Iran's right to nukes: a MAD idea?
Maia at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty notes the way that the Iranian nuclear crisis has produced the rare spectacle of a rational debate on indymedia, but takes issue with my support for the right of Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Maia is not alone in taking this stance: at least half a dozen commenters at indymedia have made the same argument, though I hesitate to call it an argument, because typically the statement that no country has the right to nukes is not buttressed by any supporting statements, let alone evidence: it is allowed to sit in splendid isolation, as a self-sufficient moral law. It is as if a proscription on nuclear weapons had been set down in stone, in the mists of time, by some farsighted liberal God, and anybody who dares question it is a heretic, or worse.
But is it really impossible to think of a situation where the development of nuclear weapons would be permissible? Let us imagine that an asteroid was discovered travelling on an orbit that made it due to collide with the earth in 2023, and that the only way this devastating collision could be prevented was the creation of a supernuclear device that could be fired into space to deflect the asteroid onto a new orbit. Could any rational person oppose the creation of this nuclear device, when the alternative would be the destruction of most life on earth? That is, of course, an extreme, hypothetical example, but it should at least disabuse us of the notion that the 'argument' against nuclear weapons has some untouchable, universal status, and does not need to be considered in terms of a dialectic between means and ends.
How about a less hypothetical example, then? What about a US President who is asked by the head of his army for permission to explode 30 atom bombs along the border of a small country, in an effort to end the resistance this country is putting up against US troops and conventional arms? If the only factor that would make the President in question refuse his C in C's request was the possibility of nuclear retaliation, who would not wish that the potential for this retaliation existed?
Luckily, it did, and in 1950 President Harry Truman was forced reluctantly to turn down the demands of General MacArhtur for a massive nuclear attack on North Korea. The Soviet nuclear programme and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction had saved North Korea from annihilation, and in the coming decades it would save the world from US hegemony. Without the Soviet nuclear stockpile not only Korea but Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, Algeria, Mozambique, Iran, and countless other countries would have been doomed to indefinite colonial or neo-colonial status, as the US and its NATO allies used nuclear weapons or the threat of nuclear weapons to contain progressive and anti-imperialist movements. As Don Franks put it, during the debate on indymedia:
[E]motional rejection of "all nuclear weapons" will not cut it here.The imperialist powers in possesion of nuclear arsenals will do anything to retain their monopoly of nuclear weapons and thereby strengthen their military domniance over the globe. Monopoly is no guarantee the things won't be used - the only time they were was when the US had a monopoly.
Who can blame Iranians for wanting nuclear weapons today? Many commentators say that support for the country's nuclear programme is widespread, cutting across social and political barriers. Here is the Washington Post's man in Tehran:
"Ordinary Iranians overwhelmingly favor their country's nuclear ambitions, interviews and surveys show. The support runs deep in the population of 68 million, cutting across differences of education, age and, most significantly, attitudes toward the fundamentalist government that the Bush administration says is intent on using an energy program as a cover for developing atomic weapons."
Another contributor to the discussion on indymedia summed it up pretty powerfully:
"Because we also know that despite the obvious horrors of a POTENTIAL nuclear exchange, that the INEVITABLE horror of having your skin burned from your live body by phosphourous, or mangled by cluster-bombs, or torn apart by smart-missiles, not to mention sickening and dying from depleted unranium, the fate of approx 150,000 people in the recent invasion of Iraq, is also not a nice way to go. The idea of MAD is as obnoxious to me as it should be to any sane human. But If I were an Iranian sitting in Tehran, listening to the sabre rattling of the NUCLEAR jingoists in the west and wishing to defend my country from an imperialist land grab, I think it fair to warn you that I would be more likely to reach for some Protons than a pea-shooter. "