Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is it important to Westerners that Iran not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities?

I asked this question over at and got answers that though over-wordy and indirect, essentially confirmed that for Western analysts, Israel has turned the Middle East into a special region where it is important for one country to have a monopoly on both actual nuclear weapons and the technological capabilities to make them. Despite reluctant admissions that it is otherwise legitimate for non-weapons NPT countries to gain those capabilities.

I'll define the term "legal nuclear weapons capability" as I use it as a situation where a country clearly does not have weapons today because there is no fissile material that the IAEA does not have under safeguards, but where that country could make weapons in a few months if it was to make that decision. Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and dozens of other countries have what I describe here as legal nuclear weapons capability.

The fact of the matter is that a position where a country clearly does not have weapons today even though it could visibly make them later if provoked is a good deal. It means that, for example, Argentina does not have to worry that a surprise nuclear attack might come from Brazil tomorrow. This has real value to Brazil's and Argentina's region. Western analysts, when trying to whip up a frenzy over Iran's nuclear program often lose track of or belittle the value of being verifiably nuclear free today, even for a country that could, if it feels it needs to, build nuclear weapons six months from now. Hopefully these nations never will feel they need to.

Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany and many others have not exploited a loophole. They have taken a very serious and solid step towards a world without nuclear fears. The United States, not to mention Israel, is far behind these countries in terms of non-proliferation, is far behind Iran on that subject today since all of Iran's fissile material is accounted for by the IAEA as not in military programs and would remain far behind Iran even if Iran was to attain legal nuclear weapons capability.

The NPT was negotiated and despite not being everything the US might dream of, not demanding permanent subjugation of the rest of the world to a small number of permanent nuclear powers, the NPT as negotiated does a lot to provide security and stability. The world would be a much better place if Israel, the United States and every country that is not an NPT non-weapons state went to legal nuclear weapons capability rather than the positions they hold today.

The reason Iran did not follow the path to legal nuclear weapons capability that Japan did is that the United States very actively and intensely blocked that path from Iran. Every single legal agreement Iran made with European countries, Russia and China during the 80s, 90s and early 00s, was broken by Iran's foreign partners under US pressure.

What if the US had not feverishly worked to prevent Iran from following the path Japan followed? Germany would have finished Bushehr, Iran would have acquired uranium conversion and enrichment technology from Russia and China and would today have what I defined above as substantial legal nuclear weapons capability as well as a substantial domestic nuclear power industry. The United States is the exact sole reason Iran did not arrive at a state of legal nuclear weapons capability fully openly.

Clearly that outcome was not acceptable to the US because the US expended significant political and diplomatic capital to prevent that outcome. Now that that outcome has been averted, it is easy for Western analysts today to say that outcome would have been acceptable to them. But them saying that is not believable, not to me and I don't think to anyone with common sense noting that they were not objecting to that US policy when it was happening, don't say it was wrong today, and do not today call for the US to stop its efforts to prevent Iran from moving to that model.

Despite a lot of fluster and misdirection, it is not Iran's path to legal nuclear weapons capability that concerns Western nuclear policy analysts, it is Iran's acquisition of legal nuclear weapons capability itself.

If Iran's strategy is to accomplish legal nuclear weapons capability in order to undercut the rationale that has supported US efforts to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear power-generating technology that would be a valid and rational strategy. Later the US will be in a weaker position to pressure other countries from providing assistance and Iran will be able to get more nuclear technological assistance, if it needs it. This would be a sound reason for Iran to accomplish a state of legal nuclear weapons capability and to ensure that it never commits future generations to relinquish this capability beyond the intrinsic value of legal legal nuclear weapons capability itself.

But other than pointing out that Iran's path to legal nuclear weapons capability was undertaken more in secret than Japan's we have seen some direct justifications for why Western analysts believe Iran should be held to a different standard.

We've seen a statement that one is sure Iran plans to deploy actual nuclear weapons. We've seen a statement that Iran's "neighbors" think legal nuclear weapons capability is the same thing as actual nuclear weapons and we've seen a statement that the Middle East is different from the West Pacific and South America and so reasonably should be treated differently.

Iran with legal nuclear weapons capability could refrain from leaving the NPT or diverting fissile material away from IAEA supervision unless or until some severe provocation occurred. By severe provocation I mean a bombing attack, a ground invasion or visible preparations for a ground invasion. Such a stance would itself actually deter the types of provocations that would cause Iran to build actual weapons.

This would be the rational course of action, it is the action consistent with every Iranian statement, public or intercepted, at every level for many years.

