How Not To Negotiate with Iran

Yesterday, the US and its European allies issued this ultimatum to Iran: the latter must stop enriching uranium to 20% U235 (note: everyone agrees that they are not enriching it to weapons grade, which is 90%) and dismantle its underground enrichment plant, with strong hints that the alternative is war.

The problem: neither the US nor, more to the point, Israel is offering to do the same. Since Israel actually has nuclear weapons, and announces over and over again that it wants to bomb Iran, it’s hard to see why it would make sense for Iran to abandon a bomb-resistant facility – unless the quid pro quo is that Israel gets rid of its nuclear weapons.

More broadly, the US cannot reasonably expect any other country to get rid of nuclear weapons, or to refrain from trying to obtain them, unless we adopt a sincere plan to get rid of our own. Without that, these negotiations are not negotiation at all, but attempted dictation. This attempt is bound to fail.

Iran: Not Only Is War not the Answer, but It’s the Wrong Question

Sadly, Barack Obama seems to be just as crazy as his predecessor when it comes to the Middle East; witness all his tough talk about war with Iran. So let’s be clear:

  1. All intelligence agencies agree that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and does not plan to have one.
  2. The US, on the other hand, has thousands of nuclear weapons.
  3. Israel, which has a much more aggressive history of making war on its neighbors than Iran, has nuclear weapons but Obama won’t even talk about them,
  4. Eight years ago, the US went to war with Iraq based on a lot of lies; the result was disastrous. Now they’re telling the same lies and trying to go to war again.

From all this, I’d say that the question is not how to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons – it is why the national security establishment is so eager to destroy Iran.

Nuclear Weapons: Iran, North Korea, USA

Yesterday (February 25, 2012) the New York Times reported that US still agencies continue to believe that Iran is NOT trying to develop nuclear weapons. That was a shocker, given the current war fever being whipped up in the US and Israel.

However, there is a bigger question. Is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty sustainable? This treaty basically says that there is a privileged group of nations that has nuclear weapons and will keep them, and the rest of the world which is prohibited from having them. Or, to put it more bluntly, there are a few countries which get to tell all the others what do do and when to do it.

For those of us who are Americans, it’s easy to miss the point here. Americans tend to think that we are benevolent and friendly, so we don’t see why anyone would mind if we dominate them. With a little effort, though, you can see it the way others do–which can be summed up as “The US is great until they want our resources.”

As a result, many countries have proceeded to develop their own nuclear weapons, ignoring the treaty (or refusing to sign it). These include, at a minimum, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The list is likely to grow, whatever Iran might do.

Having fewer countries with nukes is better than having more; but it doesn’t work. The only real path to a safe future is the abolition of all nuclear weapons. The US, as the biggest nuclear power, has to take the lead on this. There is little sign that it will do so any time soon, but until it does nonproliferation will continue to fail.

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This weekend marks the 66th anniversary of the first – and only – uses of atomic bombs in war. On August 6, 1945 the US dropped the first wartime nuclear bomb ever on the Japanese city, Hiroshima. On August 9 a second nuclear bomb was dropped on another city Nagasaki.

The Hiroshima bomb eventually killed 140,000 people – some right away, many others later of radiation poisoning. The justification offered was that the bombing was needed to bring a quick end to the war; otherwise, the argument went, American troops would have had to continue the series of difficult amphibious assaults in which so many had died already as the US fought its way, island to island, across the Pacific. The most eloquent statement of this argument, in my opinion, was made by the essayist Paul Fussell in Thank God for the Atom Bomb.

Others – like my friend Gar Alperovitz in his book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb – deny that using the bomb was necessary to get a quick Japanese surrender. The real reason, according to this school, lay in the politics of what was to become the Cold War. It was well known that the USSR was about to declare war on Japan, and thought likely that such a declaration would lead to a Japanese surrender. President Truman wanted the US, not the USSR, to get the credit for forcing a surrender; and he wanted to demonstrate to the world that the US had a terrifyingly powerful weapon.

If the second argument is correct, the decision to drop the bomb seems moreally questionable. It’s one thing to save your people’s lives by killing a lot of your enemy; it’s quite another to kill 140,000 people for purely political reasons.

Whatever the truth about Hiroshima, though, I have never understood how bombing Nagasaki could be justifiable. The demonstration had been made, the Japanese had been shocked, the Russians had been kept out – so what was the purpose? There is a strong suspicion (not only by me) that the second bomb was dropped only because it used a different technology from the first, and the military people wanted to see how well it worked in comparison. I hope that’s not true – it’s barbaric – but I’ve never heard another explanation that is the least bit convincing.

I always try to pause for a moment at this time of year and think about these two terrible events. Now that the Cold War is over, there is no need for nuclear weapons. They are slowly proliferating to more countries, and will continue to do so – unless and until we in the US commit to getting rid of our own nuclear weapons as part of a move to a nuclear-free world. It’s time to do this.