June 21, 2006

Nuclear Technology and Nuclear Weapons

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006   No comments

Politics of nuclear arms issue complex

This week's Q&A is with Dr. A. E. Souaiaia. He is a professor of Modern Religious Thought at the University of Iowa. He teaches and researches on the subjects of Islamic ethics and moral philosophy, Islamic law, human rights, and religion and politics.

Q: Approximately how many countries in the world have nuclear weapons, or have the capabilities of creating nuclear weapons right now?

A: In terms of actual possession of nuclear weapons, we know of seven states. These states have declared that they have actually test-exploded nuclear weapons. The first country that acquired such weapons was the United States of America. Soon after, the Soviet Union also declared itself a nuclear power.

Three other states (the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China) successfully exploded nuclear weapons and have built a huge arsenal of such weapons. In order to limit the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction, an international treaty known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was proposed by Ireland in 1968. About 188 countries have ratified this treaty.

However, India and Pakistan, two countries with a significant arsenal of nuclear weapons remain non-signatory states. Israel, which continues to neither confirm nor deny its possession of these weapons is strongly believed to have more than 100 nuclear weapons in its inventory and also is not party to the NPT.

Most recently, North Korea has declared itself to possess nuclear weapons. South Africa was reported to have had at least six nuclear weapons but was forced to give them up after the fall of the apartheid regime in the 1990s. Also, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, only Russia was allowed to keep nuclear weapons but Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan gave them up. It is worth noting that the latter originally inherited more than 1,400 nuclear weapons but returned them to Russia in 1995.

Q: Why are the U.S. and U.N. so adamantly opposed to Iran's nuclear program when we have one, and other U.N. countries do as well?

A: If we look at the issue from the point of view of other countries from around the world, especially countries of the Muslim world, the matter is generally reported as a confrontation between the U.S. (and its Western allies) and Iran. The U.N. is only involved in as much as it is made involved by requests initiated by the U.S. and its allies. Given that the Security Council is dominated by Western states, issues of concern to the West tend to jump to the top of the agenda. That is the extent of the U.N. involvement. Arab and Islamic media for instance cover this issue as a "confrontation between Iran and the West". So whatever reasons or fears the U.S. and some European states have concerning the Iranian nuclear program, these countries have clearly failed to communicate those fears and concerns, convincingly, to the rest of the world community. Proof of this failure is Russia and China's resistance to any meaningful measures proposed by the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany. You are absolutely right when you point out that all these Western states have nuclear weapons and what they are saying is that Iran cannot have a nuclear program. There is no consistent position on why Iran now cannot have a nuclear program especially when we consider the fact that some of these same Western nations were building the first Iranian nuclear plant during the time the Shah. It would appear as if some regimes could have weapons if they are friendly to the West, but if a regime is not, then it has no right. There is a lack of a principled approach to a very serious problem.

Q: If the U.S. decides to use military force in Iran in an attempt to shut down its nuclear facilities, do you think it would inevitably lead to another long and drawn out conflict? Would it be more complex than the war in Iraq?

A: What we have learned from the invasion of Iraq is that even a weak regime and unpopular regime, such as that of Saddam, will not necessarily galvanize the citizens of the country to welcome change that is imposed militarily by foreign countries. Furthermore, intelligence assessments have concluded that the Iranian regime is more stable than that of Saddam. The elections in Iraq under the watch of the U.S. produced conservative governments every time, which indicates the level of support for the religious leaders. Additionally, there is no absolute proof that a free and transparent election in Iran after an attack would necessarily bring secular pro-West figures to governance. Anyone having doubt about that should think of the embarrassing performance of pro-Western Iraqi figures such as Ahmed Chalebi, who failed to win a single seat in this parliament. Clearly, Shi'ite Muslims have a different view of political and religious leadership and the West needs to come to terms with that reality. Add to that the fact that Iran is clearly more capable, militarily, than Saddam's regime was, and it is abundantly clear that a military conflict with Iran will be more than drawn out, but devastating to the region and to the world.

Q: Is Iran and its nuclear program a legitimate threat to not only the U.S. but other countries as well? Is there a justified cause for alarm?

A: The West has failed to make the case that a nuclear Iran is more of a threat to the world than say Pakistan or India for example. In fact, all indicators show that Iran is in fact more stable and hence, more predictable than Pakistan. Firstly, Pakistan and India are still in a state of war and any one of them could use nuclear weapons. Secondly, if we were to compare Pakistan's and Iran's stability in the last 25 years, we will notice that Pakistan remains the least stable and unpredictable one. General Pervez Musharraf, for instance, came to power through a military coup. In the past 4 years there were numerous reports of attempted military coups to unseat him. He was the target of more than two assassination attempts. His popularity is low. At any given day, just as he came to power, someone else could replace him and blackmail the world with his nuclear capabilities. None of that can be said about Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, they have never started a war (the 8-year war with Iraq was started by Saddam), they never had a military coup, they have had more elections in 25 years than all the Arab states combined, and the regime seems to enjoy more public support than Pervez Musharraf or any other Arab leader for that matter.

What we know for sure is that the pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program altogether is turning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the most popular Iranian president ever. The Western approach that denies Iran any control over a significant nuclear program, peaceful or otherwise, is portrayed in Iran and the Muslim world as a denial of the fundamental right to technology to Muslims. In Iran, for instance, it has become a matter of national pride for Iranians to support the government on this issue.

What complicated the matter even further is that many around the world see a Western double standard when it comes to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. This perception is reinforced by the recent agreements between the U.S. administration and India in the area of nuclear programs. Not only is India a state of unsettled military conflict with its nuclear foe Pakistan, but India did not sign the NPT; which means that not only would India continue to expand its nuclear program, but it will do so without international checks. Yet at the same time, the West is asking Iran, who went beyond the terms of the NPT and signed on the additional protocols, to give up all rights to a nuclear program be it peaceful or otherwise.

Every country with nuclear weapons is a dangerous country. However, since science and technology can no longer be kept from reaching other countries, it is more practical to manage this problem of manufacturing and proliferation of destructive weapons wisely and consistently. War is never a wise solution. Hence, world peace can be better served by opening channels of communication and encouraging more countries to live within the legal framework. In other words, a nuclear Iran under the supervision of the IAEA is safer than an Iran under military threat and outside the treaty. In the meantime, the world community needs to work together to eliminate the logic of using such weapons, and the first step is for nuclear countries to stop declaring that they will use nuclear weapons to protect their interests. Such threats only re-enforce the misguided utility of horribly destructive and indiscriminate weapons.

Read Interview Transcript, courtesy of Iowa Press-Citizen


About Prof. SOUAIAIA

Islamic Societies Review Editors

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