September 28, 2009

So what's the deal with Iran?

My guess, frankly, is that Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to proliferate nuclear weapons. I think this idea is right even if I haven't seen it worded quite that way anywhere else (which, of course, is one of the reasons it appeals to me). But think about it: if Iran tried to build an enrichment plant outside the inspection regime of the IAEA and the comprehensive gaze of the ubiquitous Mohammed El-Baradei, Israel's Mossad and the CIA (acting on a tip from the Mossad) would figure it out very soon after they broke ground for the plant. Natanz would then have gone the way of Iraq's Osirak: "ka-boom!"

So the Iranians, referring to their well-thumbed copy of Poe's "The Purloined Letter," decided the best way to hide their program was to conduct it in plain view. I don't know if the Persians actually invented chess (or Parcheesi, for that matter), but they seem pretty good at reading between the lines of the NPT. Although they did not tell the IAEA about the second enrichment plant at Qum when they began construction, they claim technical compliance with the rule requiring notification to the IAEA at least 180 days before the introduction of uranium to the facility for enrichment. I've read the relevant parts of the NPT, and I can't find any provision that supports this "180-day" loophole. There is a reference to a 180-day period, but it refers to the period of compliance after a nation signs the NPT in the first place - you sign, then you've got six months to get your act together. Iran's argument has the familiar odor of an argument rather desperately concocted after other events - people found out - forced their hand. It seems more likely that Iran wanted to be far enough along in this underground facility so that it would withstand aerial bombardment, or even to finish it as an undisclosed backup to the Natanz facility which is a prominent feature of Israeli Air Force attack plans.

While it's true that the National Intelligence Estimate of a few years back concluded that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, it doesn't really matter because sifting uranium up to the 90+% level is the real "pacing element" in building a bomb. You get the shit, putting the bomb together is not so tough. If you don't have someone local, fly in a North Korean or maybe the Nuclear Amway Man himself, A.Q. Khan of Pakistan. He'll help set you up as an A-bomb franchise.

I know the counter-arguments: Iran is a signatory to the NPT, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea are not. Iran is simply exercising its rights to peaceful nuclear technology under Article IV of the Treaty. It all sounds good, but I take what I think of as the ultimate Realpolitik view. There is no margin of error for nuclear war. I keep going back to that University of Colorado study (I wonder if we can get Harvard or Yale to duplicate it, so people will take it seriously) which demonstrated that an exchange of about 40-50 Hiroshima sized A-bombs dropped on urban targets will destroy enough ozone in the Northern Hemisphere to make life pretty much unlivable up here. So the only countries I want to have nuclear weapons are the ones who won't use them unless they absolutely have to. I would put the USA, Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Israel and maybe India in this club. It's not really a question of being "fair" or legalistic. A legalistic approach which winds up destroying the human race is useless.

What really needs to happen is that the NPT regime simply gets rid of this "peaceful use" loophole, since civilian nuclear power is a bad idea anyway, and uranium, once it's enriched, is pretty indifferent to whether it's used to boil water in a reactor or destroy the world.

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