, which the United States quickly took advantage of in Afghanistan in the economically feasible form to transport, liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG is seen as the likely next step in the energy economy, rather than hydrogen fuel or ethanol. We already know that the Bush Administration was already picking fights with Iran for a long while and would have likely invaded already by now if it weren’t for the failure to maintain order in Iraq.

To threaten a war with Iran over its attempt to develop an economically stable energy source in an exceptionably cooperative manner through an international negotiation process that the United States has agreed to is a clear violation of international law. Of course, the Bush Administration does not care much for international law and cooperation as seen in its failure to adhere to the Geneva Convention, its aversion to working with the Russians on nuclear limitation, and its refusal to sign onto other international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. But now is the time for the US to adhere to international law and not repeat the mistake of Iraq. Every step taken by the Bush Administration to ignore international law makes it one step harder to restore the credibility of the US and convince the world to participate in future agreements.

Diplomatic missions must be begun to work with the IAEA and Iran to fully explore Iran with inspectors whom cannot reveal sensitive information not pertinent to a nuclear program. One great way to do this and ensure that the inspectors succeed is to offer to fund both the IAEA and Iran in performing these investigations and inspections. Military Action should not be even considered over this issue. 

See the IAEA’s Iran in Focus:


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