Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why the US does not want a nuclear Iran

While almost every day we are told that the US, the UN and the West in general oppose a nuclear Iran because of the belief that Tehran could use enrichment to turn a peaceful nuclear energy plan into a nuclear weapons program, or that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defying the international community on the matter because he is irrational, seeks confrontation or wants to “destroy” Israel,* the real reasons why the West opposes Iran’s nuclear ambitions rather lie in economics. In fact, we must look back to the 1970s to find the seeds of the current crisis, when powerful US and British oil and banking interests launched a campaign to increase the price of oil while, through funding to environmental groups and security think tanks, seeking to discredit nuclear energy as a safe, clean source of energy and creating fears of nuclear proliferation (the bid worked, as our continued reliance on the black gold shows us). Later on, Western powers used the UN Security Council to block certain states from going nuclear while allowing allies to pass the threshold, even when those states were not signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as Israel and India.

When it comes to oil-rich Iran, the US and its allies have argued that it makes no sense — aside from nuclear weapons ambitions — for Tehran to seek nuclear energy precisely because it has so much oil. What this rationalization fails to consider, however, is that Iran, just like any other country, seeks to maximize its oil profits by exporting it rather than reserving it for domestic consumption, all the more so when prices are so high. If Iran managed to produce enough nuclear fuel to feed its reactors, a mere 1-gigawatt reactor would produce enough power to accommodate an industrial city of 1 million people. Add a few of those and Iran could soon be self-sufficient and therefore in a position to export more oil and use the money to develop its infrastructure.

But this the US will not allow. Why? Because it has long been Washington’s policy (and before it, London’s) to keep oil-producing states in the Middle East relatively weak so that they will never be able to challenge Western interests. While Tehran’s supposed intransigence on the issue is used by the West and its media mouthpieces to explain the lack of progress in talks and the attendant series of economic sanctions, the truth is that the West does not want a nuclear Iran and will continue to move the goal posts to stall the process indefinitely (this would explain the US’ refusal to even consider closely monitored minimal uranium enrichment in Iran as an alternative to full-cycle enrichment, while Western support for the proposal that Russia provide Iran with nuclear fuel now looks dead in the water, given the strained relations between the West and Russia following the latter’s invasion of Georgia earlier this month).

“Lack of transparence” on Tehran’s part is currently the reason given to justify sanctions and Western opposition. However, even if tomorrow Tehran were to become the epitome of transparency, nuclear power would still remain beyond its reach and new reasons would be found to account for the lack of developments, from enmity with Israel to support for terrorism (Hezbollah, Hamas) to meddling in Iraq or Afghanistan and so on.

As in the past, a lot can be explained by looking at who’s behind declarations and which institutions are funding whom in the battle of ideas. From think tanks to oil companies to big banks to publishing houses, many have an interest in ensuring that Iran remains relatively weak.

* Ahmadinejad’s supposed calls for the “destruction” of Israel are hotly contested and are probably more the result of mistranslation or manipulation than a heartfelt wish for the Jewish state’s destruction, which in any case would inevitably result in the annihilation of Iran by either Israel (which has nuclear weapons) or the US. Ahmadinejad and his cabinet do not have a death wish, nor is Ahmadinejad in a position where he can make unilateral decisions that would affect the future of his state. Ahmadinejad is a populist in the same mold as Mohammed Mossadegh, whom the US and British intelligence helped overthrow in 1953 (again mostly over oil).

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