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Nuclear Muscle Beach
Never before have the combination of regional atomic arsenals and ambitions along with a global superpower’s aggressive nuclear posture so endangered the very existence of the Middle East

July 24, 2003
The Iranian

The Middle East was under a nuclear pall long before Iran’s successful testing of the Shahab 3 missile or the discovery of Uranium centrifuges in Natanz. Irrespective of the cynical games the Americans, the Israelis and other members of the nuclear club (including the fraternal Pakistan) play with the concept of proliferation, the fact remains that the detonation of a single nuclear device in this environmentally sensitive region will ruin everybody’s day.

The explosion of an “Islamic bomb” during one of our usual neighborly brawls will be as disastrous as that of any US-made mini-nuke or “bring-em-on,” bunker busting, nuclear “sledge hammer.” Never before have the combination of regional atomic arsenals and ambitions along with a global superpower’s aggressive nuclear posture so endangered the very existence of the Middle East.

To ward off the gathering danger of nuclear devastation, however, the International Atomic Energy Agency's anti-proliferation campaign is not enough. Any successful effort must be joined by the nuclear and non-nuclear powers alike. In absence of bona fide efforts by the nuclear powers to scale down their arsenals, technologies and doctrines an anti-proliferation regime will be seen as an instrument of perpetuating the ill-gotten advantage of the nuclear powers.

As long as that perception persists and as long as nuclear reprisals remain integral to the foreign policies of regional and global powers a genuine anti-nuclear will will not jell at national or grassroots levels. Without an anti-nuclear will economic arm twisting and intrusive inspections shall come to naught.

Conversely, where there is a nuclear will there is a nuclear way. A country like Iran that has already signed the Anti Proliferation Treaty can be persuaded to sign its Additional Protocols as well. But this does not keep such a country from hatching other devious plans for a nuclear future.

Signing the Additional Protocols will buy Iran a couple years until the deal is ratified by the parliament. If that is not time enough, well then, ratification could be used for amassing the needed technologies and materials for a nuclear arsenal which could be swiftly built upon withdrawing from the APT. If history of nuclear proliferation is anything to go by, the next you will hear of such a country is a solemn call for non-proliferation with brows knitted with concern for world peace.

No nation is “Satanic” or “Evil” enough to blow up the world or a good chunk of it on a whim -- except in the eschatological imagination of Ayatollah Khomeini and George W. Bush. The desire for a nuclear deterrent in a dangerous neighborhood springs from the primal instinct for self-preservation. It has nothing to do with whether a country is run by Mullahs or secular, toupeed politicians.

With Iran’s public opinion pollsters in jail I will have to go on a limb here; but I don’t think the government’s (vehemently denied) nuclear weapons program is unpopular. Around the Middle East, the Russians, the Indians the Israelis, and the Pakistanis developed nuclear capabilities not for first use but against perceived threats of American Capitalists, Chinese Communists, and the coming hordes of Arabs or Hindus.

The noble end of a nation’s own Manhattan Project would more than justify the ignoble means of going underground, misleading, cheating and stealing. The nuclear scientists and their political patrons in these nations were convinced that developing a credible deterrent was a sacred national duty.

Far from being considered evildoers, defense nuclear scientists in countries like India and Pakistan are venerated as national heroes. Once a country gains entry to the appropriately named “nuclear club,” it tries to keep others out; plying them with anti-proliferation platitudes and pressuring them with the political clout of possessing nuclear weapons.

The result is the not-so-funny comedy of the world’s worst proliferators preaching others against dabbling in what they alone have fully practiced. To bring this home one only needs to recall the preposterous spectacle of the Pakistani UN representative lecturing Iraq on developing Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons is as vital to the survival of the Middle East and the world as it has ever been. A regional Green sentiment at both grassroots and national political levels will be crucial for achieving this goal. But such a movement can not go far without the good will of the nuclear powers and their return to conducting the business of anti-proliferation through diplomacy rather than threats.

People of the Middle East and the world need a new wave of anti-nuclear activism. They deserve a global nuclear de-escalation. Stopping America’s new generation of nuclear devices meant to be used against non-nuclear powers would be a step. As long as certain members of the nuclear club flex their muscles and kick sand in the eyes of others, bomb-building kits will remain popular on the world’s muscle beach.


Ahmad Sadri is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features . See Homepage

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