We can only wonder about the stability of the United States if 47 Republican senators can irresponsibly act to jeopardise the peace of the world by writing an “open letter” to the leadership of Iran beseeching its government to realise that whatever agreement is reached by the two governments on Iran’s nuclear programme will soon be put at risk by the election of a Republican president in 2016 or by nullifying actions taken by a Republican-controlled Congress.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be smiling whenever he looks at himself in the mirror, astonished by his capacity to get the better of reason and even self-interest in this immature superpower, by his shoddy pyrotechnic display of ill-informed belligerence.
Surely, this is a theatrical triumph of sorts, but unlike the performance artist, Netanyahu is a political actor whose irresponsible antics have brought death and destruction in the past and risk far worse in the future.
What interests and disturbs me at this time are the misleading presuppositions that underlie, and in my view, distort this debate in ways that cannot be blamed on Netanyahu.
Even the most respected political leaders and news sites in the West, including such outlets as the NY Times of The Economist, frame the discourse by taking three propositions for granted in ways that severely bias our understanding:
- That sanctions on Iran are the most appropriate way to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and enjoy the backing of the United Nations;
- That Iran must not only renounce the intention to acquire nuclear weapons, but their renunciation must be monitored and verified, while nothing at all is being done at the same time about Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons;
- That there is nothing intrinsically wrong about Israel’s threats to attack Iran if it believes that this would strengthen its security either in relation to a possible nuclear attack or as a reaction to Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Sanctions are a form of coercion expressly imposed in this case to exert pressure on Iran to negotiate an agreement that would provide reassurance that it was not seeking to acquire nuclear weaponry. Supposedly, Iran’s behaviour made such a reinforcement of the nonproliferation treaty regime a reasonable precaution.
Such measures had never been adopted or even proposed in relation to either Germany and Japan, the two main defeated countries in World War II, who have long possessed the technical and material means to acquire nuclear weapons in a matter of months. Iran has repeatedly given assurances that its nuclear programme is peacefully aimed at producing energy and for medical applications, not weapons.
If deterrence is a security necessity for the United States and Israel, it should be even more so for Iran that is truly faced with a genuine, credible, and dangerous existential threat.
Victim of interventions
Also, Iran has not been guilty of attacks across its borders, but rather has been itself a victim of notable interventions and aggressions. Most spectacularly, the CIA-facilitated coup in 1953 that restored the Shah to power and overthrew a democratically elected government as well as the 1980 invasion of Iran by Iraq with the encouragement of the United States.
Additionally, Iran has been subject over the years to a variety of covert operations designed to destabilise its government or disrupt its nuclear programme. Even with their UN backing, the case for sanctions seems to involve double standards, especially given the averted gaze of the international community over the years in relation to Israel’s process of acquisition, possession, and development of nuclear weaponry and their behaviour that has repeatedly exhibited a defiant attitude toward international law and world public opinion.
Iran is expected not only to forego the option to acquire nuclear weapons, but to agree to a framework of intrusive inspection if it wants to be treated as a “normal” state. As indicated, this kind of insistence seems discriminatory and hypocritical in the extreme.
Further, this ignores the relative reasonableness of Iran’s quest for a deterrent capability given its security situation. It is relevant to note that even the Obama presidency repeatedly refuses to remove the military option from the diplomatic table, and that Israel is vocal in its expression of support for a preemptive military approach based on its alleged apprehension about an emerging existential threat to its survival posed by Iran.
Dangerous existential threat
In other words, if deterrence is a security necessity for the United States and Israel, it should be even more so for Iran that is truly faced with a genuine, credible, and dangerous existential threat. I would not argue that Iran should acquire nuclear weapons, but rather that it has the strongest case among sovereign states to do so, and it is a surreal twist of realities to act as if is the outlier rather than the nuclear weapons states that refuse to honour their obligation set forth in the NPT to seek nuclear disarmament.
Israel’s military threats directed at Iran clearly violate the international law prohibition contained in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter that prohibit “threats or uses” of force except for self-defense against a prior armed attack or with an authorisation by the Security Council.
Despite this threat to international peace in an already turbulent Middle East, there is a widespread international acceptance of Israel’s behaviour, and in fact, the best argument for the sanctions regime is that it offsets the concerns of the Israeli government and thus reduces the prospect of a unilateral military strike on Iran.
Overall, this opportunistic treatment of Iran’s nuclear programme is less indicative of a commitment to nonproliferation than it is an expression of geopolitical priorities. If peace and stability were the true motivations, then we could expect to hear strident calls for a nuclear free Middle East tied to a regional security framework. Until such a call is made, there is a cynical game being played with the complicity of the mainstream media.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies. He is also former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.