Mideast Nuclear Umbrella

A nuclear umbrella is an incredible gift to bestow upon another society – incredible because of its value and because of its potential cost to the giver. Used properly, the gift of a nuclear umbrella could carry the Mideast a major step toward stability. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is showing signs of an irresponsible willingness to toss this idea around without thinking through its implications.

The pro-Israel party is trying with some success to get Washington to accept the concept of a U.S. nuclear umbrella for Israel. That is a rather extraordinary idea: why on earth would a nuclear power give a nuclear umbrella to another nuclear power in order to protect it from a non-nuclear power?

In truth, there are some reasons:

  1. to make the point to the non-nuclear power that it would gain nothing from developing nuclear arms because its ability to use them has already been negated;
  2. to make the point to the nuclear power that it no longer needs the arms it has, implying that it should abandon those arms.

Little evidence is apparent that Obama is cognizant of either reason. Rather, he seems tragically to be moving in the direction of giving away the farm.

If the purpose of opening a U.S. nuclear umbrella over Israel is to persuade Iran that nuclear arms are fool’s gold, the effort will fail if done outside of a context of accommodation. In a bullying context, Iran will see such a U.S. act as further evidence that the U.S. understands only the language of force. That lesson, drilled into the heads of Iranian decision-makers by the Bush-Cheney decade of military adventure, is the last lesson Obama should want to teach. To make the case that nuclear arms are not worth having, Obama needs to show that Iran can achieve acceptance, respect, security, and productive consideration of its foreign policy goals without nuclear arms.

If the purpose of covering Israel with a nuclear umbrella is to persuade Israel that it no longer needs its own nuclear arms (which would be a huge step in the direction of realizing the first goal), offering the protection for free (without getting Israeli nuclear demilitarization in return) is nothing more than the irresponsible squandering of a major U.S. bargaining chip. The minimum price Israel should pay for a U.S. nuclear umbrella is to abandon its nuclear arms, sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and submit to exactly the same inspections that Iran submits to. Such parity would eliminate whatever justifications Iran may have for resisting complete nuclear transparency. It would represent a significant victory for Iran, leveling the playing field and enhancing its security while allowing it to make good on its pledge not to possess nuclear arms. Yet it would also enhance Israel’s security by stabilizing the region, minimizing Iranian insecurity, reducing the likelihood of a regional nuclear arms race, and—most importantly—reducing the likelihood of a regional nuclear war that could only harm everyone.

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Secretary of State Clinton on Iran: “their pursuit of nuclear weapons will actually trigger greater insecurity”

And Israel’s pursuit of nuclear weapons???

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For Israel to trade its nuclear arms for a U.S. nuclear umbrella would actually increase its security – decreasing the likelihood of a nuclear exchange (either now, as the result of Israeli aggression for short-term gain, or later, as a result of some possible future Iranian aggression). For Iran to resist nuclear transparency after such an historic concession by Israel would expose aggressive designs clearly for all to see, at which point Israel could of course “re-nuclearize”–and infinitely faster than Iran could develop its primitive technical competence. Such a positive-sum outcome is the characteristic of effective long-term policy-making.

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Francois Niccolaud, who was the French ambassador to Iran from 2001 to 2005, says if the international community accepts Iran’s right to enrich uranium and Tehran agrees to an intrusive monitoring system, the nuclear standoff would be solved in a short time.

He says such a monitoring system would allow Iran to satisfy its nuclear needs and ensure the international community that alarm bells would be set off if Tehran moves toward militarizing its nuclear program.

“The basics of the solution could be put together quite fast. In fact, in a few weeks. Two or three months is perfectly possible — if on both sides, especially on the Western side, people dedicated themselves to the task,” The Los Angeles Times quoted Niccolaud as saying.– PressTV

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In sum, the curious idea of granting a nuclear power a nuclear umbrella could actually make sense – if the value of this precious bargaining chip is recognized and an appropriate price obtained. The value returned for the nuclear umbrella should not be the furthering of Israel’s already overwhelming military domination of the Mideast and all the consequent bitterness, plotting, and tension but a significant degree of regional evolution in the direction of stability. For any lesser return on investment, the granting of a nuclear umbrella would be to waste an invaluable American resource.

