Sunday, August 2, 2015

1959. Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: On Iran Nuclear Agreement

By Kamran Nayeri, August 2, 2015
This was a nuclear industry advertisement with the slogan: "Nuclear Energy, Today's Answer." 
There has been much written about the Iran nuclear agreement signed in Vienna on July 14. Everything I have read, and I have read many from all sides, is mostly from an “international relations” perspective; their analysis focuses on which states will be winners or losers and how power relations among states may change in the Middle East if  the agreement is ratified in the U.S. and in Iran (Security Council has already ratified it). Further, the negotiating parties have stated that the agreement makes the Middle East and the world safer.  That is far from the truth. 

Nuclear technology for energy or for weapons is inherently and extremely dangerous to people and the planet as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 and American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 have clearly shown.  The progress toward a healthier, safer and better world requires elimination of all nuclear weapons and nuclear power.  While it is true that this agreement if adhered to may postpone military confrontation between U.S. and its allies and Iran, it is not true that working people in Iran, United States and elsewhere are safer and should lend their support to it. In fact, none of the participating governments in the negotiations represent the best interest of their people or the planet. 

To understand the nuclear agreement reached between the UN Security Council permanent members and Germany (5+1) and Iran we must recall who the negotiating parties represented and how the agreement was reached.

The Nuclear Club
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute there are nine countries in the world today with nuclear weapons. In order of the year of first nuclear test and number of their current weapons they are: United States (1945, currently has 7,260 nuclear weapons), Russia (1949, 7,500), United Kingdom (1952, 215), France (1960, 300), China (1964, 260), India (1974, 90-110), Pakistan (1998, 100-120), Israel (no firm date available, 80), and North Korea (2006, 6-8).   Furthermore, the top four members of the Nuclear Club have thousands of these weapons deployed for use: U. S. (2,080 deployed weapons), Russia (1,780), U. K.  (150) and France (290).  Needless to say, even if a small fraction of these weapons are used the entire world will be annihilated. 

Israel’s nuclear program is important in considering Iranian nuclear ambitions given the threat Israel has posed to the region. At a colonial-settler expansionist Jewish State at perpetual war with the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, it long has possessed nuclear weapons.  Yet, like its policy of colonialism and war it has never been held accountable by the Security Council and the United States for its refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or for its nuclear weapons. 

According to the Federation of American Scientists, Israel began pursuit of nuclear weapons right after its establishment in 1948. It began search for uranium in 1949 and Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) was founded in 1952. On October 3, 1957, France and Israel signed an agreement to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power) and, in protocols that were not committed to paper, a chemical reprocessing plant. This complex was constructed in secret, and outside the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime.  In 1968, the CIA issued a report about Israel’s successful production of nuclear weapons. Although United States was aware of Israel’s nuclear ambitions and activities it turned a blind eye allowing its strategic ally in the Middle East to join the Nuclear Club outside the purview of the IAEA.

Advantages of membership in the Nuclear Club
Of course, there is significant advantage in belonging to the Nuclear Club and a disadvantage not to belonging to it.  For instance, in her 2008 bid to become the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2008 Hillary Clinton threatened Iran with nuclear obliteration (The Guardian, April 22, 2008). Such dangerously bellicose demagogy was possible because the U.S. has nuclear weapons and Iran does not.  International relations in the capitalist world are power relations in which military might matters and possession of nuclear weapons offer a definite edge as the history of nuclear weapons proliferation shows.

United States developed the first atomic weapons during World War II with cooperation from the United Kingdom and Canada as part of the Manhattan Project. It tested the first nuclear weapon in 1945 (“Trinity”).   The U. S. then used atomic bombs against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing and wounding an estimated 150,000  and 75,000 respectively.  In 1952, the U.S. tested the first hydrogen bomb ("Ivy Mike") and a deployable weapon in 1954 ("Castle Bravo").  Using nuclear weapons in Japan has been “defended” as a decision to end the war quickly.  However, it is also a fact that United States used its possession of nuclear weapons as a strategic edge against the Soviet Union in the Cold War which initiated the nuclear arms race. 

Those in the Nuclear Club have a strong incentive to bar other states from obtaining nuclear arms: the fewer states in the Nuclear Club the more non-nuclear states who are militarily at gross disadvantage.  Thus, South Africa after apartheid as well as former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan were persuaded to give up their nuclear weapons. 

Thus, the 5+1 negotiators with Iran were not working to make the world safer from nuclear weapons but to maintain their own nuclear edge, in particular the nuclear edge of the colonial-settler Zionist regime in the Middle East.  In fact, the United States is currently undertaking a three-decade one trillion dollar program to update its nuclear arsenal. (William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,” The New York Times, September 21, 2014)  The raucous debate between the Israeli government and its Republican and Democratic backers and the Obama administration is in large part about the best way to ensure Israeli’s nuclear edge in the Middle East and to contain Islamic Republic’s influence in the region.  Of course, it is also about the U.S.'s own strategic interests. 

