Fair or Foul Play?

The reasonable concerns of the U.S. in WMD diplomacy

by Raymond Ibrahim

Private Papers

As is common to our age, reality has taken a second-seat to rhetoric. Wherever and whenever talk of Weapons of Mass Destruction and non-proliferation occur, the question arises: is it not hypocritical for the U.S., who is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, to bully Iran and North Korea in order that the latter not realize their atomic goals?

In fact, widespread talk of “fair play” and U.S. hypocrisy seem to dominate all discussion of WMD and non-proliferation. Even top officials allude to it. Speaking at Southern Illinois University recently, Former United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix suggested that the U.S. lead by “example” by signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Said Blix:

“If the U.S. ratified it, I’m pretty sure China would. And if China does, I thinkIndia will, then Pakistan will, then I think Iran would, and then Israel and we’ll have seen the end of all nuclear tests.” He then concluded that “Double standards serve as both unfair and humiliating” (emphasis added).

This plausible sentiment seems to be well-shared across the globe. However, how “hypocritical” the U.S. is really depends on one’s perspective.

For starters, the issue at stake is not “equality” or, as Blix alludes, “fairness” — all pretty and popular terms that exist in the theoretical — but the very real annihilation of millions of people around the globe. Having WMD is therefore not a God-given right in the same vein as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Quite the contrary. Before “fairness” can flourish, universal peace must first be established. But where there is no peace or where animosity thrives — Iran has been calling the U.S. the “Great Satan” for nearly three decades now — “fairness” must wait.

Blix further declared that “The past conflicts were about territory, or about borders, or ideologies, religion, but those things don’t exist here, they’re now quarreling about who can have what weapons.”

The fact that we live in a world composed of dozens of different nations, with their own flags, cultures, ideologies and religions, and with very real borders, proves that “those things” do exist. And unfortunately they often do lead to “conflicts,” that is, wars. In such a context, why would the U.S. voluntarily want to give up its superior arms — and all in the name of “fairness”? What if the U.S., acting out of goodwill and wishing to lead by example as Blix recommends, were to begin eliminating its stockpiles; and then what if China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea — with the exception of India, all non-democracies — only pretended to reciprocate while clandestinely developing WMD?

Another argument is that nations such as Iran and North Korea only want to “defend” themselves from WMD of the U.S. This popular “deterrent” argument is flawed.

The concept of WMD as deterrents rests on the “balance of power” theory. Political scientists often argue that when competing nations are equally armed, the chances of them actually going to war diminishes greatly, such as in the Cold War. But that is not always so: in the early 20th century, the competing powers of Europe had a “balance of power.” Yet two devastating world wars still took place. With only conventional weapons, millions died. Imagine if WMD had existed in these wars. What if Hitler had nukes?

Many have pointed out that the only nation to have used WMD thus far is the U.S. However, that was in defense since the U.S. used them on Japan only after imperialist Japan first attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.

Also, the U.S. was the first to use WMD because it first developed them. And the U.S., or the West in general, was the first to develop WMD not because of any greater bellicosity in comparison to the rest of the world, but because it discovered the necessary knowledge to do so. Who doubts that if pre-modern, non-Western peoples had WMD — from Attila the Hun to Shaka Zulu — that they would have used them?

Likewise some Muslims, who otherwise are not supposed to kill innocent women and children in their jihads, have already rationalized using WMD by precedents set by Muhammad’s words and deeds dating back to the 7thcentury. He permitted the use of devastating catapults that did not differentiate women and children from fighting males in his siege of the village of Ta’if. When asked about this discrepancy, he replied only that “They [women and children] are from among them [fighting male infidels].”

Moreover, the West was first to develop WMD because Western values such as political freedom, capitalism, democracy, and especially rationalism and open debate led to scientific innovation, making, among other things, the existence of WMD possible. Conversely, the same lack of political freedom, capitalism, democracy, rationalism, and open debate that has prevented many non-Western nations from developing WMD will also be responsible for their using WMD recklessly, should they ever acquire them.

Finally, in regards to the question of hypocrisy, one must ask some hypothetical questions.  What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if Iran had acquired WMD before the West? Does anyone think that Iran would even contemplate letting the West develop their own WMD, for “self-defense”? Indeed, in such a scenario, there probably wouldn’t be a “West” to speak of — much less a United Nations to debate such issues. The “West” as we know it would be the “western” part of the Iranian caliphate.

So until that utopian day comes when there are no longer any physical or metaphysical boundaries between the various peoples of the world, the U.S. should unashamedly maintain its stockpile of WMD while simultaneously preventing others — especially those who are openly hostile to the U.S. — from acquiring them. The alternative is much worse for all concerned.

Raymond Ibrahim is a research librarian at the Library of Congress. His new book, The Al Qaeda Reader, which translates Osama bin Laden’s communiqués, will be available in April 2007.

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