Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Human Wrongs Watch

By John Scales Avery*

22 July 2015

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968

The During the Cold War, a number of international treaties attempting to reduce the global nuclear peril had been achieved after much struggle. Among these, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has special importance.

Sculpture depicting St. George slaying the dragon. The dragon is created from fragments of Soviet SS-20 and United States Pershing nuclear missiles. UN Photo/Milton Grant

Sculpture depicting St. George slaying the dragon. The dragon is created from fragments of Soviet SS-20 and United States Pershing nuclear missiles. UN Photo/Milton Grant

The NPT was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five nations that already had them; to provide assurance that “peaceful” nuclear activities of non-nuclear-weapon states would not be used to produce such weapons; to promote peaceful use of nuclear energy to the greatest extent consistent with non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; and finally, to ensure that definite steps towards complete nuclear disarmament would be taken by all states, as well steps towards comprehensive control of conventional armaments (Article VI).

The non-nuclear-weapon states insisted that Article VI be included in the treaty as a price for giving up their own ambitions. The full text of Article VI is as follows:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating 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 international control.”

Several nuclear weapon states, notably the United States, are grossly violating Article VI.

The NPT has now been signed by 187 countries and has been in force as international law since 1970. However, Israel, India, Pakistan, and Cuba have refused to sign, and North Korea, after signing the treaty, withdrew from it in 1993.

An atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1 November 1952. Photo: US Government | Source: UN

An atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1 November 1952. Photo: US Government | Source: UN

Israel began producing nuclear weapons in the late 1960’s (with the help of technology provided by France, and with the tacit approval of the United States) and the country is now believed to possess 100-150 of them, including neutron bombs. Israel’s policy is one of visibly possessing nuclear weapons while denying their existence.

The US Bush Administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review paper proposed that US nuclear weapons should target seven countries – Russia, China, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Situations in which the weapons might be used included war in the Middle East, conflict between China and Taiwan, North Korean invasion of South Korea, or responding to “surprising military developments”, a vague phrase that could include many things.

One can gain a small idea of the terrible ecological consequences of a nuclear war by thinking of the radioactive contamination that has made large areas near to Chernobyl and Fukushima uninhabitable, or the testing of hydrogen bombs in the Pacific, which continues to cause leukemia and birth defects in the Marshall Islands more than half a century later.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is suing the nine countries with nuclear weapons at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, arguing they have violated their legal obligation to disarm.

The Guardian reports that “In the unprecedented legal action, comprising nine separate cases brought before the ICJ on Thursday, the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons states of a `flagrant denial of human justice’. It argues it is justified in taking the action because of the harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race.”

Nuclear energy is too dangerous

A fatal fault of the NPT is that it encourages the “peaceful” use of atomic energy for generating electrical power. However, nuclear power generation is so closely connected with the proliferation of nuclear weapons that this type of energy generation is an extremely bad idea. There are other reasons too. Here are a few:

  1. The danger of accidents, as exemplified by Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Windscale.
  1. The danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons. All of the new nuclear weapons states obtained their weapons under the guise of nuclear power generation. The difficulty of distinguishing between civilian and military nuclear programs is exemplified by the situation in Iran.
  1. The problem of disposing of nuclear waste has not been satisfactorily solved.
  1. At best, nuclear power generation can supply only a small fraction of the worlds energy needs, and because of limited stocks of uranium and thorium, it can only do so for a short time.
  1. If a careful accounting is made, the CO2 emitted by by constructing nuclear power plants, running them, mining and refining the uranium, and decommissioning the plants is comparable to that emitted by coal-fired plants. This has been carefully documented by researchers such as Dr. Helen Caldicot.
  1. In the countries where it is presently used, nuclear power generation is heavily subsidized, and if it were not for these subsidies, it would not be able to compete with wind energy or solar energy. It is vital that subsidies be shifted from nuclear power to the development of various forms of renewable energy.

**Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona, photographed by American reconnaissance satellite KH-4 CORONA, 1968-11-11. Uncropped version at | Wikimedia Commons

**Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona, photographed by American reconnaissance satellite KH-4 CORONA, 1968-11-11. Uncropped version at | Wikimedia Commons

How Israel got its nuclear weapons

According to Wikipedia, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion was “nearly obsessed with obtaining nuclear weapons”, and under his administration, work on obtaining these weapons for Israel was started in 1949 under his administration.

