Obama Threatens Iran with Nukes
In readjusting U.S. policy on when to launch a nuclear strike, President Barack Obama has repudiated the use of nukes against non-nuclear states with the exception of Iran, which he termed an “outlier” along with North Korea.
However, since North Korea already possesses at least a limited nuclear arsenal, Obama’s exception singles out Iran as the only non-nuclear-weapons state that faces a threatened nuclear attack from the United States.
“The Nuclear Posture Review states very clearly, if you are a non-nuclear weapons state that is compliant with the NPT [Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty], you have a negative assurance we will not be using nuclear weapons against you,” Obama told the New York Times on Monday, outlining his changes in American policy toward the use of nuclear weapons.
Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has vowed to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only, but has not complied with some punitive resolutions that the United States has pushed through the United Nations Security Council. Iran also is in apparent technical violation of some requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
For instance, Iran has been criticized for failing to disclose a planned enrichment site near Qum before construction began. Iran revealed the site last September, arguing that the disclosure was adequate since the plant was not operational, but the delay appeared to fall short of the IAEA rules.
Thus, In Obama's view, Iran is not "compliant" and can still be targeted for nuclear annihilation by the United States.
What is perhaps even more extraordinary about Obama’s comments – and the nonchalant response from the U.S. news media – is that the President appears to be exploiting technical disputes to overturn a broader principle that nuclear states should not threaten non-nuclear states with nuclear destruction.
One of the reasons for that principle -- beyond simple human decency -- is to reduce the incentive of non-nuclear countries to secretly develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent against such threats.
Yet, apparently wanting to look tough on Iran, Obama created this loophole by inserting the “compliant” language in the Nuclear Posture Review. All that would be required for the United States to threaten to nuke a non-nuclear state would be to catch it in some alleged technical violation of the NPT.
And such trickery is not hard to imagine. President George W. Bush exploited claims about Iraq’s non-existent WMDs to justify invading in 2003.
The mainstream U.S. press corps also can be counted on to exaggerate some ambiguous situation – whether aluminum tubes going to Iraq or Iran’s delay in telling the IAEA about construction of an enrichment facility – as a casus belli.
Arguably, Obama’s comments to the New York Times – and the language in the Nuclear Posture Review – could even be viewed as ratcheting up the threats against Iran by making clear that past vague language from the Bush administration, saying “all options are on the table,” did include a possible nuclear strike.
Before Obama’s interview, that was an implicit understanding, now it is explicit.
Building a Case for Nukes
The 72-page Nuclear Posture Review, which was unveiled by the Pentagon on Tuesday, states that the “negative assurance” from the United States refraining from launching nuclear strikes against non-nuclear-weapons states only applies to countries acting in compliance with the NPT. But the document does seek to soften the threatening implications slightly by adding:
“That does not mean that our willingness to use nuclear weapons against countries not covered by the new assurance has in any way increased. Indeed, the United States wishes to stress that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.”
Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about the nuclear warning to Iran is that Iran is on the opposite side of the world, has a relatively weak military, and has made no direct threats against the United States.
U.S.-Iranian relations have surely been strained for the past three decades, from the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979 through the anti-American rhetoric of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but Iran does not pose any strategic threat to direct U.S. interests.
The only plausible scenario for the United States engaging in a war with Iran would be if Israel conducted a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear and military facilities, with Iran retaliating against Israel possibly with chemical or other exotic weapons. The United States might then step in to destroy Iran’s military capabilities and to eliminate any remaining nuclear sites.
In other words, the United States would be acting as part of an offensive alliance with Israel in an aggressive war against Iran. That Obama would consider escalating such a conflict into a nuclear assault on an essentially defenseless nation represents one of the more stunning examples of nuclear brinkmanship, not the reasonable narrowing of nuclear threats that is being touted by the U.S.news media.
So, Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review may not be as much of a break from President Bush’s more belligerent approach as advertised. After all, Obama retained Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, who has been a hardliner on nuclear policy since his CIA days in the 1980s and who underlined the nuclear warning against Iran on Tuesday.
"There is a message for Iran and North Korea here," Gates told reporters. "If you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you."
Though Iran stands out in the Nuclear Posture Review as the only non-nuclear state that is now facing nuclear threats from the United States, an objective reading of the document might more reasonably apply to Israel and two other rogue nuclear-weapons states, Pakistan and India. Those three nations have refused to sign the NPT and actually did develop nuclear bombs in secret.
However, all three are U.S. allies. So, in the hypocritical world of big-power politics, they get a pass, their transgressions not even mentioned in the Nuclear Posture Review, even as it repeatedly references the alleged proliferation threats from North Korea and Iran.
“In pursuit of their nuclear ambitions, North Korea and Iran have violated non-proliferation obligations, defied directives of the United Nations Security Council, pursued missile delivery capabilities, and resisted international efforts to resolve through diplomatic means the crises they have created,” the Nuclear Posture Review says, adding:
“Their illicit supply of arms and sensitive material and technologies has heightened global proliferation risks and regional tensions. Their provocative behavior has increased instability in their regions.”
Typical of the selective outrage in these U.S. government reports, no mention is made of Pakistan, which not only developed an atomic bomb with the acquiescence of the Reagan administration but served as a leading proliferator of nuclear technology. Pakistan’s nukes are also the ones most likely to fall into the hands of terrorists.
Yet, without even mentioning the three rogue nuclear states of Israel, India and Pakistan, the Obama administration hammered away at non-nuclear Iran – along with North Korea – as the chief culprit.
“The potential for regional aggression by these states raises challenges not only of deterrence, but also of reassuring U.S. allies and partners,” the Nuclear Posture Review says. “Some U.S. allies are increasingly anxious about changes in the security environment, including nuclear and missile proliferation, and desire reassurance that the United States will remain committed to their security.
“A failure of reassurance could lead to a decision by one or more non-nuclear states to seek nuclear deterrents of their own, an outcome which could contribute to an unraveling of the NPT regime and to a greater likelihood of nuclear weapon use.”
However, in addressing that concern, the Obama administration ignores the most positive option, i.e. seeking a denuclearized Middle East (presumably because to push that goal would require speaking the unspeakable, admitting that Israel has nuclear weapons, a fact that no U.S. President has ever dared acknowledge publicly).
Instead, Obama has chosen to brandish nuclear weapons in the face of Iran, a country that has just been given an added incentive to build its own.