The Arabs and the Race to Nuclear Hell

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Fareed Mahdy
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

 

ISTANBUL (IDN) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sounds rather optimistic -- or has chosen to do so: “Recently, we have seen signs of progress on nuclear non-proliferation talks,” he said some two weeks ahead of announcing on August. 3 that ministerial-level discussions on eliminating the world’s nuclear weapons will take place in New York in September. But signals from both the Arab region and the U.S. induce a dramatically different conclusion. [P] ARABICJAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | SPANISH

In fact, indications from the Middle East point to an ongoing nuclear race in the region -- the world's most conflictive and the only one not to have a nuclear free zone treaty. Indeed, Latin America and the Caribbean is nuclear free, as is Africa, while sub-regional treaties have also been sealed among Central Asian countries and South-eastern Asian states.

The Middle East is therefore a striking exception in a world willing to head for eliminating atomic weapons, at least according to big nuclear powers' political statements.

In fact, Jordan and Sudan have openly joined other 10 Arab countries willing to exercise their legitimate right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

These are: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates.

Together these12 countries represent over 50 percent of the 22 members of the League of Arab States, and an even higher percentage (over two-thirds) considering that at least five of them -- Somalia, Yemen, Comoros Islands, Djibouti and Mauritania -- appear to be far away from caressing nuclear dreams for now.

DANGEROUS RACE

Such an Arab nuclear race is to be clearly considered extremely dangerous should Western powers' arguments against Iranian nuclear programme hold ground. According to these arguments, the very fact that Tehran pursues atomic energy for civilian purposes implies an evident risk that it may militarize it and start producing atomic weapons.

The logical corollary of Western arguments therefore is that the Arab countries willing to go nuclear would eventually end up developing nuclear weapons.

Three key questions arise:

-- Why do the Arabs want to turn nuclear?
-- Why Europe, the U.S. and its allies in Asia, are pushing the Arabs into such a nuclear race?
-- Has the Iranian nuclear programme been used as an alibi by Arab regimes to run in the atomic race and by the West to encourage them to do so?

ARAB ARGUMENTS

Arab states would have at least four good arguments -- or justifications -- to want to develop their own nuclear capacities.

On the one hand, the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, Israel -- which reportedly possesses over 200 nuclear warheads (equivalent to more than three-folds of Indian or Pakistani atomic arsenals) -- continues to frustrate the international community's efforts to make it join the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In fact, Israel categorically rejects all demands to lay bare its atomic programme; submit its nuclear facilities to the mandatory inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); join international nuclear disarmament negotiations and accords, and participate in any attempt to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone.

On the other hand, Arab regimes are under increasing pressure from the U.S. and Europe through their consistent campaign to terrorise the region over alleged Iranian intentions to become a nuclear power.

A third argument is the failure to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone. In fact, all their demands to liberate the region from these and all other weapons of mass destruction have been systematically falling on deaf ears.

The fourth reason is the big nuclear powers' insistence on offering assistance to whoever wants to go atomic in the region.

In fact, Western nuclear powers, led by France, and closely followed by the U.S. and the United Kingdom, have been systematically casting their “nuclear assistance charm” on all Arab regimes.

In this, they have simply prioritised their commercial interests and power game over their declared good intentions of freeing the world from nuclear threats. Such Western pressure has led Russia to compete with them due to both political and commercial reasons.

GOING NUCLEAR, ALREADY

Consequently, the United Arab Emirates has joined Saudi Arabia on the nuclear road through the Gulf region, with other runners, such as Kuwait and Qatar, already warming their muscles.

At the same time, the uranium-rich Jordan has been involved in discussions with French giant Areva and Japanese firm Mitsubishi to acquire technology to enable it build its first nuclear power plant.

Furthermore, the Jordanian government announced in late July 2010 an agreement with South Korea to launch its first nuclear research reactor.

The Jordanian nuclear plan embodies a first sign of 'rebellion' against U.S. and European policies, as Amman has shown great reluctance to accept Western moves to prevent Jordan from exercising its sovereign right to enrich uranium.

At the same time, France promised assistance to Qatar and Morocco to launch their own nuclear programmes, and Cairo signed last year with Moscow an agreement ensuring Russian enrolment in the setting up of nuclear plants in Egypt.

Now Sudan has also decided to join the nuclear race by announcing on August 22 a plan to build its own reactor.

THE AMERICAN 'OPTIONS'

Meanwhile, the U.S. has shown no real signs of willingness to eliminate the danger of atomic weapons from the face of the Earth, in spite of Barack Obama administration's declared good will of achieving a nuclear free world.

Far from that, U.S. nuclear plans imply that despite its decision to reduce its atomic arsenals, it will keep a minimum of 3,000 nuclear weapons for over a decade, while continuing to modernise its atomic arsenals and aiming at producing a so-called "super nuclear bomb".

In a further step, the U.S. has made it loud and clear that anybody who wants to go nuclear in the Arab region will have to choose between three specific options, which Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has spelt out during one of her frequent visits to the region:

"They can just give in to the threat (from Iran). Or they can seek their own capabilities, including nuclear; or they ally themselves with a country like the United States that is willing to help defend them . . . I think the third is by far the preferable option."

THE CIA WILL WATCH

Be it on purpose to reaffirm Clinton's "options" and make it clear how the U.S. is keen about further aligning the Arabs behind its interests, or to just strengthen its role in the region, the fact is that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has decided to open a counter-proliferation centre to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Its director, Leon Edward Panetta, said on August 18 that the new centre would place CIA operators side by side with the agency's analysts to brainstorm plans to "confront the threat of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical and biological".

THE IRANIAN ALIBI

There is another key factor in such a nuclear race in the Arab region, and that is the consistent campaign by the U.S. and Europe to persuade the world and their own public, that Iranian nuclear programme represents a major threat to their national security and that of the whole planet.

Such insistence in arguing that Iran could well transform its civilian programme into a military to develop atomic weapons -- and use them -- has targeted the Gulf region in particular.

No wonder. It is the single richest oil producing region in the world; its regimes are close "allies" of the U.S. and Europe, and its countries have enough financial resources.

These resources, which have been disproportionately used to fulfil an induced -- if not imposed -- need to regularly purchase Western conventional weapons, are now seen as a great business opportunity to move the 'simple' arms race to a nuclear race.

Paradoxically enough, Tehran has contributed significantly to this game, by reiterating swollen patriotic proclamations.

NUCLEAR TURKEY?

An additional side-effect to the Middle East atomic race induced by the biggest nuclear powers is Ankara's decision to install its own nuclear facilities.

In fact, the Turkish parliament approved on July 13 a bill on an agreement between Russia and Turkey for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in the coastal town of Akkuyu, in Mersin province.

According to the agreement, which was signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s official visit to Turkey in May 2010, the two countries will cooperate in the construction and operation of the power plant.

A consortium led by state-controlled Russian builder AtomStroyExport will construct the plant in Akkuyu, which is estimated to cost around 20 billion US dollars. The construction is due to start later this year, and it will generate 4,800 megawatts in four units.

This Turkish nuclear plan gains special relevance in view of the country's doubly important role – as a key, full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and as a new, strong player in the Middle East.

All these developments point to a bleak proliferation scenario. Does the UN Secretary-General nevertheless wish to hold on to his optimism? (IDN-InDepthNews/23.08.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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