On the looming “pre-emptive” war against Iran

Iran’s rulers preside over one of the most thuggish, repressive regimes on the planet, but the West’s apparent readiness to go to war over Iran’s nuclear programme is a hair-raising over-reaction. Somehow, the nuclear club that can regard its own ownership of such weapons as being right and proper, and that can co-exist with Pakistan, India and North Korea as nuclear armed states must, must, must go to war with Iran in order to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. If there’s a logic here, it eludes me.

Currently, Iran is at roughly the same stage of nuclear development as Japan is now, and as apartheid-era South Africa used to be. Even if and when Iran obtained such weapons – and the capacity to deploy them is still years away, even in the worst case scenario – then containment of a nuclear Iran by diplomatic means is still an entirely viable option, just as the world manages to contain and co-exist with Pakistan and North Korea today.

This time, the war talk about Iran could prove to be dangerous for New Zealand as well – since in any armed conflict in the Middle East on the scale that would be triggered by a so called “pre-emptive “ attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would almost certainly see Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman signing up New Zealand as part of the West’s team. Helen Clark deftly kept us out of overt participation in the West’s last ‘pre-emptive’ war against weapons of mass destruction in the region, and thus spared us from being included on the list of nations subject to a terrorist backlash. Under a National-led government, the capacity for similar finesse is virtually non-existent. Right now, New Zealand should be declaring its opposition to any pre-emptive attack on Iran by any party.

If you want to scare yourself about the implacable illogic of the West’s position, read this interview with British Foreign Minister William Hague in the Daily Telegraph:

“It is a crisis coming down the tracks,” he said. “Because they are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons programme … If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons. And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilising effects in the Middle East. And the threat of a new cold war in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechanisms … That would be a disaster in world affairs.”

Mr Hague repeatedly stressed that “all options must remain on the table” when confronting the Iranian regime, despite Liberal Democrat concerns that the Government may be dragged into another military conflict.

He added that we “have to be concerned” that Britain could be in range of Iranian nuclear weapons – or that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists.

In one package, Hague has included every half-baked rationale for conflict. Take the terrorist angle that Hague mentions… why would Iran be any more likely to hand over nuclear weapons to terrorists than Pakistan, the West’s own unstable ally and supporter of terrorist groups? And if we are so very concerned about nuclear profileration in the Middle East as Hague purports to be, why has Britain – and New Zealand – voted against UN resolutions in the past aimed at making the Middle East into a nuclear free zone? That would be because Israel already has nuclear weapons, and that is seen to be a good thing by the West. (In reality, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East could be traced far more accurately by Hague not to Iran, but to the US covertly enabling Israel to attain nuclear weapons, many years ago.)

Even if Iran does intend to develop nuclear weapons – and the intent is unproven, much less the capacity to deploy them – one comes back, as one so often does in this region, to the contentious role of Israel. Why would having another nuclear-capable state in the Middle East be necessarily any more destabilising than the current situation, where Israel is the sole nuclear state in the region?

And before anyone replies by citing Iranian rhetoric against Israel – weren’t the Cold War safety mechanisms, that Hague recalls so fondly, based on both sides having nuclear weapons, which created a mutually assured destruction form of deterrence? Rhetoric is rhetoric. An article I link to below cites Mao promising a nuclear war in which “imperialism would be razed to the ground, and the whole world would become socialist”. Yet a nuclear China never did deliver on that rhetoric, and is now regarded as a responsible member of the nuclear club.

Actually I loved the bit in Hague’s interview where he talked about those “safety mechanisms” lacking right now in the Middle East, but which presumably existed in the past, during the Soviet/US nuclear standoffs. Yes, the world felt so much safer back then with all those safety mechanisms in place, and when our leaders would re-assure us in these cool, calm rational terms:

Thus unwillingly our free society finds itself mortally challenged by the Soviet system. No other value system is so wholly irreconcilable with ours, so implacable in its purpose to destroy ours, so capable of turning to its own uses the most dangerous and divisive trends in our own society, no other so skillfully and powerfully evokes the elements of irrationality in human nature everywhere, and no other has the support of a great and growing center of military power.

As the Daily Telegraph indicates, its not as if the Israelis aren’t currently trying to blackmail us into falling in line with their agenda:

Western diplomats believe that the Israelis are calculating that they have to destroy the Iranian facilities this year, before they are hidden too deep underground and while the election puts Barack Obama under added pressure to support the action.

American intelligence chiefs were this week forced to announce that “to the best of their knowledge” Israel was not poised to launch an attack. But Western officials believe an Israeli strike is likely over the summer.

So, start a war while Obama is politically vulnerable, and while he couldn’t afford to refuse to back you to the hilt, and too bad if the West then spends a generation picking up the pieces, That doesn’t sound in the least bit crazy and unscrupulous. (Thank goodness we don’t have anyone on our side as dangerous as those folks in North Korea.) To be sure, Hague does make the usual noises near the end of the Daily Telegraph interview about his preference for diplomacy, but the dog whistling about war – “ all options must be on the table” – is really the gist of his message. For a well reasoned argument by Iranian expert Shashank Joshi (of the Royal United Services Institute think tank) as to why the current war talk against Iran is unjustified, go here.

A more detailed account of the diplomatic and military options regarding Iran, written by the same author, is here.

Joshi’s conclusion sums up the current state of affairs pretty well:

The alarmist response to Iran’s nuclear programme reflects a failure of imagination and ignorance of history. Iran has an obligation to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations to explain the possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme. But if we…fool ourselves into thinking that a nuclear Iran cannot be contained, we increasingly back ourselves into a corner from which we will eventually be able to do little but lash out.

We have all been here before, during the run-up to the invasion of March 2003, against the regime in Iraq. In all likelihood, we still have a couple of months grace to make our own diplomatic voice heard.


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