To say one is sure Iran will deploy actual nuclear weapons sounds suspiciously like saying one is sure the US will bomb Iran, insert ground troops or visibly prepare to insert ground troops into Iran.

I don't know if they are aware, but when Western analysts express certainty that Iran will build an actual weapon, they strengthen the case for Iran building and maintaining a legal nuclear weapons capability.

The United States wants the freedom to make a severe provocation of Iran without the threat that such a provocation would move Iran into a state of nuclear ambiguity or of possession of an actual nuclear weapon.

The US and Israel have that freedom regarding Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait and others but likely would not if these countries, which I describe as US colonies, were more accountable to their own people than to the US embassies in their countries.

The fact that governments that are not accountable to their own people have not responded to Israel's regional nuclear monopoly says more about the directions that have come from US embassies than it does about the strategic interests of the people of those countries.

We also saw a statement that "Iran's neighbors" think legal nuclear weapons capability is the same thing as actual nuclear weapons. Now if by "Iran's neighbors" Western analysts mean Israel, they are close to agreement with me.

Of course Israel can tell the difference between legal nuclear weapons capability and actual nuclear weapons. There is at least one person in that country who can read the NPT. What Western analysts really mean when they say it perceives those different concepts as the same is nothing more than that Israel really does not want Iran to have legal nuclear weapons capability.

Lastly we saw a statement that most people understand that the Middle East is different from the other regions. Other than avoiding the question of exactly what is the difference, this is also similar to what I've written earlier. Why is the Western Pacific more similar to South America than either is to the Middle East, so that Japan and Brazil can have legal nuclear weapons capability but Iran can't?

Well, most of the 400 million people in the greater Middle East disagree with the United States and with most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments about the legitimacy of Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state.

The enforced Jewish political majority state in Israel is seen as an injustice in its region just as the enforced White political majority state in South Africa was seen as an injustice in Africa. If the rest of the region is strong, such a state is not viable. Most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments are ultimately motivated by the idea that Israel cannot be allowed to become non-viable.

Because of that, it is important to the West that the US have a particular freedom to launch provocative measures against Iran in a way that does not have an analog in other regions.

That's pretty much what is driving the dispute between the US and Iran over its nuclear issue. You can read some words by Western analysts themselves over at armscontrolwonk.


George Carty said...

I think this article from Indigo Jo Blogs sums up people like you nicely...

Arnold Evans said...

No it doesn't.

Lidia said...

Ha, I am not going to take seriously the person who supports the colonization of Bosnia and Kosovo. Kosovo, for Pete sake! Does he has an interest in body-parts trade? 
Such persons are no more of authority to me then ones who believe (or say they believe) in USA benign role in Vietnam, for ex. 

George Carty said...

South Koreans are far more important than Iraqis to the US economically speaking.  South Korea is a major player in the world's electronics industry (and dominates shipbuilding) and thus contains lots of valuable human capital.  Iraq though has little to offer beyond the raw natural resource of oil, which isn't dependent on the people of the area.

Lidia said...

Given the majority of South Koreans do NOT want war with NK, and USA still prod SK to provocations and such against NK, it is clear that the matter is NOT "as if" but "how it is". USA would not give a damn to ruin SK if it would help USA to counter China growing regional and global influence. 

Of course, one could say that Iraqis counts for even less than South Koreans for USA. Say, 1000000 death Iraqis is NOT of concern at all for USA, but 1000 000 of South Koreans dead could be a bit of problem.

Lidia said...

1) in 1950th SK was a nation under attack by USA 
2) NOW SK is a puppet of USA, all fancy words meaning nothing. Even regarding such trivial matters as beef imports SK rulers could not be independent
3) If NK is so pitiful, why SK still forbid and persecute anyone who dare to say something nice about it?

4) My opinion about USA imperialism is based on such trifles as history and modern day matters. To call it names is not so much of argument :) 

Lidia said...

1) Neturei Karta as a matter of fact are  100% religious Jews and if Zionist Jews are against them, they do it NOT because NK is not legitimate religiously, but because of politics. Anyway, NK is NOT only religious Jews-anti-Zionists.

2)IM, on the other hand, has NO Islamic  credibility whatsoever. As far as I know no one but her white masters sees her as a Muslim. She is but a tool of colonialism, while NK are exactly against Jewish colonialism on strictly religious ground. 

Lidia said...

ALLIED civilians? Are you kidding? Do you know how many such ALLIED civilians USA army murdered during their war against Korea? 

see here, for ex.

George Carty said...

