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Getting Things Straight About the Iran Deal

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Paul Shannon's Guest Column in the Cambridge Chronicle, September 18, 2015


Lately debate on the Iran agreement has been reverberating in Washington and the national media. A few basic questions about the deal may help clarify just what’s at stake.

First, what is the alternative? Clearly the alternative to this agreement with Iran that many in the U.S. and their allies in the Middle East want is an attack on Iran. But what does a war with Iran mean? The United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s former director, Gen. Mohamad ElBaradei, made it very clear what a military strike on Iran would mean: “A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse than anything possible. It would turn the region into a fireball.”

So what danger does Iran pose that is so great as to require scuttling this negotiated deal and risking instead turning the Middle East into a fireball? To prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb?

Well, who is it that poses a nuclear threat? According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Pakistan has about 40 nuclear bombs, Russia has 16,000, Israel has about 100, the U.S. has 10,000, China maybe 100, India 50, France 350, England 200 and North Korea, two. Iran has none, is not on the verge of developing one, and would be prevented from developing one by this treaty.

In addition, the U.S. plans to spend a trillion dollars over the next decades modernizing its nuclear weapons so they will be more useable. Russia and several other nuclear powers are doing the same. So the threat of nuclear war will be increasing. But none of that increased danger will come from Iran.

So, who has nuclear weapons, is modernizing them, and is prepared to actually use them? Not Iran. Way back in 1995, 78 countries from the UN General Assembly asked the International Criminal Court of Justice to provide a judgment about the illegality of nuclear weapons. In response, the United States filed a formal statement defending the legality of nuclear weapons; arguing that owning nuclear weapons is not illegal; arguing that threatening to use nuclear weapons was not illegal; arguing that using nuclear weapons was not illegal; and arguing that using nuclear weapons first was not illegal.

Later, in 2002, during the last Bush administration, a classified nuclear posture review sent to Congress indicated the Pentagon was developing contingency plans for using nuclear weapons against countries like Iraq that we said were developing weapons of mass destruction. The Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe reported that the Pentagon was preparing nuclear contingency plans against seven countries — China, Russia, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

And who has violated agreements to get rid of all its nuclear weapons? Not Iran.

In the 1970s the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty called on the United States, Russia, China, England and France to take immediate steps toward full nuclear disarmament. The U.N.’s chief on atomic energy would state in later years that the time is long overdue to “abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue nuclear weapons but morally acceptable for others to rely on them.”

Later, in 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that nuclear weapons are illegal and that, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” Those illegal nuclear weapons still exist, but Iran does not have, and will not have, any of them.

In short, U.S., Israeli, Russian and others’ nuclear weapons exist. Iran’s don’t. U.S. nuclear weapons number in the thousands, many of them are off Iran’s coast. Iran’s count is zero. U.S. weapons are allegedly compatible with international law. Iran’s non-existent nuclear bomb is allegedly illegal.

This hypocrisy lies at the root of the opposition to this Iran deal. Opposing this agreement makes no rational sense, but does make sense if you want to go to war with Iran, possibly at the cost of turning the region into a fireball and opening the gates of hell.

Paul Shannon works for the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge.