Monday, January 02, 2006

Us and Them

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Iran's nuclear ambitions, among other things. Today, I read this:
Iran said it had developed equipment to separate uranium. Iran says it developed the machinery to separate uranium from its core itself because no foreign country was willing to supply it. Iran's efforts to build a full nuclear fuel cycle have caused alarm in the US, which fears it could use the technology to build atomic weapons.
Feel free to bow before my godlike power to predict the bleeding obvious. (This was actually announced yesterday but I didn't see it until today.)

The Iranian government maintains that this programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes. We can't be absolutely sure that that's not true. There's no doubt that this is a worrying development though. The difficulties involved in opposing Iran's nuclear programme go deeper than just the immediate fallout from the invasion of Iraq. Part of the problem stems from the traditional "good guy/bad guy" approach to foreign policy. Let's stick to the UK to illustrate the point.

In the UK, politicians and pretty much everyone else would consider us to be "good guys" and Iran to be "bad guys". That's why Blair wouldn't see any difficulty in proposing to build new nuclear power stations while simultaneously opposing Iran's nuclear programme. It's not double standards because they are bad guys. If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you basically agree with this approach.

At the same time, you're probably aware that not everyone shares that view of the situation. At the extreme, the Iranian government undoubtedly genuinely believes that the UK are bad guys and they are the good guys. The Iranians will certainly consider the attitude of the UK government to be extremely hypocritical. We've got nuclear power stations and we're probably going to build more very soon.* We've also got nuclear weapons, show no sign of intending to decommission them, and are probably intending to upgrade them in the near future. This is in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. From the point of view of the Iranian government, we can take our two-faced concerns about their activities and jump off a cliff with them.

To get round this problem is not easy. In fact, the only realistic way to do it is to convince the Iranians that they really are the bad guys and can't be trusted with nuclear power. That's obviously just not going to happen.

On top of that, many people in the Islamic world have more sympathy for the Iranian view than they do for the UK government one. Why, they ask, does the "West" feel it can prevent an Islamic country from aquiring something which the UK, the US, Israel and others already have? They will view this as another typical example of western double standards towards Muslim countries. This creates a process (which I've simplified enormously) like this: resentment at double standards and hypocrisy of western governments leads to anger leads to hatred leads to terrorism. This doesn't in any way diminish the moral agency of the individual terrorist and I'm not trying to say that it does. This is an attempt at explanation, not justification.

What to do? Personally, I believe that the UK government should start to decommission our nuclear weapons and should certainly not aquire any new ones. Lead by example, so to speak. We want to be the good guys so let's make a good guy gesture and actually abide by the terms of the NPT, even if many other countries currently do not. Apart from anything else, if there was ever a situation in which the UK government felt it actually had to use nuclear weapons, the whole world would already be, pardon me, fucked anyway.

Here's a little bit of controversy to finish off with.

Good Guys? Bad Guys?
President Ahmadinejad has infamously called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

What's worse?
A) A government which calls for the destruction of a sovereign state but does very little to bring it about.
B) A government which actually invades and occupies a sovereign state for reasons which were entirely spurious.

You decide, as they say. Then consider if everyone else in the world is likely to agree with that decision.

* More on that soon. Really.

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