In the 1950s South Korea was pretty much a pure US puppet state, with less nationalist legitimacy than North Korea (because many South Korean government officials had earlier collaborated with the Japs).

That doesn't have any bearing on the present situation (in which South Korea is a fully First World democracy while North Korea is a starving wreck of a nation), your knee-jerk anti-Americanism notwithstanding.

Arnold Evans said...

So this means we're never going to see a link to the statements you claimed Iran made? Those statements were just a fantasy you concocted?

Arnold Evans said...

I'm not saying allied civilians are exactly nothing in US calculations, just far far below a much smaller number of US personnel.

Shiite Iraqis are in a way allies of the US in Iraq.  How many of them have to die a month to have the same impact on US political calculations as 200 US soldiers a month?

Now Shiite Iraqis are Muslim and the US is more hostile against them than South Koreans, but by US political or military calculations, I'd say 1000 US troops easily outweigh 1 million South Korean civilians.

Lidia said...

Of course, Arnold, you should not tell us that you are not a bigot or a rude person. 

And, of course, when I, for ex, mentioned to another blogger that to call bombing Iran "unproductive" does not show too much human feelings regarding millions of Iranians, she was very upset.

Arnold Evans said...

One good result from the armscontrolwonk thread is that I was pointed in the direction of this article:

"I don't think Japan needs to possess nuclear weapons, but it's important to maintain our commercial reactors because it would allow us to produce a nuclear warhead in a short amount of time," former Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba told the conservative periodical Sapio in recently published remarks.

"It's a tacit nuclear deterrent," said Ishiba, now a prominent legislator. His statements echoed comments he made in August as policy director for Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, which held power for decades prior to its electoral defeat in 2009.


"We have absolutely no plans to change the existing policy based on the three non-nuclear principles, so that's the way we'll deal with things going forward," Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said in September.

Japan's atomic fuel reprocessing capability could generate fissile material for nuclear weapons, according to specialists.

The nation at the end of last year possessed 30.1 tons of plutonium, the governmental Cabinet Office indicated in a Sept. 20 statement to the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission. Thirty tons of nonmilitary plutonium could provide material for as many as 3,000 bombs, according to figures identified by scientist Richard Garwin in a 1998 Council on Foreign Relations report.

In addition, experts said Japan has produced systems that could have warhead-carrying applications. Security specialists said the country's Hayabusa satellite, which came back to Earth in summer 2010 after touching down on an asteroid, employs late-flight-phase components like those used to control ballistic missiles.

"That's the behind-the-scenes reason Japan decided to develop Hayabusa," said Toshiyuki Shikata, a former lieutenant general in Japan's armed forces. "It sent a quiet message that Japan's ballistic missile capability is credible."

This position: "we have absolutely no plans" is accompanied by the tacit position that we hope others have absolutely no plans to attack Tokyo or to otherwise provoke us.

It is a perfectly legal position and one I wish the United States would move to.  Instead the US is both killing people and threatening to kill more people to prevent Iran from attaining that position and also lying about the Western position regarding legal nuclear weapons capability for Iran and the reasons behind that position.

George Carty said...

I thought that the real deterrent to a US attack on North Korea is the fact that it would almost certainly result in the deaths of tens of millions of South Korean civilians.

Pirouz68 said...

My friend Pirouz;
It seems that you and I once again ended up commenting on the same blog! :)
I posted several comments on Arnold's blog previously, under the name of "Pirouz". I am very happy to see you here, and just to avoid confusion I will switch to the same name I use on RFI (ie. pirouz_2)

Arnold Evans said...

I think the comment this post was based on and some others have been de-published, retroactively censored, over there.

No real grounds, just things they weren't comfortable reading.

QuantumVerp said...

Arnold, as you said, "Westerners who have thought about the issues more and consider themselves experts often present a slightly more refined version of this, but ultimately more similar than different."

Perhaps it is because the public relations department of Iran has done such a fowl job of making their 'love' clear. Maybe they will earn at least a footnote in history saying, 'they were misunderstood'. Good luck.

George Carty said...

I hope you're not paying too much attention to Neturei Karta -- they're an extreme fringe even by the standards of non-Zionist Jews, and have about as much credibility in the Jewish community as Irshad Manji or Abdul-Hadi Palazzi do in the Muslim community.

George Carty said...

I disagree - remember that I'm talking about ALLIED civilians in South Korea here, not about ENEMY civilians (in which case I'd be more likely to agree with you...)

Arnold Evans said...

It looks like I'm banned from commenting at ArmsControlWonk. 