The Wikipedia article states that “…In 1949 Israeli scientists were invited to the Saclay Nuclear Research Centre, this cooperation leading to a joint effort including sharing of knowledge between French and Israeli scientists especially those with knowledge from the Manhattan Project…. Progress in nuclear science and technology in France and Israel remained closely linked throughout the early fifties….There were several Israeli observers at the French nuclear tests and the Israelis had ‘unrestricted access to French nuclear test explosion data”

The article continues: “When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, France proposed Israel attack Egypt and invade the Sinai as a pretext for France and Britain to invade Egypt posing as ‘peacekeepers’ with the true intent of seizing the Suez Canal. In exchange, France would provide the nuclear reactor as the basis for the Israeli nuclear weapons program. Shimon Perez, sensing the opportunity on the nuclear reactor, accepted.”

According to Wikipedia, “Top secret British documents obtained by BBC Newsnight show that Britain made hundreds of secret shipments of restricted materials to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. These included specialist chemicals for reprocessing and samples of fissile material, uranium-235, in 1959, and plutonium in 1966, as well as highly enriched lithium-6, which is used to boost fission bombs and fuel hydrogen bombs. The investigation also showed that Britain shipped 20 tons of heavy water directly to Israel in 1959 and 1960 to start up the Dimona reactor.”

Here we see both France and Britain as gross violators of the NPT, since the NPT forbids nations possessing nuclear weapons helping other nations to obtain them. The United States government knew what was happening, but prevented the knowledge from becoming public.

Israel completed its first nuclear weapons in the early 1960’s. The country is now thought to have 100 to 300 of them, including hydrogen bombs and neutron bombs. Israel’s government maintains a policy of “nuclear opacity”, meaning that while visibly possessing nuclear weapons, it denies having them.

Mordechai Vanunu, whistleblower and martyr

Mordechai Vanunu was working as a technician at the Israeli reactor installation Dimona, where he observed work on the construction nuclear weapons. As he thought more and more about what he was doing, his conscience began to bother him. In 1986, on a trip to England, he told the British press what he knew about the Israeli nuclear weapons program.

The government of Israel was furious, and arranged a classical “honey trap” in which a female agent of Mossad used sex to lure Vanunu to Italy, where he was drugged and kidnapped. The drugged prisoner was transported to Israel and tried for treason. In fact one of Vanunu’s motives had been to save his country from destruction in a nuclear war. Whistleblowers are often the best patriots.

Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, the first 11 of which were in solitary confinement. Released in 2004, he thought that he would be free to leave the country, but he was soon re-arrested.

Today, he is free to move within Israel but his movements and contacts are severely restricted. Vanunu is often considered to be a prisoner of conscience similar to Nelson Mandela, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon. The fact that Israel has an apartheid system even worse than the one that formerly oppressed South Africa strengthens the the similarity between Vanunu and Mandela.

***A view of the Milad Tower and some residential buildings in the West Town of Tehran.| Author: Mehrad Watson | Wikimedia Commons

***A view of the Milad Tower and some residential buildings in the West Town of Tehran.| Author: Mehrad Watson | Wikimedia Commons

The suffering of Iran

Iran has an ancient and beautiful civilization, which dates back to 7,000 BC, when the city of Susa was founded. Some of the earliest writing that we know of, dating from from approximately 3,000 BC, was used by the Elamite civilization near to Susa.

Today’s Iranians are highly intelligent and cultured, and famous for their hospitality, generosity and kindness to strangers. Over the centuries, Iranians have made many contributions to science, art and literature, and for hundreds of years they have not attacked any of their neighbors.

Nevertheless, for the last 90 years, they have been the victims of foreign attacks and interventions, most of which have been closely related to Iran’s oil and gas resources. The first of these took place in the period 1921-1925, when a British-sponsored coup overthrew the Qajar dynasty and replaced it by Reza Shah.

Reza Shah, had a strong sense of mission, and felt that it was his duty to modernize Iran. He passed on this sense of mission to his son, the young Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

The painful problem of poverty was everywhere apparent, and both Reza Shah and his son saw modernization of Iran as the only way to end poverty.

In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh became Prime Minister of Iran through democratic elections. He was from a highly-placed family and could trace his ancestry back to the shahs of the Qajar dynasty. Among the many reforms made by Mosaddegh was the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s possessions in Iran.

