Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Iran's nuclear ambitions and CND

This is prompted by news of the invitation by CND to the Iranian ambassador Dr Seyed Mohammed Hossein Adeli to address their annual conference where, according to the Scotsman, he delivered the reassuring news that Iran's nuclear ambitions are entirely motivated by the search for renewable sources of energy, showing impressive foresight for a country floating on a sea of oil and natural gas.

The list of issues on which I have never changed my mind has grown shorter with age but one of the cluster that remain is a belief in unilateral nuclear disarmament. I won't bore you with detailing the argument that no one can win a nuclear war but I will add that central to my belief is the understanding that it is absolutely impossible to use nuclear weapons in intra-state warfare without committing a war crime and a crime against humanity. I do not, therefore, accept the retention of an independent nuclear deterrent as a 'bargaining tool' because it's value derives from the willingness of its owner and controller to use it and this is what I believe is morally impossible.

To those who argued at the time that we did not appreciate the malevolent intent of the Soviet Union we responded that while we understood the expansionary impulse of this by now post-totalitarian self-interested and shabby dictatorship, we believed that they were in the final analysis rational self-interested actors on the world stage. Or to put it more plainly, even if you accepted the worst possible estimate of the USSR's territorial ambitions, this regime which had shown itself time and time again to have an interest in the long game had no discernible interest in inheriting a nuclear wasteland.

So far, so nineteen-eighties. I liked and supported CND for the same reason I liked and still support Amnesty International: they took a principle and applied it consistently to every country, and in my simple-minded fashion this rather appealed to me. So it is not for the first time in the last five or ten years where I've asked the question, what has happened to my former comrades? Though we thought all the nations in possession of nuclear weapons were fundamentally self-interested in the manner described above, we feared the caprice and the malevolence of the human condition too much to believe that inviting global catastrophe was beyond the imagination.

I thought this understanding was shared but apparently not for those with whom I marched with in the 1980s who are now seriously trying to tell me that the nuclear ambitions of states like Iraq, North Korea and Iran are something I should be relaxed about. They either did not share this notion of nuclear states being rationally self-interested or they think these regimes fit the criteria. Either way, I think they are completely wrong. To answer the question, what about Israeli and Pakistani nukes is to answer in the affirmative that I worry about these too; not quite as much as one would be concerned about the three states mentioned above but more than the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Which brings me to the point where I defend what probably for most is now indefensible: WMD was a legitimate reason for regime-change in Iraq. The case that the Bush administration and the Blair government put at the UN was, as most people now agree, a complete disaster. As well as de facto accepting that the burden of proof fell on them rather than the Ba'athist regime to provide evidence of disarmament, which legally was not the case - one of the features of the protean arguments they made for the invasion of Iraq was the expansion of the concept of WMD to take in chemical and biological weapons.

What we did know about the regime's pursuit of WMDs - properly understood as nuclear weapons - should have sufficed. Saddam Hussein - no doubt similarly concerned about renewable sources of energy - almost went nuclear twice. It was interrupted the first time when the Israelis bombed the Osiric nuclear facility in the 1980s; the second time after the first Gulf War where subsequent inspections revealed the regime to have been within a few months of going nuclear.

But CND wanted me to believe that a nuclear-powered homicidal tyrant who had demented fantasies of being a Stalin-Saladin saviour to the Arab world, who would rid the region of the stain of international Jewery, was nothing much to get exercised about.

It's all about oil? Well, it's flammable, you see. Does this mean I want the Americans to invade North Korea and Iran? No, I'm not saying that at all - just don't tell me in some smart-assed complacent relativist way that these regimes going nuclear is nothing to worry about.

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