by Franck Biancheri
Imagine the United States, without nuclear weapons, surrounded by Mexico and Canada that would possess them. Or France surrounded by countries possessing the atomic bomb without having it itself. How long would it take for Washington or Paris to reject a Non-Proliferation Treaty and start building a nuclear arsenal as soon as possible? Most certainly less time than it takes to evoke such a scenario! And both Paris and Washington would invoke the requirement of national security to justify themselves and avoid any treaty.
This is exactly the context of the Iranian crisis. Tehran is surrounded by nuclear powers (Russia, Israel, Pakistan and perhaps Saudi Arabia); and, icing on the cake, for the past three years some of its closest neighbours, such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait, have been transformed into US military bases. So, even without a mad provocateur at its head like the current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is not surprising to see Iran trying by all means, and as soon as possible, to acquire nuclear weapons. The opposite would have been surprising, especially in view of the Bush administration’s formidable lesson in “real politik”, which proved to the world that a dictator with nuclear weapons (North Korea) was untouchable, while a dictator without nuclear weapons (and with oil as in Iraq) was a prime target. The lesson, one of the worst that has been able to feed international thinking in recent decades, because it removed any element other than the simple ratio of gross power, carried. And Iran will therefore now move at high speed along the path of atomic weapon control in order to “sanctuarize” its territory, as France did under De Gaulle’s leadership in the 1960s. Let us be clear. This was certainly an inevitable evolution. But it was the Bush administration that, through its intellectual indigence and oil greed, accelerated this process. The world has become infinitely less secure since Washington is ruled by people who think with their guns; and so this world is adapting. Iran is doing the same today.
And, apart from gestures at the UN, and a possible embargo of very limited scope, Washington, Paris, London and Berlin will not be able to do anything about it. Too late. You don’t go back in history. And the latter once again demonstrates the immense irony with which she is familiar. It was the dream of the “neo-conservatives” to “make Iran” after Iraq. Today, however, not only have they “made” only Saddam Hussein, because it is Iraq (and the inability of the American administration to manage the situation) that is consigning them to the oblivion of history; but Iran is also becoming the perfect counter-example to their smoky theories. Far from weakening Iran, or even overthrowing its regime, they have hardened the regime, gathered the Iranians behind their state on this issue of national security and deprived themselves, and with them the whole world, of the possibility of managing this crisis other than by showing weakness.
Indeed, with the invasion of Iraq and its consequences, the Bush administration and Tony Blair’s government have deprived the UN of any serious means of influence. On the one hand, the American-British masquerades in the Security Council on weapons of mass destruction during the debates on Iraq now prevent the Security Council from following this path. It is indeed difficult to imagine the world public opinion giving credence even for a second to a remake of Colin Powell’s show with his photo-montages. And it is not a possible performance by Angela Merkel or Jacques Chirac that will improve the listening rate. On the other hand, thanks to the Iraq crisis in particular, the oil market remains very much on the rise. The mere mention of a worsening of the Iranian crisis caused oil to jump again to around $70 a barrel. It is therefore obvious to everyone that an open crisis with Iran (economic embargo, military attack, bombing of sensitive installations) would first result in a barrel flirting with the $100 in the days and weeks to come. And perhaps even for a much longer period of time because Iran holds the key to the Straits of Hormuz and therefore to most of the West’s oil supplies. Regardless of the Western military fleets deployed in the region, a “small missile” or two fired at giant tankers as they pass through this strait, and most of the Gulf black gold flow is blocked.
Finally, let us not forget that the great foresight of the Washington and London strategists also offered on a set more than 150,000 potential American and English “hostages” (and incidentally especially in Afghanistan, from the French, Germans,…) to the Iranians. Tehran does not need to make a huge effort to set the Shiite South of Iraq on fire and trap the British and American troops there. And it would not be very difficult for him to catch a few hundred NATO soldiers in Afghanistan when they patrol the border areas.
So, as far as the “hard” option is concerned, we see that it is unlikely to go beyond the gesturing stage. Especially since the world is not only populated by Americans, Allies, villains and spectators like some American think-tanks (and government officials) would like to believe it, and make it believe it.
