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U.S. Nuclear Policy: Full of Double Standards?

Does the U.S. campaign against nuclear weapons in Iraq reflect a double standard?

January 17, 2003

Does the U.S. campaign against nuclear weapons in Iraq reflect a double standard?

There is a country in the world that not only possesses and maintains nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons but also boasts an array of weapons of mass destruction — including chemical and biological ones.

And yet, its commander-in-chief lectures the world on the threat from Iraq and North Korea and on the virtues of nuclear non-proliferation.

But in the eyes of many people living in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, this is viewed as little more than an egregious and galling form of American hypocrisy.

Indeed, analysts there consider the U.S. position on nuclear weapons a multilayered cake of (highly transparent) double standards.

Level one: The United States continues to remain the number one proliferator of weapons. Even in regions such as the Middle East — where the United States supposedly deems peace as crucial to its own interests — the United States is the number one exporter of advanced weapons. It sells strategic fighters (such as F-16s) and missiles to both sides — Israel and Arabs.

In FY 2001, the United States sold nearly $13.9 billion worth of weapons, to foreign governments — and licensed nearly $30 billion in commercial arms sales.

Under those circumstances, it comes as no surprise that the United States is the world’s biggest merchant of death. If the next Arab-Israeli war involves vastly more sophisticated and dangerous weapons than ever before, many analysts — at least those outside the United States — believe that the world will only have the United States to thank for it.

Level two: The United States continues to remain the global leader in developing weapons' technology. It was not only the first country to produce nuclear weapons, but to date, the United States also remains the only nation in the world to have used nuclear weapons — and more than once.

Even now, long after the end of the Cold War, it continues to possess chemical and biological weapons. And it has just announced a massive new missile system that will enhance its global military domination.

It will also ensure a new arms race by creating a new security dilemma for other nations — such as China — wary of Washington’s neo-imperial agenda.

Level three: The United States continues to have very close relations with key nations that have refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The list includes India, Pakistan and Israel.

These nations are widely known to possess nuclear arsenals. Meanwhile, the United States is determined to intimidate and punish nations which have nuclear ambition but, as yet, no nuclear weapons, such as Iran and Iraq.

Iran and Iraq simply want to emulate the United States — like India, Israel and Pakistan have already done — and have a few nukes of their own.

In fact, to this day, the United States has never expressed any concern over the illegal nuclear — and other weapons — of mass destruction that Israel possesses.

And now that it suits U.S. interests, it has decided to ignore the fact that India and Pakistan also continue to defy not only the nuclear non-proliferation regime but also the nuclear test ban regime.

Level four: The United States has constantly accused Iraq and Iran of nursing an unquenchable thirst for nuclear weapons. American analysts have also argued that these nations desire these weapons of mass destruction for the explicit purpose of using them against the United States and its allies (read Israel).

Unless it can be demonstrated that both Iran and Iraq have a very strong desire to self-destruct, it is difficult to understand why any nation would be willing to sign its own death warrant by attacking the United States.

After all, both countries rely on centralized governments with all major functions concentrated in a few key urban areas. That makes both Saddam and the Iranian mullahs extremely vulnerable to nuclear weapons.

So why would Iran and Iraq want a handful of nuclear weapons if not to attack the United States? The answer is simple, but you probably never heard it on any talk show on U.S. cable TV — and never read it in any a policy brief or media report. It is to deter Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

In turn, what the United States seeks to achieve with its focus on Iraq and Iran is to prevent these nations — and any other nation in the region — from developing the capacity to deter Israel and force it to adopt less bellicose methods towards the Palestinian issue.

Level five: In his first State of the Union address, President Bush made his intentions clear about the so called “axis of evil”, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. He was determined to eliminate their capacity to threaten the United States or its allies.

But now we have a strange situation. Iraq denies that it has any weapons of mass destruction — and so far after over 200 inspections the UN inspectors have discovered nothing.

The United States claims it has certain knowledge of Iraq’s evil weapons, but even after sharing its “intelligence” with the inspectors, nothing has been discovered.

North Korea, on the other hand, has not only declared that it has an active nuclear weapons program, but that it is determined to become a nuclear power in the immediate future.

But guess who the United States is targeting for a massive military attack? Iraq. Meanwhile, it has ruled out any military option against North Korea. Puzzling, isn’t it?

Common sense suggests that both al Qaeda and North Korea at the moment present a greater “gathering danger” than Iraq but President Bush has chosen Iraq as its primary target.

On many levels, America’s present policies raise questions about its moral clarity. Washington articulates policy in idealistic terms — but applies it in highly "realistic," if not self-serving fashion.

If the objective is to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, then the United States must continue to pressure those nations who already have them (India, Pakistan and Israel) — and those who are about to have them (North Korea) — just as much if not more than those who aspire to obtain them (Iraq and Iran).

And if nuclear weapons are indeed seen as a danger to world peace then Washington should work to denuclearize South Asia and the Middle East.

It could do so by convincing India, Pakistan and Israel to voluntarily denuclearize (like Sweden, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil have done) and submit to inspection regimes.

Or — dream of dreams — it could also consider giving the world a firm timetable on its own denuclearization program (in concert with the UK, France, Russia and China) — and immediately cease all further development and production of weapons of mass destruction.

If these measures are impossible for reasons of realpolitik, then President Bush should at least spare the world the tedious moral rhetoric and speeches on good and evil that he is currently addicted to. He should let his actions and policies speak for themselves. They do anyway.

Presidential candidate George W. Bush had promised that if elected his administration would provide “moral clarity” in foreign policy. I am now reminded of another Presidential candidate George H. Bush who had promised “read my lips; no more taxes."