Saturday, February 24, 2007

Atomic hypocrisy.

This story comes from Con Coughlin, so it must automatically be read cautiously. Nevertheless, I think it's interesting that Israel is trying to prepare the world for this possibility. Also interesting is the kind of relationship with the verities that Coughlin and most of his fellow reporters have. Coughlin, without the slightest bat of an eyelid, says:

As Iran continues to defy UN demands to stop producing material which could be used to build a nuclear bomb, Israel's military establishment is moving on to a war footing, with preparations now well under way for the Jewish state to launch air strikes against Teheran if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the crisis.

The pace of military planning in Israel has accelerated markedly since the start of this year after Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, provided a stark intelligence assessment that Iran, given the current rate of progress being made on its uranium enrichment programme, could have enough fissile material for a nuclear warhead by 2009.

It's simply taken for granted that the UN's role is to provide the US and its allies and subordinates with the means to discipline its rivals. If the fact that these "demands" are raised through the UN mattered, there are so many obviously related topics that one could mention, one of which is to ask what attitude members of the UN - even the power elite in the UNSC - would take to an attack on Iran by Israel. Others are too obvious to mention. Further, there is no question for Coughlin and people like him that nuclear Israel is entitled to bomb neighbouring states because Mossad says that they might be have enough fissile material to produce a bomb by 2009, or they are "producing material which could be used to build a nuclear bomb". No one with an ounce of sense would take Mossad's claims, however "stark", seriously. However, Coughlin attributes the latter claim to the UN, and as it happens the UN has not made this assertion. It is simple enough to know what the UN says, because its specialised atomic energy body, the IAEA has had inspectors crawling over Iran and is in a position to make quite specific indications about the state of Iran's energy programme. The first point is that the IAEA has repeatedly stressed that the material that Iran currently produces, after many failures, is not currently producing material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon. They are producing uranium enriched to 3.6% U-235, which as the IAEA has pointed out, is not exactly weapons-grade. Even if they began to enrich it further, they would need cascades of 3,000 centrifuges working day and night to even get sufficient materials ready. They presently have 164. There have been efforts to persuade the UN to say something different. US intelligence agencies have fed reports to the United Nations, but these have been swiftly discounted as groundless. The head of the IAEA has repeatedly indicated that there is no "imminent threat".

There happens to be an easy way to "resolve the crisis". The Iranian president happens to be have hit upon an entirely rational solution: those powers threatening Iran must also suspend their nuclear programmes. Applying the same standards to the United Kingdom as apply to Iran would yield an interesting policy option: we could cease the Prime Minister's decision to renew Trident, a vast nuclear weapons system with a current range of 4,600 miles. These are to be attached to submarines which obviously means that we would have a mobile nuclear capacity, capable of threatening practically anywhere in the world.

Something that is often missed about this is that the weapons are leased from the US: the UK purchases access to, but does not own, a pool of nuclear missiles produced by the American defense company Lockheed Martin. This has been the position since the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement, and every aspect of UK nuclear weapons production is coordinated within that subordinate relationship. The UK has cooperation programmes with all main US nuclear research laboratories, and its model of nuclear deterrence is based on NATO membership, whose targetting strategy is based on US deterrence doctrine. The UK purchases many of the components for its weapons system 'off the shelf' from the United States, because it does not have the capacity to produce them itself. In accordance with this 'special relationship' strategy, the UK has carefully avoided stipulating a 'no first use' policy. Indeed, the UK government's entire purpose in pursuing nuclear weapons is to possess a credible threat that it can deliver a first strike, as the Defense Select Committee Inquiry reveals. This would involve "the launch of one or a limited number of missiles against an adversary as a means of conveying a political message, warning or demonstration of resolve". This conception contains the outrageous assumption that Britain is entitled to engage in a nuclear attack on another country not even in supposed self-defense, but as a warning shot to anyone who gets out of line.

The decision to renew reflects the current US posture of undermining the Treaty-based system of arms control, since it is in direct violation of the NPT of which the UK is a signatory. The British government has drastically limited the amount of information released by the Ministry of Defense since the election of New Labour in 1997, so there is much that we can't know. However, even a cursory study of openly declared US doctrine (and the American political system is much more open than the UK's in terms of information) tells you that the current nuclear posture of the US (and therefore of its subordinates) is to remove the strict barrier between nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. The US wishes to be able to visit various limited kinds of nuclear destruction on other states, with greater flexibility. It so happens that this is precisely what the Trident upgrade allows.

The decision to pursue an upgraded and more flexible nuclear arsenal when it is manifestly the case that there is not a serious countervailing nuclear pressure (as there arguably was during the Cold War) is an epic act of aggression, but one taken for granted by the intrepid reporters who tell us about the threat from Iran. If it isn't designed to force other states to try to pursue nuclear weapons, it certainly has that dimension. The current policy of the American capitalist class and its spear-carriers is normalising the prospect of a nuclear conflagration, and therefore raising the threat of the destruction of those populations that they consider superfluous. In fact, it raises the threat of full planetary destruction to a level that anyone with an atom of sense would be unwilling to tolerate. And that is one reason why the British government places such a premium on secrecy and lies, and why they develop such excellent relationships with columnists like Nick Cohen and reporters like Con Coughlin. I will see you at the demonstration in about half an hour.