On the one hand, China has developed close structural links with Tehran, which is providing it with a growing share of its oil supplies. And it is hard to see Beijing contributing to the scuttling of its only independent oil supplier to the United States. On the other hand, Moscow is playing a very “Putinian” game of following only its direct interest, which can lead Russia to sometimes support a Washington-London-Paris-Berlin axis, sometimes to do the opposite. Last but not least, and this is not the least detail regarding the impotence to come to the Security Council, for Europeans, Iran is not Iraq. Regardless of opinions about the country’s current leaders, it is a country that operates with limited but real democratic components. The power of the religious remains immense and often out of control of the ballot box, but so does the power of the military in Turkey, for example, without anyone classifying Ankara as a dictatorship, since on the contrary our leaders believe that Turkey can join the EU. Europeans also know that while Iran has indeed financed terrorist acts, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, it has not attacked any other state. And any attempt to connect Iran to Al Qaeda, as many manipulation pharmacies must certainly think at the moment, will meet with total disbelief in Europe. All this explains why there is this time on Iran a real European vision (including London) of things compared to an American vision (at least of the Bush administration). It is still possible that Tony Blair may ultimately follow his friend Bush and adopt a “warlike” position, but British public opinion and the British state apparatus will not follow. This would essentially mark Tony Blair’s political end.
In conclusion, we are faced with a predictable dilemma that I have already had the opportunity to mention in the columns of Newropeans Magazine: nuclear non-proliferation no longer works once too many countries have reached the level of possession (actual or potential) of nuclear weapons. In practice, this implies that the availability of information to build these weapons becomes too important to prevent its spread. Morally, this makes it impossible to justify preventing a people from protecting themselves against disturbing neighbours who own them. Politically, this amounts to a multiplication of crises on this subject without being able to resolve them. This further increases the obsolescence of the non-proliferation doctrine.
Moreover, how can we preach non-proliferation when we contribute directly to world disorder through our own policies and when we undertake to develop new atomic weapons outside the treaty? This is a question that G.W. Bush could usefully consider.
In this case, the objective question is not whether, but when and under what conditions Iran will acquire nuclear weapons. Either this will happen in the context of a serious global crisis if an attempt at brutal action is triggered, whether by Washington or Tel Aviv, which would generate a collapse of the “transatlantic axis”, or it will evolve with alternating tensions and respites (as has been the case for two years) towards a supervised and peaceful solution. It would then be useful to try to make the Iranian case a textbook case and transform the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty into a new so-called “controlled proliferation” treaty. Instead of trying to prevent the inevitable, it is more constructive to frame it. Allowing the development of its weapons to countries that can or are prepared to offer democratic guarantees of their control and peaceful guarantees of their objectives, offering these same countries serious security alternatives, such as membership in NATO, is more promising than trying in vain to make them renounce their desire for security.
As we can see behind the Iranian crisis, a major step in the transformation of the world triggered after the fall of the Berlin Wall is emerging. We are still emerging from the world created after 1945. To find the way, we Europeans have the choice between the blind arrogance of Achilles and the sharp intelligence of Ulysses. Personally, I am convinced that the Europeans at the beginning of the 21st century feel closer to the path embodied by Ulysses; and that the nuclear issue is to develop a policy of “controlled proliferation” rather than “non-proliferation”.
1] Of which you will notice that we don’t talk much lately. They still exist in the corridors of Washington, or in the heads of some 50-year-old European politicians produced in their “intellectual” laboratories (think-tanks) during the 1990s.
2] which were essentially the intellectual justification for two very “babyboomer” and infantile ideas: “I do what I want” and “I take what I like”.
3] Cf.” Does proliferation policy still have a future? ” (Newropeans-Magazine, 20/10/2004)
4] But Sharon’s illness seems for the time being to rule out this possibility because, apart from itself, a very aggressive government led by Netanyahu, which is unlikely to be elected, could embark on such an adventure, which even the Israeli soldiers acknowledge would probably end in failure given the dispersion of Iran’s nuclear installations.
5] See “A US unilateral military move concerning Iran will break NATO in pieces” (Newropeans-Magazine, 14/12/2004)
6] Cf.” Does proliferation policy still have a future? ” (Newropeans-Magazine, 20/10/2004)
7] And it is not a question here of resigning oneself to the evolution of things. On the contrary, in life, in order to really make a difference, we must not be mistaken about what is possible and what is not. Whipping the sea is not the way to change the course of naval battles. On the contrary, it is by knowing how to identify the moments, the points that can be modified and then alter the evolutions.
8] Indeed, one day soon, we will have to choose between sending NATO troops all over the world from a purely Euro-American base, or making it the foundation of an international security organisation.