I want to note that I at no point made any personal attack on anyone, at no point expressed bigotry against any person or group. At all times discussed either what I believe is the central issue of the Western dispute with Iran over its nuclear program or directly addressed responses directed to me.

I think Masoud over at put it well:

To anyone following that thread, it’s obvious that Arnold was censored purely for winning a debate that Jeffery had consciously approved to take place, as long as it looked like Arnold was going to lose. I hereby nominate Jeffery Lewis for the Juan Cole Medal For Excellence In Blogging.

Arnold Evans said...

A very, or at least relatively small number of deaths of US soldiers or official personnel has a much greater impact on US policy calculations than a huge number of non-US civilians.

The only way, in my opinion, threats to South Korean civilians are a deterrent to the US is indirectly, in that they may tell the US military to leave and the US embassy and US-aligned politicians might not be able to prevent that.

So I agree with Hack's focus on the threat to US personnel.

Lidia said...

usual Zionist smear. Ahmadinejad has excellent relationship with NON-Zionist Jews - inside and outside of Iran. 

Ahmadinejad also NEVER threatened anyone with bombing.

USA/Israel, on the other hand, not only threaten but BOMB! 

I am a Jew and I fear NOTHING from Ahmadinejad, even though, as an atheist, I like him less than all anti-Zionists rabbis they often pay him visits :)

Arnold Evans said...

We agree more than we disagree.

Arnold Evans said...

One of these days I'll check.  Several of my posts have been removed from the discussion.  Obviously I hit a sore nerve.  Armscontrolwonk isn't proud of the position they hold regarding nuclear capability for Iran and don't want to try to justify it.

Arnold Evans said...

If you have a link, let's see it.

richardstevenhack said...

As I see over at raceforiran, it didn't take long for Eric to drift back to his "Iran shouldn't try to bamboozle the US" tactic in order to argue that Iran should just give up the farm.

I thought we were past that point, apparently not.

I will re-iterate that my position is the opposite of the Leveretts. That Iran has never stated nor has Iran ever done ANYTHING to attempt to convince the West or anyone else that they intend to have the capability of making nuclear weapons now or at any time in the future.

The reality is that mastery of the fuel cycle - as well as other "enabling technologies - gives Iran that capability.

I DO think that Iran's military and IRGC HAS spent time accumulating the information to construct a nuclear weapon. As I've repeatedly stated over and over, this is something that ANY nation's military threatened by a nuclear armed geopolitical adversary would do as "due diligence".

As I've also said over and over again, if there is ANY evidence that Iran EVER had a nuclear weapons program, it is likely that it was purely a "nuclear weapons database program", NOT a "nuclear weapons development and deployment program."

This in fact was the conclusion of the DIA in the run up to the 2011 NIE. They concluded that the only reason Iran ever had a "paper studies" program was because they were concerned that Iraq might have a program. Once the US destroyed Iraq in 2003, that program was quite logically stopped because Iraq could no longer have such a program, therefore Iran didn't need one.

The interesting thing about this conclusion is that Iran was never concerned about either Israel or the US in terms of justification for such a program, but only its next door neighbor. This is because, again as I've emphasized over and over, Iran knows perfectly well that nuclear weapons would be nearly useless to them in strategic, tactical and geopolitical terms, doing nothing but complicating their regional geopolitical ambitions.

People continue to insist that if Iran had the ability to build nuclear weapons "quickly" - whatever that means - it would be advantageous to have that knowledge.

This is completely bogus. Iran is not Japan. Japan has stated directly that it has the industrial and nuclear resources to build "thousands" of nuclear weapons within a short time fram (without specifying that time frame.) Iran on the other hand could, even in terms of ten years down the road, probably only be able to build a number of weapons on a par with North  Korea, i.e. a half dozen or so.

Those weapons would have to be tested. Iran would have to withdraw from the NPT and kick out the IAEA. There would be literally weeks, months or even years for adversaries to prosecute whatever alleged reason Iran might have for starting production. It certainly would be useless against ANY IMMINENT invasion, air attack, or nuclear threat from, say, Pakistan.

Iran is not stupid. Iran knows all this. "Due diligence" in acquiring the knowledge to build a nuclear weapon does NOT translate into an intent to deploy now or at any time in the future.

It is not impossible that Iran might, after surviving either a US ground invasion or an Israeli nuclear attack, might well decide to reverse course on its stated grounds for not acquiring nuclear weapons. But that is the most extreme possibility and would still require Iran to produce some logical argument indicating how such weapons could prevent further aggression.