Because of this, the AIOC (which later became British Petroleum), persuaded the British government to sponsor a secret coup that would overthrow Mosaddegh.

The British asked US President Eisenhower and the CIA to join M16 in carrying out the coup, claiming that Mosaddegh represented a communist threat (a ludicrous argument, considering Mosaddegh’s aristocratic background). Eisenhower agreed to help Britain in carrying out the coup, and it took place in 1953. The Shah thus obtained complete power over Iran.

One can also say that the westernization, at which both Shah Reza and his son aimed, produced an anti-western reaction among the conservative elements of Iranian society.

Iran was “falling between two stools”, on the one hand western culture and on the other hand the country’s traditional culture. It seemed to be halfway between, belonging to neither. Finally in 1979 the Islamic clergy triumphed and Iran chose tradition.

Meanwhile, in 1963 the US had secretly backed a military coup in Iraq that brought Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party to power. In 1979, when the western-backed Shah of Iran was overthrown, the United States regarded the fundamentalist Shi’ite regime that replaced him as a threat to supplies of oil from Saudi Arabia.

Washington saw Saddam’s Iraq as a bulwark against the Shi’ite government of Iran that was thought to be threatening oil supplies from pro-American states such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In 1980, encouraged to do so by the fact that Iran had lost its US backing, Saddam Hussein’s government attacked Iran.

This was the start of a extremely bloody and destructive war that lasted for eight years, inflicting almost a million casualties on the two nations. Iraq used both mustard gas and the nerve gases Tabun and Sarin against Iran, in violation of the Geneva Protocol.

Some concluding remarks

The present attacks on Iran by Israel and the United States, both actual and threatened, have some similarity to the war against Iraq which was launched by the United States in 2003.

In 2003, the attack was nominally motivated by the threat that nuclear weapons would be developed, but the
real motive had more to do with a desire to control and exploit the petroleum resources of Iraq, and with Israel’s extreme nervousness at having a powerful and somewhat hostile neighbor.

Similarly, hegemony over the huge oil and gas reserves of Iran can be seen as one the main reasons why the United States is presently demonizing Iran, and this is combined with Israel’s almost paranoid fear of a large and powerful Iran.

Looking back on the “successful” 1953 coup against Mosaddegh, Israel and the United States perhaps feel that sanctions, threats, murders and other pressures can cause a regime change that will bring a more compliant government to power in Iran – a government that will accept US hegemony. But aggressive rhetoric, threats and provocations can escalate into full-scale war.

I do not wish to say that Iran’s present government is without serious faults. However, any use of violence against Iran would be both insane and criminal.

Why insane?

Because the present economy of the US and the world cannot support another large-scale conflict; because the Middle East is already a deeply troubled region; and because it is impossible to predict the extent of a war which, if once started, might develop into World War III, given the fact that Iran is closely allied with both Russia and China. Why criminal?

Because such violence would violate both the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Principles.

There is no hope at all for the future unless we work for a peaceful world, governed by international law, rather than a fearful world where brutal power holds sway.

john_avery*John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century

Other articles by John Scales Avery published by Human Wrongs Watch:

Greed Is Driving Us Towards Disaster

Debt Slavery

Will the Real Issues Be Discussed in 2016?

Militarism’s Hostages

New Hope for Avoiding Catastrophic Climate Change

Exponential Growth

Albert Einstein, Scientist and Pacifist

“The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers”, by Richard Falk and David Krieger

Millay’s “Epitaph for the Race of Man” 

The Future of International Law (Part I)

The Future of International Law (Part II)

The Future of International Law (Part III)

Europe Must Not Be Forced Into a Nuclear War with Russia

Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe – The Dangers Are Very Great Today

Why Is the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons So Urgent?

Why Is the Military-Industrial Complex Sometimes Called “The Devil’s Dynamo”?

Of Reciprocity and Karma

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Is at Our Throats

Perpetual War

Kill or Be Killed… Or Both!

Does It Make Sense to Saw Off the Branch on Which You Are Sitting?

Blood for Oil – The Close Relationship Between Petroleum and War


**Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona, photographed by American reconnaissance satellite KH-4 CORONA, 1968-11-11. Uncropped version at | Wikimedia Commons

***A view of the Milad Tower and some residential buildings in the West Town of Tehran.| Author: Mehrad Watson | Wikimedia Commons

2015 Human Wrongs Watch

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