Much more logical than thinking about giving Israel a nuclear umbrella would be the idea of giving Iran a nuclear umbrella. The danger of nuclear war in the Mideast results from the aggressive behavior of Israel, not Iran. Iran has neither nuclear weapons nor an aggressive foreign policy. It aids, trades with, provides arms to its friends…just like every other country with global interests. Even rhetorically, it hardly matches the vitriolic words that have in recent years flowed out of Israel…and the U.S. Unlike Israel and the U.S., Iran has no record of committing aggression against other countries or maintaining colonies. Offered a nuclear umbrella, in the context of a broader accommodation, the sincerity of Iran’s fatwa renouncing the right to possess nuclear arms would be put to the test; judging from Iran’s history, there is a good chance that Iran would pass that test.

As with the idea of extending a nuclear umbrella over Israel, granting a nuclear umbrella to Iran should also be done only with the greatest care to ensure that the U.S. receives a valid return on its investment. Complete nuclear transparency and the consequent end to any possibility of an Iranian breakout from civilian to military application of nuclear technology would be a fair return on that investment.

How the U.S. would convince Iran that its guarantee was valid is a different question–one that Tehran would have to consider carefully. But it should by now be quite clear to Iran that its current policy of strategic ambiguity constitutes a severe and immediate threat to its national security. As long as Iran challenges Israel’s military domination of the Mideast, Israel will be a threat to Iran, but Iran’s policy of strategic nuclear ambiguity makes that Israeli threat much more serious than it otherwise would be.

One wondered in recent years if Iran would ever awaken to this threat of its own making. Recent Iranian news reports suggest that it may have. The U.S. should respond positively and consider how and when it might put on the table an offer of a nuclear umbrella. No doubt Iran would at a minimum demand implementation of a process of minimizing the Israeli threat. Iranian media have already referred to Israeli possession of that ultimate weapon of aggression, bunker-buster bombs. Surely, Iran would quickly think as well of the disposition of other weapons systems crucial to Israeli aggression: nuclear-capable submarines, AWACS, re-fueling tanker planes, and cruise missiles. Much room exists for striking a bargain. The result could be a broad Mideast arms control regime enhancing the security of all.

The bottom line is that the two issues of persuading Iran not to develop nuclear arms and persuading Israel to give them up are inextricably linked as tandem precursors to preventing a nuclear arms race in the Mideast.

A far-sighted Israeli policy-maker would be rushing to open discussions with Washington to avoid having decisions made behind his back. Imagine the political points that Israel would score if it offered military concessions in return for Iranian concessions! If Iran refused, Israel would be seen as peace-loving and deserving of support; if Iran agreed, Israel would enhance its security and receive the gratitude of its now very irritated patron.

In the meantime, the Obama Administration should start reviewing very carefully what its members are allowed to say in public. Secretary Clinton, of “obliterate” Iran fame, has loose lips that could cost the U.S. dearly. Indeed, far too much talk and far too little action seems pretty much to summarize U.S. foreign policy recently – a huge improvement over the subversion (e.g., of Hamas after it won a democratic election in 2006) and warmongering (e.g., the encouragement of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006) that characterized the Bush-Cheney period, admittedly, but still not much to brag about. Chattering on about the cultural contributions of Muslim societies to the world is one thing; chattering about priceless national defense resources such as nuclear umbrellas is another.

Washington possesses an astonishing array of options for making progress toward a more stable Mideast by manipulating its enormous superiority in large weapons systems appropriately. A weapon used is a weapon wasted. Poisoned soil and fallout and global resentment are not rational American policy goals. Weapons well used are weapons that persuade others to behave appropriately. When the weapon persuades others simply by virtue of existing, that’s good. When the weapon persuades others by being eliminated, that’s brilliant. It is time for Washington officials to earn their pay by thinking through the many options they possess to stabilize the Mideast.

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