Thursday, March 8, 2012

No more "nuclear ambiguity"

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East about what Iran is up to with its nuclear program, a reasonable person cannot be in much doubt.   With the large number of centrifuges it's more than obvious that Iran wants a bomb.    And there can only be one intended target -- Israel.   Why else would a Holocaust denier like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad want the bomb other than to finish off what Hitler started?

That being said, I have to say that this is one time where there can be absolutely no double standards.    When India, Pakistan and North Korea each introduced their nuclear program in a "big" way the rest of the world imposed trade sanctions, as well as it should have.

However, despite overwhelming evidence that Israel also has nuclear weapons (depending on who's counting it's anywhere from 50 to 400, former President Carter is probably the most on the money with an estimate of 150), the country continues to promote a policy of "deliberate ambiguity" -- they have never denied having weapons but they have also said they aren't going to be the first to "introduce" a nuclear weapon.   Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and continues to refuse admission to IAEA inspectors -- which puts it in the same company as Iran and North Korea, India and Pakistan.    Of this grouping, only India can be considered a legitimate democracy as is internationally understood and Pakistan is moving back towards democracy but not without a fight from radical Islamists.    What's more telling is that although the world has known the truth since 1985, no sanctions have ever been introduced against Israel.   Is it because the world thinks that its brand of democracy is legitimate but India's isn't?

Given Israel's neighbourhood one can probably understand its recalcitrance.   It does need every tool in its toolbox.   But I happen to believe there can be no double standards either.    The only outcome that could bring stability in the region is if all countries in the region declared the extent of their nuclear and other WMD programs and then disarmed without any qualifications.   This would also have to include explicit recognition by Arab states of Israel's right to exist.    Much as I would like this to happen I am not holding my breath.

The only possibility short term that I see is for Israel to launch an air strike against Iran to take out its nuclear sites, much as it did in 1981 against Iraq.    Back in those days, Iraq was too busy with its border war with Iran to care that much, in fact Saddam Hussein famously said that when he won over Iran, there wouldn't be any Israel any more.

Moreover the war in Iraq did not as its backers hoped produce a stable democracy.   Instead, there is a very shaky coalition that still refuses to recognize Israel and is increasingly in Iran's back pocket.    If Iran ever does succeed in building a bomb and stations some of them in Iraq, then the stakes get even higher.   And it's not just countries -- terrorist groups pretty much know how to make a nuclear bomb, it's just a matter of sourcing the ingredients.

The best diplomacy comes not from hiding things but putting everything on the table.    Much as it would discomfort me I think this has to happen:   1) The four dissenting countries all need to sign the NNPT on the basis that, yes, they broke the rules but they will get a one time free pass; 2) there needs to be international agreement that that's it -- no other country will be allowed to develop a nuclear deterrent under any circumstances; 3) inspections must take place regularly to ensure limits on weapons are being followed and indeed "The Nine" are reducing their stockpiles with a defined goal in time towards abolition; and 4) both Pakistan and Iran must recognize Israel's right to exist.

If there is a genuine security agreement based on these then I think we can finally begin to get a handle on the nuclear threat posed by rogue terrorist groups.   By exchanging notes on best practises we may finally get the upper hand against al-Qaeda and other like minded groups.

But I'm not going to dream about this, or how it should be.    This is going to be a hot year in international relations.   I can only hope, not to the point where it hits 5500 C.

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