The developing crisis over Iran’s nuclear program is mostly unappreciated in this country. And yet that crisis could lead to a nuclear holocaust that could immediately affect not only Iran, but Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and even China. At least some of the Philippines’ 1.5 million Overseas Workers would also be affected.
The primary danger is the United States’ or Israel’s attacking Iran either separately, together, or in concert with whatever other countries the US can intimidate or bribe into participation. With its forces bogged down in a long war in Iraq, the US is not likely to send in ground forces to overthrow the Iranian government and occupy Iran. It will instead attack Iran with nuclear weapons for a quick and decisive victory that would leave the country in shambles and overthrow or kill its current rulers.
US military spokesmen have repeatedly claimed that these weapons would be used only against military targets. They are also far less powerful than the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. What’s more, they can be delivered with such pinpoint accuracy as to cause practically no harm to non-combatants.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki themselves were described as purely military targets by the US. The bombs nevertheless caused some 400,000 direct, mostly civilian casualties.
The bone of contention over Iran is that country’s nuclear program, which it insists is devoted solely to the peaceful uses the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allows. But the United States and most European countries including France and Germany claim it’s meant to produce nuclear weapons, and that Iran is in violation of the NPT to which Iran is a signatory.
It goes without saying that the British government is part of the European chorus, which favors “engagement” with Iran through diplomacy and negotiations. The United States, however, favors the “isolation” of Iran through a UN Security Council (SC) mandate legitimizing a primarily US attack on Iran.
Such a mandate is at the moment unlikely. The UN’s own International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not found any evidence that Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons. What’s more, China, a permanent member of the Security Council, is likely to veto any SC mandate to attack Iran.
But with or without UN sanction the US and its ally, Israel, have been discussing an attack on Iran since last year. Like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel, and what’s more, is accused of harboring terrorists and sponsoring terrorism. Prior to the war on Iraq, US President George W. Bush labeled Iran part of the “axis of evil” threatening the world, together with Iraq and North Korea.
A US attack can be premised on the idea that while Iran may not have nuclear weapons, it can have them within a few years—which would be grounds enough for a US pre-emptive strike.
But while anti-terrorism is the excuse for US hostility, the real reason as in Iraq are the oceans of oil and natural gas Iran is practically afloat on. In US and Israeli government circles, the necessity for an attack on Iran is thus a given for both the stated (anti-terrorism and global security) as well as the real (US dominance and control over resources) reasons.
The conservative newspaper the Washington Times reported last January, for example, that the consensus among US military and Israeli planners is that it is the United States more than Israel that could inflict the most damage on “Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.” They’re not debating whether Iran indeed has such a program. What they’re debating is who can best destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The nuclear facilities do exist, but the IAEIA has found no evidence they’re producing or intend to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has allowed IAEA inspections it describes as “intrusive” since 2003 under the terms of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. It is enriching uranium, but well below weapons grade levels. Iran insists that it is entitled to the use of atomic energy for peaceful uses and that what the US and Europe are demanding is that it deny itself the technology’s advantages.
Given at least the possibility that Iran may indeed not be engaged in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, it seems reasonable to continue diplomatic contacts and negotiations with its government. The US, however, has persisted, despite IAEA doubts, in its claim that Iran is a threat to US and world security and must be attacked before it can manufacture and use those weapons.
Never mind that in Iran as in Iraq those weapons may not exist. Since 2002 the US has claimed the right to use force against countries that may have or are likely to have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), whether nuclear, chemical or biological. Together with this (Bush) doctrine of pre-emption, the US defense and military establishment has also adopted a policy allowing commanders to request presidential approval for the use of tactical nuclear weapons against countries or terrorist groups they presume have WMDs.
The use of nuclear bombs, with its promise of instant devastation and military success, and with no one capable of retaliating, could be too tempting to resist. Given the US military’s deliberate and misleading downplaying of these weapons’ impact on the civilian population, it would not be too much of a burden on US commanders’ consciences either.
In the case of Iran, the US military would most probably use nuclear bombs to destroy facilities it claims are buried underground, and to cripple Iranian military capability. Prevailing winds would spread the resulting radioactive fallout west of Iran to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and even parts of China. The fallout may not kill immediately, but will kill millions over the long-term. Anyone who thinks the United States government would care enough to rethink its plans given this potential horror is living in another planet.