Why is Iran not allowed nuclear weapons?


Condoleeza Rice, the new US Secretary of State, paid a flying visit to Britain on 4 February.  She had breakfast with the Prime Minister and gave a joint press conference with Jack Straw.  She assured us that the US was not going to take military action against Iran to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.  At least not yet.


For the moment, the US is prepared to leave it to Britain, France and Germany to pressurise Iran into giving up its nuclear ambitions with the threat that, if Iran refuses, the US will take military action, or will allow Israel to do so.  For some unknown reason, this soft cop approach of Britain, France and Germany is universally regarded as a piece of commendable diplomacy, even though, if it is to have any chance of success, it needs the American hard cop to be wielding his big stick in the background.


In all this, the fundamental question is never addressed: why should Iran not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons?  States with functional nuclear weapons systems don’t get attacked by other states.  Why should Iran not be allowed to acquire this ultimate weapon of self-defence?  The states which are in the van in pressurising Iran – the US, the UK and France – all have these weapons and the means of delivering them to any part of the globe.


Regional nuclear free zones used to be in vogue.  Security Council resolution 687 (paragraph 14) declared the disarmament of Iraq to be the first step in establishing such a zone in the Middle East.  But there has been no urgency on the part of the US/UK to extend their disarming mission in the Middle East from Iraq to the one state, ie Israel, that has lots of real weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them to any part of the Middle East, including Iran.  So why is Israel allowed to have nuclear weapons, but its near neighbour Iran is forbidden?  Clearly, a double standard is being applied.


The technical excuse for the enforcement of this double standard is that Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, when the Shah was in power, but Israel (and India and Pakistan) had the good sense not to.  So Israel broke no treaty obligations in developing nuclear weapons (and neither did India or Pakistan), but Iran is in breach of the Treaty, if it is developing nuclear weapons. Here, it should be emphasised that the Treaty does not proscribe the enrichment of uranium, merely, the manufacture of nuclear weapons or their acquisition from other parties.


The Treaty is highly discriminatory in favour of the states that had nuclear weapons in 1968 – the US, the UK, France, the Soviet Union and China – since they were not obliged to give up nuclear weapons, whereas non-nuclear states – if they sign the Treaty – are obliged not to acquire any of these weapons, which are the ultimate guarantee of a state’s continued existence in the modern world.


The International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) is responsible for policing the Treaty.  Each non-nuclear signatory to the Treaty is required to negotiate a “safeguards” agreement with the IAEA in respect of its civil nuclear activities, the purpose of which is to allow the IAEA to confirm by inspection that it is not engaging in weapons-related activity.  This is why there is so much ongoing “dialogue” between the IAEA and Iran.


In theory, a signatory state may withdraw from the Treaty, but that would give the game away and invite other states to get their retaliation in first.  So, if a state that has signed the Treaty is determined to develop nuclear weapons, its only practical option is hide its manufacturing plants from IAEA inspectors, and to bury them deep as a protection against attack from the air.



Labour & Trade Union Review

February 2005