Hillary Poppins Opens Her Nuclear Umbrella
Before broaching the subject of this post, we’ll briefly commemorate Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day with a preview of a more comprehensive commemoration. Daniel Ellsberg has written a book-length memoir of the nuclear era titled American Doomsday Machine, which is soon to appear on the Web in its entirety. TruthDig ran a section titled Hiroshima Day: America Has Been Asleep at the Wheel for 64 Years.
Among passages that beggar the imagination:
Every one of our many thousands of H-bombs, the thermonuclear fusion bombs that arm our strategic forces, requires a Nagasaki-type A-bomb as its detonator. [Photos of the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings] show us only what happens to humans and buildings when they are hit by what is now just the detonating cap for a modern nuclear weapon.
We’d call that a sobering reminder of the power of nuclear weapons. But if truly grasped, the more likely response would be mass inebriation.
Meanwhile, last month’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asia) conference in Thailand may be old news, but its implications endure. If you’ll recall, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
“[I]f the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”
With the title of this piece, I hoped to be the first to trot out the Mary Poppins trope. But a Google search revealed that one Kaslin beat me to it: “I picture nanny Hillary in a Mary Poppins picture floating down, stiffly holding umbrella over her head.” But he or she isn’t the author, just a commenter to an article by Townhall’s Ed Blackwell reposted at Free Republic. That makes me sort of first, right?
Anyway, as Laura Rozen reported in the Cable at Foreign Policy, “the remarks caused international headlines, including in Israel, where they were widely interpreted to mean the United States had, if not accepted that Iran would become a nuclear weapons state, at least made contingency plans for that possibility.”
But, she writes, the Carnegie Endowment’s George Perkovich thinks they “would have been better left unsaid. ‘Defense umbrella’ invokes nuclear weapons. That’s trying to convince a country they don’t need nuclear weapons by implicitly saying we’ll nuke them.”
When asked about her comments on Meet the Press, Secretary Clinton, addressing Iran, added fuel to the fire:
“You have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civil nuclear power. You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control.”
What made these remarks inflammatory? Ms. Rozen explains:
Whether Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has a right to enrich depends on whom you ask. … But the explicit assertion that Iran does not have the right to enrich has not been previously publicly expressed by the Obama administration, some nonproliferation experts asserted. … [Emphasis added.]
“That statement [by Clinton on Meet the Press] perked up my ears,” one U.S. government expert said. … “The Bush administration position, which was supported by the U.N. Security Council, was that Iran forfeited this right by concealing many of its nuclear activities for 18 years. … So, in essence, she was restating the Bush position that Iran no longer has the right to enrich.”
But Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told Ms. Rosen: “Clinton was reasserting the U.S. position held under the Bush and Obama administrations that Iran’s access to nuclear technology is conditioned on its other obligations.” [My emphasis.]
Along with the Security Council, the European Union might agree. But, as Ms. Rosen explains (her emphasis this time): “. . . that battle was lost politically in the broader international community. Most people say Iran has a right to enrich, and they don’t acknowledge the conditionality of that right.” In other words, no strings attached.
Dr. Christopher Ford, lead diplomat on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for the Bush administration, wrote an 80-page paper on this alleged right entitled Nuclear Technology Rights and Wrongs: The NPT, Article IV, and Nonproliferation. One might think he’s partisan, but his paper deserves an unjaundiced reading. Incidentally, Article IV is the one that addresses nuclear power.
First, some background (all emphases Dr. Ford’s):
On one side, representing the seeming preponderance of diplomatic opinion on the subject [the "broader international community," to which Ms. Rozen alluded] — as well as [the] “have-not” countries — are [those who see] Article IV through the lens of technology access rights. On the other side stand those more focused [on] the Treaty’s nonproliferation components.
The latter think that “the NPT’s commitment to nonproliferation may on occasion require refusing requests for technology sharing” to some states.
When it comes to Iran, new IAEA chief Yukiya Amano repeats his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei’s official line that he sees no hard evidence Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Whether you agree or, like me, think that Iran seeks the capability to develop nuclear weapons without actually constructing them unless push comes to shove, it can’t be denied that Iran is pushy. Ford reports (emphasis mine this time):
It is not simply that Iran has defended its [uranium enrichment]. Iran also asserts that supplier states [like the United States] are legally required to make available whatever technology it desires for the peaceful purposes it claims. In April 2008, for instance, Iran’s representative declared that “[r]estrictions imposed by nuclear suppliers” for nonproliferation reasons were “[c]lear violations of Article IV obligations. . . depriving [states like Iran from] the exercise of their inalienable right.”
Nothing like having Thomas Jefferson’s words thrown in our faces. The Cold War nuclear theorist Albert Wohlstetter once wondered, since when did inalienable rights include, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plutonium”?
But that’s not all. Dr. Ford continues:
… At an NPT meeting in May 2009, the Iranians offered even more aggressive arguments [describing Article IV] not merely as one pillar of the NPT but as the “very foundation of the Treaty.” … Iran even claimed the right to ‘compensation’ [! -- RW] for the effect of nonproliferation rules in “hampering” Iran’s “peaceful nuclear activities.”
We all know Iran plays diplomatic hardball. Skillfully too (see Trita Parsi’s book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) — at least before Ahmadinejad and Khameini, in the process of iron-fisting their country, dumbed down their international relations.
The conflict, Dr. Ford explains, between the nonproliferation and technology-access factions has been an ongoing dilemma since the NPT’s inception.
The first report of the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission. . . in 1946 emphasized “the intimate relation between the activities required for peaceful purposes and those leading to the production of atomic weapons. … [T]he productive processes are identical and inseparable up to a very advanced state of manufacture.” [Emphasis mine.]
No reasonable interpretation of the Nonproliferation Treaty would say that the treaty intends, in exchange [for a] promise by countries without nuclear explosives not to make or acquire them, to transfer to them material that is within days or hours of being ready for incorporation into a bomb.
Worse, giving the technology-access argument primacy. . .
. . . would turn Article IV into a mechanism for undermining the rest of the Treaty by facilitating the spread of the (fissile material production) technologies that are critical to making nuclear weapons. [Thus is] international control of such capabilities imperative. [They cannot] safely be left in national hands. … [Emphasis mine.]
[President Obama's] Prague speech seems to have been received around the world as a repudiation of Bush-era policies. [But the] “right” Obama described was merely to “access power” rather than specifically to access Technology.
In other words, an international nuclear fuel bank that eliminates the necessity for a state to enrich its own uranium is the solution for states lacking nuclear technology. (Unless, like me, the whole subject of nuclear energy makes you squeamish. But that’s best left for another day.) Though even that positions a would-be proliferator a little too close to the technology in question for comfort.
But however stern Secretary Clinton’s words were, all the conservative Ed Blackwell could hear was a concession to Iran:
Secretary Clinton made a terrible gaffe in Thailand when she said this: “[The Iranians] won’t be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can once they have a nuclear weapon.” Once they have a nuclear weapon. This is an incredible climb-down. For decades it has been the policy of the U.S. and our NATO allies that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. Now, Mrs. Clinton seems to be publicly resigned to the idea that Iran will have a nuclear weapon.
Meanwhile, those in the United States who believe Iran is entitled to enrich uranium are attempting to turn that so-called right into a sort of defense umbrella of its own. By brandishing the right like a folded-up bumbershoot, they aim to ward off a strike on Iran by Israel. Umbrellas suffer from a fatal law, though. Buffeted one time too many by the wind and rain, their fabric is liable to be rent from the spokes that serve as their infrastructure and they wind up discarded in a gutter.
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