The Iranian revolution of 1979
To understand what and who the Islamic Republic represents it is necessary to recall the Iranian revolution of February 1979, what it represented and what happened to it.  The Iranian revolution was the largest urban mass uprising since the 1917 Russian revolution. It changed that strategic relation of forces in the Middle East to the detriment of imperialism. In 1953, the Shah’s regime had been imposed by the CIA coup that overthrew the democratically elected nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh. The revolution overthrew imperialism’s regional gendarme, an ally of the colonial-settler state of Israel, and a supporter of South African Apartheid. It dissolved the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), a regional anti-Soviet military pact.

No political party or individual led the February insurrection that overthrow the Shah’s regime. In the year leading up to it grassroots organizations took shape in the neighborhoods, workplaces, high schools and universities, and among peasants and oppressed nationalities, and eventually in the armed forces, posing a challenge to the Shah’s power structure. Workers began to exert control over workplaces. Peasant moved to take the land they had tiled for centuries; closely tied to this oppressed nationalities began to revive their cultural heritage and exercise regional autonomy in Kurdistan and Turkmen Sahra. Universities became centers of political discourse. Neighborhoods were organized through popular committees to distribute scarce fuel and food. Political parties, including the banned socialist groups, began to function increasingly openly. Oil workers staged a nationwide strike that paralyzed the regime. Finally, as the discipline in the armed forces began to crumble and the Royal Guard attacked Homafaran’s (an officers rank in Shah’s air force) barracks who had gone to the side of the revolution in Tehran, the population armed itself and overthrew the monarchy in three days of insurrections across the country.

It was entirely possible for Iranians to inaugurate the first workers and peasant government in the Middle East and open the road to socialism. Instead Ayatollah Khomeini, who had opposed the Shah’s capitalist modernist reforms in 1963, including woman suffrage, and was subsequently arrested and exiled to Iraq, captured the moment and established himself as the spokesperson for the revolution. By 1983, Khomeini had used populist demagogy and ruthless repression to suppress all independent mass organizations and practically all political parties to consolidate a theocratic capitalist Islamic Republic regime. Thus, the Islamic Republic offers a historically reactionary response to imperialism in Iran and in the Middle East. (For an outline of this history see Nayeri and Nasab, “The Rise and Fall of the 1979 Iranian Revolution:  Its Lessons for Today,” 2006)

Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions
The Shah’s regime was among more than a dozen states that have attempted to join the Nuclear Club but gave it up for various reasons. (See, Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, 2011, Figure 5-22).” 

The Iranian nuclear program began as part of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program launched in 1953.  The first three reactors built under this program were for its close allies in the region: Israel, Iran and Pakistan. As part of its domestic and regional ambitions the Islamic Republic continued Shah’s nuclear program. It currently possesses several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants. Also, Iran's first nuclear power plant that was started by the Shah’s regime in the 1970s, Bushehr I reactor, was completed with major assistance of Russian government agency Rosatom and officially opened in September 2011. Iran has announced that it is working on a new 360 MW nuclear power plant to be located in Darkhovin. Islamic Republic has also indicated that it will seek more medium-sized nuclear power plants and uranium mines in the future. 

American and Western claim that the Islamic Republic has been pursuing building a nuclear weapons has never been built on facts.  Iran has signed treaties repudiating the possession of weapons of mass destruction including the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Even the 2007 U. S. National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Iran had ended all "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work" in 2003.  In 2012, U.S. intelligence agencies reported that Iran was pursuing research that could enable it to produce nuclear weapons, but was not attempting to do so.  Thus, the nuclear sanctions regime impose on Iran should be seen as part of the long campaign to overthrow the Islamic Republic that began in 1979 to impose a regime friendly to the West.  

For its own domestic and regional interests, the Israeli regime has declared the Iranian nuclear program an “existential threat” and together with the Bush administration demanded that it should be dismantled entirely.   Realizing that the Iranian scientists and engineers have already mastered the entire nuclear cycle and that a military option to eradicate the Islamic Republic nuclear program was not feasible and risked wider war in the Middle East, Obama administration intensified the sanctions regime while opening up negotiations with the Islamic Republic.  According to the U.S. State Department
“Acting both through the United Nations Security Council and regional or national authorities, the United States, the member states of the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, and others have put in place a strong, inter-locking matrix of sanctions measures relating to Iran's nuclear, missile, energy, shipping, transportation, and financial sectors.”  
The social and economic effects of sanctions have been severe. Even the war mongering George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, described the EU sanctions, in particular, as "tough, even brutal.” Impact of the recent sanctions have been particularly harsh for ordinary Iranians as the rial was devalued by more than 80% placing many imported products including some food items and domestically made products with imported materials or parts outside the reach of most consumers. Inflation and unemployment skyrocketed, stagflation set in. Although medicine and medical equipments are not sanctioned, they have become hard to obtain resulting in much suffering and some death. 

