Working towards peace and sustainability

Peaceworks on Negotiations Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program

Peaceworks was founded in 1982 as a Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and we remain deeply concerned about the threat these weapons pose to the survival of humanity and the biosphere as a whole. We support any legitimate effort to advance the mutual, verifiable elimination of these horrific devices.

We, of course, do not see the use of military force as an appropriate method of addressing nuclear proliferation. To even threaten the use of such force, as Israel and the United States have done repeatedly over the years, creates the incentive to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities as a deterrent.

While the Obama-Kerry effort to negotiate with Iran via the P5+1 framework is preferable to the obstructionist position of most Congressional Republicans and Netanyahu, there is still a tremendous amount of hypocrisy in the approach the President has embraced.

To begin with, the P5, that is the U.S., UK, France, Russia and China are all nuclear-armed states. So is Israel. All the P5 members are signatories to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Most people are aware that this treaty requires non-nuclear weapons states to refrain from the pursuit of n-weapons, and obligates them to open their nuclear facilities to international inspection.

What many do not realize is that Article VI of the NPT commits the U.S. and the other nuclear weapons states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

This agreement was signed in 1968 and went into effect in 1970. 45 years later, the Pentagon still has an arsenal of many thousands of warheads, and approximately $60 billion of our tax dollars are being spent each year to maintain and upgrade this arsenal and its delivery systems.

In fact, maintaining nuclear dominance in perpetuity is the official strategic doctrine of our nation. Toward this end, the U.S. is investing hundreds of billions in constructing new nuclear weapons facilities around the country and has absolutely no intention of following either the letter or the spirit of the NPT, which, as a ratified treaty, is supposed to be the highest law of the land.

Israel does not publicly acknowledge the existence of its nuclear weapons. It is generally understood, however, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with such weapons and is believed to have approximately 200 warheads. Israel has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Iran and virtually all other states in the Middle East are signatories.

As long as the U.S. and the other P5 nations refuse to move forward on their commitment to mutually eliminate their nuclear arsenals, they have very little credibility arguing that other nations should not seek nuclear arms. This “do as I say, not as I do” approach is worse than patronizing. Our government is essential acting as a bully, insisting that others follow their orders, imposing harsh economic sanctions and threatening military action if their demands are not met.

The other hypocrisy in the U.S. approach to Iran involves our government’s failure to acknowledge the inherent connection between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons. To build a significant nuclear fission energy program requires the means for enrichment of uranium. And, as the fissile isotope of uranium is relatively rare, for fission power to be more than a short term undertaking requires the separation of plutonium from spent fuel.

Enrichment capabilities and plutonium separation through reprocessing are necessary ingredients for both a full-blown civilian nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program. There is no secret to the bomb, only limited access to “special nuclear materials,” that is highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

Peaceworks opposes the use of nuclear fission for energy, recognizing that it is too dangerous, too dirty, too slow and far too expensive to be a viable source of energy to address the climate crisis. Our government, on the other hand, supports the expansion of nuclear power and maintains the fiction that this can be done without spreading nuclear weapons capabilities. In fact, the infrastructure and technical knowhow for a civilian nuclear energy program is exactly what is needed for any nation that wishes to “go nuclear” on the weapons side.

Only if we move beyond nuclear power, at home and abroad, can we really root out nuclear weapons proliferation. If the world was to eschew the nuclear option for energy, then any effort to build enrichment or reprocessing facilities would be unambiguously directed toward weapons production and immediate action could be taken.

With these concerns stated, in the short run, it is clearly preferable to pursue negotiations rather than to harken to the neo-cons’ drumbeat for war. Thus, we must offer qualified support to the negotiations process. If we are to have any hope for a peaceful, nuclear-free future, however, we must focus on nuclear weapons in general, rather than seeing Iran as the problem.

We should pursue a Nuclear-Free Middle East as part of a broader settlement of regional conflicts, but we should not stop there. Ultimately, we need to work for a world free of the scourge of nuclear weapons. And, in tandem with this, we need a world that gets serious about addressing the climate crisis by moving rapidly to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of safe, clean renewable energy options.

If you agree that these are policies worthy of pursuing, we need your vocal and visible support to make them a reality. Far too many of us have abdicated an active role in the process of setting policy and priorities. If, on the other hand, the people find our voice and lead, perhaps, in time, the so-called “leaders” will follow.