I wrote this article in 2009, but as the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme has popped-up again I wanted to share it with you.
The Iranian nuclear question is one of these issues that keep popping up every now and then. The world seems to be divided on how to tackle this issue: trough negotiations or more rigorous means. It is a widely known secret that Israel has given President Obama a time-frame in which the US can try to resolve the issue through diplomatic means before it will take matters in its own hands.
What is most baffling is that there is one major question that is universally ignored. And this question does not centre on how to tackle the issue, but goes back one step: what are the parameters that legitimise a state to attain nukes? Is it a democratic nature of the state, the discourse on human right or is it simply being part of “the West”?
Since Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all have a nuclear arsenal it does not seem to be all of these. Israel might be a democracy and a semi-autonomous member of the West, it is hardly known for its adherence to international law and human rights. Pakistan and North Korea are even further removed from these parameters. North Korea is isolated from the International Community and could therefore be argued to be both a small and big threat to world peace; Pakistan is playground for Jihadi’s and struggle heavily with the monopoly of force inside their territory.
So what is the defining variable? The answer could well be unorthodox: adhering to Pax Americana or Empire Lite as Michael Ignatieff would characterise our contemporary world order. Pakistan was tolerated to keep its nukes simply because it was an ally of the US and supported American dominance in the region. The same applies to Israel. North Korea might not be an ally, but at least it does not actively challenge American hegemony.
Iran on the other hands has taken the momentum since the ousting of Saddam Hussein to up their bid to become the top dog in the Middle East. With Saddam’s regime removed, Iran suddenly encountered political space to allocate resources and reshape its identity. Now more than ever they actively pursue change in the region by challenging the status quo – the dominance of US and Israel. Examples of this policy is the support for the armed movements Hamas and Hezbollah, with ideological, financial and military means.
Israel might feel threatened by Iran with nukes, and rightly so, but is the opposite not equally valid? Why is it that the security of Iran is never an issue in these debates? And, moreover, why do the “the West” solely focus on Iran and forget to put pressure on other states that have obtained nuclear WMD’s?
It is time for scholars, politicians and journalists to ask the Iranian question. This question is not how to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, but instead: what is the requisite for any state to be allowed to possess nukes? The answer will most likely include the concept of “American hegemony”.