The July 14 agreement between 5+1 and the Islamic Republic reflects the balance of power between Iran and imperialism, headed by the United States.  America’s pyrrhic victory in the Gulf wars and subsequent rise and unravelling of the Arab Spring have resulted in region-wide instability where extremist Islamic organizations like Al-Quada and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that routinely use terror have gained grounds.  Meanwhile, the influence of the Islamic Republic has increased in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Gaza Strip.  The Islamic Republic has been an ascending force in the region whose interests has coincided with those of the U.S. when Washington invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and now that both regimes are engaged in the fight against ISIS.  At the same time, a majority in the Islamic Republic regime realize that their immediate interest to dismantle the sanctions regime and pursue economic development as well as their strategic regional ambitions are best served in reaching an understanding with the United States.  Thus, the Iran nuclear agreement is a win-win for American imperialism and its allies and the clerical capitalist Islamic Republic.  However, it would be a mistake to suppose that the agreement will stop future wars—conflicts can arise over implementation and the balance of power can change in the future making Iran again vulnerable.  Nor would the agreement make the Middle East and the world safer from nuclear “accidents” or nuclear wars.

For a nuclear free Middle East, for a nuclear free world
Most Iranians welcomed the new of the agreement and some celebrated it in the streets.  They are relieved that the threat of an American attack is lessened for the foreseeable future and hope that gradual easing of the sanctions regime will improve their daily lives. They also welcome the prospects of a better relations with the West.  The fact that Iranian scientists and engineers have mastered the nuclear cycle is a source of national pride.  The Iranian socialist groups and the incipient environmentalist movement have been silent about the dangers posed by the Islamic Republic nuclear program while also opposing imperialist threats, sanctions and attempts to impinge upon Iranian sovereignty. There has been little discussion about, let alone making demands for, a transition to clean renewable energy instead of relaying on fossil fuels and nuclear power in Iran.* 

These are in part due to the defeat of the 1979 revolution at the hands of the Islamic Republic regime that has resulted in mass demoralization of the older generation and mass disorientation of the generation that followed.  Still, Iranian working people are relatively in better position to chart a road forward than all other countries of the Middle East, save perhaps Turkey.  This too is due to the relatively further economic and social development and the potential of learning the lessons of the 1979 revolution when power resided in the hands of the working people, albeit for a short time.  Remembering these lessons are important not only for the working people of Iran but also throughout the region.  Had the Egyptian revolutionaries learned the lessons of the rise and fall of the Iranian revolution it would have been unlikely that Mubarakism could have returned to Egypt with a coup. The Iranian revolution affirmed that society and economy function because of us the working people and can be changed to serve the wellbeing of humanity and the planet if we self-organize to wield it ourselves directly.  In fact, during the revolution grassroots movements began to tackle problems that required solutions that required transcending capitalism before they were crushed by the Islamic Republic. However, the nuclear issue was not part of our discussions then. The revival of the Shah’s nuclear program by the Islamic Republic and the planetary crisis make it imperative to add to our demands:  “For a Nuclear Free Iran!; For a Nuclear Free Middle East!; For a Nuclear Free World!”

* Postscript: Mihan (Motherland), a Farsi language bimonthly e-magazine published abroad, devoted its July-August issue to "The Experience of the Nuclear File: Industry, Negotiations, Conclusion." Of the eighteen contributors only one, Isa Saharkhiz, an Islamic Republic reformer, notes as an aside dangers posed by the nuclear industry and the need for Iran to move to clean renewables. Only one, Farzaneh Roostaee, another reformist journalist, took notice of the hypocrisy of the U.S. and its allies who claim to be working towards nuclear non-proliferation. The contributors mostly ranged in their political perspectives from Islamic Republic reformists to reformist socialists.  For a sample of non-reformist socialist views  see the statement of the Communist Party of Iran and the statement of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. Both argue that the agreement represents a defeat for the Islamic Republic, neither make criticize it for its continuation Shah's nuclear program as intently hazardous to people and the environment. KN. August 4, 2014. 

Broad, William J. and David E. Sanger. "U.S. Rampin Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Weapons," The New York Times, September 21, 2014. 
MacAskill, Ewen. "'Obliteration' Threat to Iran in Case of Nuclear Attack," The Guardian, April 22, 2008.
Mihan. "The Experience of the Nuclear File: Industry, Negotiation, Conclusion." July 2015.
Nayeri, Kamran and Alireza Nasab. "The Rise and Fall of the 1979 Iranian Revolution: Its Lessons for Today," April, 2006. 
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Penguin Books, 2011. 

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