Breaking the Iran stalemate

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — The conclusions of a study led by former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix are important to overcome the present stalemate with Iran. According to the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, “the first line of defense against the spread of nuclear weapons is to make states feel that they don’t need them,” a goal that must be rooted in foreign policy and not in military action.

This statement is particularly pertinent today. Although significant progress was achieved through the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975 and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, which outlaw the production and use of these weapons, no similar progress has been achieved in the nuclear-weapons sphere.

The 1970 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons was successful in limiting the possession of nuclear weapons to the five countries which had them at the time — China, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. Since then, and with the exception of India, Israel and Pakistan, every country in the world has joined the NPT. The treaty, however, has not succeeded in its aim of nuclear disarmament as called in its Article VI.

Iran’s decision to pursue the search for nuclear energy prompted in part by what it sees as a threat to its security is a concern that should be more effectively addressed. French President Jacques Chirac’s threat to exercise the use of nuclear weapons against countries sponsoring terrorism should France consider it necessary was not helpful. Neither was U.S. President George W. Bush’s insistence in keeping all options open (including the nuclear option) in dealing with Iran. There is something paradoxical about some countries claiming the right to use nuclear weapons while insisting that their use is off-limits to others.

The use of nuclear-armed earth-penetrating weapons either against Iran or against any other country will have consequences well beyond the targeted countries, and may well initiate a downward spiral of destruction that will take countries generations to overcome. The United States, one of the countries that reserves for itself the right to use nuclear arms, is the only country that so far has exercised that right, an event on which history has not yet given the final word.

A study by Physicians for Social Responsibility published in 2005 concluded that a nuclear strike against suspected Iranian deposits of nuclear material at Esfahan would cause huge number of deaths and “severe adverse health impacts on civilian and military populations near targeted areas.” In addition, radioactive fallout would be dispersed through much of the region, including India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If North Korean nuclear-power facilities at Yongbyon are targets, the effects could be equally devastating. Millions of people in North and South Korea, as well as Japan, would be at significant risk of radiation exposure. Such an attack would also provoke significant social and economic disruption as people would flee to avoid the fallout plume from Yongbyon.

Would these terrible actions lead to a safer world? Certainly not. Countries already leery of the U.S. doctrine of preemptive war would see their suspicions all but confirmed, and this could initiate a nuclear-arms race of unfathomable consequences. In the meantime, the U.S. has turned down any “security guarantee” for Iran, which has been called a “troublemaker in the world,” by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Although Rice has indicated that the U.S. was now willing to engage in direct talks with Iran, she set as a condition Iran’s suspension of its nuclear fuel-enriching activities, a condition that Iran will continue to reject.

That a short war with specific targets could be effective can only be attributed to self-delusion among those that want to conduct it. Blix stated recently that the U.S. unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements is undermining efforts to curb nuclear weapons.

The commission presided by him recommended that all countries ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the U.S. Senate has rejected, and reduce their nuclear arsenal. According to Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, which monitors U.S. nuclear-weapons programs, “By walking away from tried and true arms control treaties, and by launching an illegal preventive war in the name of ‘counter-proliferation,’ the U.S. has seriously undermined international law and endangered international security.”

This is a critical moment for a renewed call for de-nuclearization, and for all countries to reach a level of understanding based on mutual respect and responsibility. Unless they do so, the threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction will continue to haunt us.