One final point: North Korea. As I have again stated over and over, the US is not prevented from attacking North Korea by its minimal (and apparently unsuccessfully tested) nuclear weapons arsenal. It is NK's massive (if aging) conventional military, which according to Pentagon war games is capable of inflicting fifty thousand US casualties within ninety days, that is the deterrent to US aggression there.

And Iran has nothing comparable to North Korea in conventional terms.

Pirouz_2 said...

Can you still post on Arms control wonk, or have you been banned?
I saw a comment by Jeffery Lewis mentioning that they needed a break from you.

QuantumVerp said...

So now you're going to tell me when Amideenijad [sic] speaks, the captions below him are falsified and indeed, He is a lover of mankind, including the jewish?

QuantumVerp said...

Why? Because when you walk into the 'gun store' and request the 'biggest gun you got!' and then commence to spoutin' off about the group of people you're going to kill... the gun store owner, being a business man, who knows being alive on this planet is a prerequisite to having a gun store, takes the only path that makes sense and says, 'No.' 

And if you persist, He says "No!". (No with an exclamation point is war.)

Pirouz said...

And I can't say with certainty but I suspect the real reason Professor Geoffrey Forden left ACW was due to his applauding Iran's aerospace achievement of successfully launching a satellite into LEO.

Pirouz said...

Not surprising. Jeffrey's professional career could potentially take a hit for anything perceived as anti-Zionist. That's a fact of life here in the West, Arnold.

Lidia said...

Why? because we are in 2011, not 1911, Arnold. Because the notion that some "race" is more deserving is out of style (only words, of course, but still)

If you are interested there is my exchange with one more proponent of Iran being dangerous no matter what

Arnold Evans said...

I am quite bored of that blog already. Romer may well delete the last post I left there, in response to the claim that I smear people at armscontrolwonk. I'll put it here anyway:

Smear? Seriously?

Which sentence or statement read to you like a smear?

Also which issue did I not argue?

You do know that the Additional Protocol, by its terms, comes into force when it is ratified, correct? And that it was not ratified by Iran, correct? So that it is not in force or legally binding on Iran, right?

Japan has ratified the AP, and that document is legally binding on Japan. You are aware that, despite that, Japanese politicians claim they could make thousands of nuclear weapons in months, right? The Japanese politicians who say this are right according to every expert I've come across who has examined that issue.

So the question is, can Iran reach that same state of capabilities Japan has reached, legally, and if not, why not.

I have no interest in smearing you or anyone else, but if you think Iran should not be able to reach the state Japan has reached, I would expect there to be some reason.

Deleting comments honestly strikes me as very cowardly.  Even if I don't have a response to something you write, I won't pretend you didn't write it.

But do as you will.  This comment and a link to this post will be in my comments section, so that if you do delete it there'll be a record.

Pirouz said...

Good post, Arnold. I'd been reading your comments over at ACW. Was surprised Jeffrey didn't censor you, and that other commenters actually entertained and applauded the discussion. In the past, such "political" considerations were not tolerated. But then, this dispute IS political.

That's a fitting term: "legal nuclear weapons capability".

Arnold Evans said...

It’s interesting that Western analysts can’t just say:

“We don’t want any other nation in Israel’s region to have nuclear
capabilities that are otherwise legal. We understand that this is not
consistent with the NPT, but so what? Israel is more important.”

And then at least come from an honest position and debate from there.

Why this blizzard of lies and misleading redefinitions and forged documents?

The Barack Obama administration should just state its position advocate it like adults.

Arnold Evans said...

Do you have a link to Iran doing this:

"you walk into the 'gun store' and request the 'biggest gun you got!' and then commence to spoutin' off about the group of people you're going to kill"?

This weird fantasy in your head seems typical of most casual westerners, just making something up with no relation at all to reality. Westerners who have thought about the issues more and consider themselves experts often present a slightly more refined version of this, but ultimately more similar than different.

But I'm glad you posted, because it is important for the thought process of people like you to be publicly visible.

Lidia said...

Ha, Arnold, your comment is still there, but she all but admitted that she (and others like her) just could NOT beat your arguments :) So she shuts the trend up. Very mature.

When she does not have arguments (because there is not any) she just accuse you (or me) of "smearing" :( 

I see that you are turned to be a real expert in such questions, but even my very basic questions - like "what sort of "evidence" is "unnamed diplomat citing "son-of-law""? - she still cannot answer.

But, alas, such matters still are decided not by facts and morality, but by might. Let us wait and see.