Thursday, May 27, 2010

Digging Your Own Grave

When it comes to nuclear policy, both Washington and Tehran appear to be digging their own graves.

Now that the Western nuclear powers have taken the small but commendable step toward nuclear transparency of revealing how many nuclear warheads [All Headline News 5/27/10] they possess, the spotlight shines all the brighter on the nuclear rogue states--North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India—and on the suspiciously non-transparent Iran. Declaration of a global nuclear transparency standard with privileges for qualifying countries and penalties for all that fail to qualify would now be timely. Unfortunately, nothing remotely resembling a standard exists. North Korea is more-or-less ignored. Washington is rewarding India with nuclear aid and rewarding Israel with a fire hose of offensive weapons. China is about to reward Pakistan with nuclear aid. And Iran, which is only being accused, so far without any evidence, of intending to join the “nuclear rogue club” is the victim of economic warfare and under the threat of nuclear attack. Given the world’s treatment of Israel, India, and Pakistan, acquisition of nuclear arms would indeed appear to be a rational policy for Iran if its goal is increased prestige and access to Western nuclear technology!

Iran today is being treated far worse for its policy of nuclear ambiguity than any of the actual nuclear rogue states is being treated. That being the case, one can be excused for wondering why Iran insists on pursuing such a policy. In particular given its recent agreement with Ankara and Brazilia to exchange its electricity-grade uranium for medical-grade uranium, granting its new friends the courtesy of underscoring its eagerness to be transparent by going the extra mile to reassure the IAEA of its sincerity would seem the better part of valor. Tehran has demonstrated that it has the courage to stand up to Western threats; now, does it have the courage to work with global moderates to lower tensions?

That question of course ignores at least two other possibilities. The first possibility is that Tehran has no interest in actually obtaining nuclear arms but that it is absolutely committed to keeping tensions high in order to justify its harsh treatment of domestic dissidents, cement the regime’s hold on power, and find an excuse for its deplorable economic performance. The second possibility is that Tehran is actually trying to develop a hidden breakout capability, though one wonders who in Tehran can be so naïve as to think that the possession of a handful of primitive nuclear bombs would in fact increase its security. Has not Israel yet made it sufficiently plain that it stands always ready to find war the answer to its problems? Tehran seems to be getting the worst of all possible bargains – severe threats to its national security, denial of nuclear assistance, economic warfare against it that is indeed responsible for trashing its economy, and the consolidation of extreme right wing control in—at the very least--Tel Aviv.

Tehran is also risking its new-found ties with Ankara and Brazilia by its reluctance to be more forthcoming. Those moderate states may, for the moment, be pretending that they have solved the nuclear issue with last week’s agreement, but they are surely aware that their agreement, in the absence of an Iranian guarantee to halt refinement to the 20% level backed up by full transparency, does little more than crack open the door to a solution. Both Erdogan and Lula are bending over backward to give Khamenei the benefit of the doubt, but Tehran’s behavior is crassly taking advantage of their desperation for an accord; it should realize they will not stand forever alone on the dance floor while Tehran flaunts its solo routine.

If the logic of Tehran’s nuclear policy can be questioned, so can that of Washington. In a world where nuclear arms are seen as the road to global prestige and national security, Washington’s policy of proliferation to those who kneel down contains a built-in contradiction making it a dangerously short-sighted policy. Tel Aviv’s implicit, if not explicit, threat to launch a nuclear attack on Iran behind Washington’s back, even if not implemented, still greatly complicates Obama’s life. Had the old apartheid South Africa accepted Israel’s insane offer of nuclear bombs, who knows what problems that might have caused? The near miss of an India-Pakistan nuclear war around 2002 further shows the propensity of nuclear-armed subordinates to “declare independence.” Why Washington does not see the rationality of offering Tehran the deal it has made with Tokyo and Brazilia is a question all too often ignored in the U.S. One wonders if Washington intends to start opposing Brazilian uranium refinement now that Brazilia is showing some foreign policy independence…

Whatever the intent of Washington’s policy, the result is to provoke Tehran to rush forward toward a breakout capacity, to trash the Iranian economy, to empower Tehran radical nationalists, and to alienate rising moderates concerned about their own future independence.

Indeed, it seems that one could say to both Washington and Tehran, “When you find yourself digging the ground out from under your own feet, get a bigger shovel!”

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