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May 21, 2024

Time to give the Iran issue a closer look

By STEFAN KAY | February 15, 2012

The Iran issue appears destined to take a particularly troubling route. After President Obama and EU policymakers labeled their negotiations "unyielding," the international community, backed by the UN, adopted a series of harsh sanctions aimed at dilapidating the Islamic Republic. It is difficult to excoriate the relentless attempts of certain politicians to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Military options, although not openly being pursued, are by all means on the table. However, before embarking on a policy that looks all too similar to nightmarish wars of the recent past, it is imperative that the facts and implications be given a closer look.
Let us first examine the possibility of a scenario few find likely: the possibility that Iran is actually not in pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Understandably, a decent majority of those who hear that argument cringe, but then again, a decent majority cringed when they heard that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction in 2003. That by itself warrants that this unlikely scenario be taken into fair consideration. The serious suspicions are based on Iran's unwillingness to allow inspectors past certain points and the magnitude of the Iranian nuclear program. While both of these points have justifiably triggered a particular conclusion about the nuclear program, examination of both is necessary.
First, the fact that Iran is unwilling to permit a full investigation of its nuclear facilities is a setback that has more to do with the structure of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) itself, than with the Iranian government. The IAEA does not have legal jurisdiction to monitor nuclear facilities to the extent needed to fulfill its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) mandate. This subtlety is crucial because it indicates that there is no concrete evidence politicians cite when referencing Iran's nuclear weapons development program (much like the case with Iraq in 2003). It also brings light to the fact that the restrictions facing the IAEA inspectors are not unique to their missions in Iran. In fact, every other member of the NPT that has been subjected to these types of investigations has limited the inspectors just as much if not more than the Iranians have. If the limitations on the inspectors are indications of a nuclear weapons program, then by that logic every country the IAEA has ever inspected is in pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Second, the mere magnitude of Iran's nuclear development program is a poor criterion on which a politician should base his certainty. It is inarguably a ground for concern, but the international community should have much more to rely on before cutting Iran off from the rest of the world (let alone wage a war). Furthermore, as with the restrictions on IAEA inspectors, Iran is by no means the only country with an alarmingly disproportionate nuclear program.
Let us now consider the more likely scenario: Iran is preparing itself for a future that may involve nuclear weapons. The world should be paying very close attention, but the unforgiving punishments and outlandish assumptions demand severe reevaluation.
The punishments, first of all, are offensively partial. The United Nations, an organization founded on the principles of rights and fairness among all member states has commended destructive sanctions against Iran for suspicion of a violation that has been met with no action in the past. Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and possibly other states are known by the United Nations and the whole world to have unauthorized stockpiles of nuclear weapons. All of these states signed the NPT (with the exception of North Korea), blatantly violated it and never faced the same crippling sanctions or threats of attack that Iran has (North Korea is again an exception).
Additionally, while the aforementioned nations already have alarming nuclear weapons stockpiles, Iran is suspected of potentially preparing for a nuclear option in the future. Not only is their suspected offense laughably less severe, but it is also, according to the NPT and the IAEA, not an actual offense. The IAEA explicitly indicates that there is nothing illegal about having a nuclear weapons capability, which Japan, Argentina, Brazil and a handful of other non-nuclear weapon countries do have. With that, the punishments are not only unjustly targeted, but they also have little legal basis.
The assumptions that pundits, newsgroups and politicians have been making also deserve serious scrutiny. The most notable inference that politicians make is that Iran, if allowed to succeed in the development of a nuclear weapon, will use it against Israel. Politicians evidence this assertion by 'quoting' an Ahmadinejad speech in which he ostensibly said, "Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth." But this statement is often misquoted because of an erroneous translation. Ahmadinejad made reference to the importance of fighting the oppressors to Palestinian freedom, but he made no direct comment about physically destroying Israel. The expression 'wipe off the map' is an English one and does not exist in Persian.
Some still remain puzzled, though: If Iran is in fact seeking a possible nuclear weapons option for reasons other than to attack Israel, what could they be? Although a tragically small number of politicians recognize it to be so, Iran does have some rational incentives for a nuclear weapons option. The geographic situation of the Islamic Republic in itself gives us a pretty good idea. A pool of nations that have a vast array of nuclear weapons surround Iran. Israel, probably their primary concern, is just to the west and has a huge number of unauthorized nuclear weapons. Pakistan and India, two nations also known to have nuclear weapons, are just southeast of Iran's border. Russia, officially in possession of more nuclear weapons than any other country on earth, is only separated from Iran by Azerbaijan. And finally, China lies relatively close to Iran's northeastern border with Afghanistan. Not only does China have nuclear weapons, but also given that politicians in the United States are threatened by China's growing military prowess, Iran probably has reason to worry too.
Although one could make the argument that Iran is justified in pursuing a nuclear weapon, a nuclear Iran is certainly undesirable. Unfortunately, the international community's radical response has completely closed it off from diplomacy with Iran, which means that it has likewise closed itself off from any intelligence concerning the nuclear developments. We consequently resort to often destructively outlandish presumptions about the nature of Iran's nuclear program, which makes it that much harder for the international community to accurately calculate its actions.
The accomplishments have been an angrier Iran, which ironically only increases the chances of them using nuclear weapons erratically. The sanctions have done little outside of setting the stage for war, which is becoming ever more likely every day. If the U.S. and the EU want to avoid a war that will cause more harm than good, they need to take a much closer look at the facts and implications regarding the Iran issue.


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