Who am I?Where am I?

06 April 2009

Iran and Nuclear Energy

Over this past weekend, I listened to Barack Obama address a European audience and say that a missile defense shield was necessary as long as Iran was pursuing a nuclear energy programme. I was extremely disappointed by this feckless statement and the the fear-mongering this statment pandered to. It was very reminiscent of Obama's predecessor and as illogical as many of Bush's ill-timed thought out utterances.

The fact that Iran has pursued nuclear energy for the past several years is not news. Neither is the United States position on this issue. While this issue has been discussed at length from one view point, that of the American government, I do not believe that it has been dealt with in any objective manner. I am going to attempt to address the issue of Iran's nucluear programme from a slightly different perspective.

That Iran is pursuing a programme designed to give it nuclear energy isnot in dispute. Iran's nuclear energy programme goes back to the 1970s when the United States backed the Shah's efforts to make nuclear energy a staple source of energy for a quickly developing Iran. The United States trained Iranian nuclear scientists, helped the Iranians purchase the parts of necessary to build their first nuclear power station, and supported the Iranians in their quest to procure alternate sources of energy. Despite the Americans seemingly supporting the Shah's government, the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations all sought to limit the possibility of nuclear proliferation and maintain American hegemony by imposing severe restrictions on how the Shah's government could use its newly aquired technology.

Not surprisingly, the Shah's government did not like the the restrictions imposed upon it. Equally not suprisingly, the American government did sanction nor support the continuation of the Iranian nuclear programme under the Islamic Revolution. However the programme was eventually continued. Thus, the current controversy.

My personal opinion is that Iran needs to be commended for trying to build a nuclear power plant. My arugement for this opinion is complex. Yet it boils down to several key points. First, if Iran was to try to wholly rely on the burning of fossil fuels, it would contribute significantly to pollution and environmental catastrophe. Next, Iran is trying to develop itself and needs alternatives to fossil fuel. Lastly, Iran has not violated any international laws and must be allowed that right to determine its own energy policy.

When the Islamic Revolution occurred in 1979, the Iranian population was around 32 million. Today, Iran's population is close to 70 million. This population explosion has increased Iran's energy needs. The Iranian government has sought to expand the number of villages that have access to electricity, which has served to further raise the energy demands of the country. To compound matters, the Iranian economy is growing at around 6% per annum. With this growth comes an increased need for energy.

One would think that Iran could simply turn on the tap and open up the pipelines to its oil reserves and provide the country with more energy. However, since the 1970s, Iran's oil production has actually decreased! This is due to Western sanctions and the fact that Iran's petroleum industry needs a massive amount of upgrading and modernization, which it cannot easily procure due to the Western blockade. This, coupled with the fact that Iran's energy needs have increased, has forced the Iranians to become a net oil importer. As astounding as it may be to consider, one of the leading members of OPEC actually imports oil. When one considers the implications of this fact, it is easy to see why the Iranian government wants to explore nuclear energy as an alternative form of energy.

The last point is probably the most controversial, yet it remains true. Iran has in fact complied with requests from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). Furthermore, Iran signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1968 and ratified it in 1970. While this was done under the Shah's government, the Islamic Revolution has not overturned this treaty. Therefore, Iran has a right, as recognized by international law, to develop nuclear energy as long as this is monitored by the IAEA.

The Rush Limbaugh's of the world love to point out that Iran may have the capability to enrich uranium. Yet so far, Iran has in fact complied with all IAEA requests. Furthermore, if one reads the wording of the non-proliferation treaty, it allows for uranium enrichment as long as this is done for peaceful purposes. Therefore, Iran is commiting no violation of any treaty, to which it is a party, by simply enriching uranium.

Add this to the fact that Iran's current known uranium deposits can produce the same amount of electricity as 45 Billion barrels of oil. Iran has just over 90 billion barrels of known oil reserves. However, some are in locations difficult to extract. Therefore, it is unlikely that all of their oil will ever be extracted. Thus, the Iranians could theoretically supply their own energy needs from nuclear energy and export all of their oil for profit, thereby improving the standard of living.

The United States and western governments assume that simply because Iran has a nuclear energy programme, this programme will be used to develop nuclear weapons. It is hypocritical to deny Iran this right. It is also cynical to force Iran to burn a non-renewable energy source when it can save this valuable resource and position itself to be an even larger player in the oil industry in years to come. Furthermore, the west did not protest too vehemently when Pakistan, another Islamic country that is far less stable than Iran, developed nuclear capabilities. Furthermore, Iran has repeatedly sought to eliminate nuclear weapons in the entire region (including in Israel). While this is obviously a political move designed to embarrass Israel, one must consider the brutal usage of weapons of mass destruction that Sadam Hussein's Iraqi forces hurled against the Iranians. The propinquity of the Iran-Iraq War has not allowed the Iranians to forget the destructive nature of these weapons. Could it not be possible that they simply want to eliminate these weapons in the region to protect themselves from the possibility that they could again be victimized by such weapons?

It is my hope that the Obama administration develops a velleity to help Iran develop its energy capabilities in a safe manner. If the Americans feel as though Iran is an enemy, then perhaps the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer should hold true and the Iranians should be brought into the family of nations rather than ostracized like a criminal step-child.

1 comment:

Yve said...

Yeah I can remember flipping through channels, catching a glimpse of Obama addressing an audience in Prague then quickly disengaging. I should admit that I did not accord Obama the chance to roll out his speech on “my” Al Jazeera.

Anyway, Nom, your bit on, “Iran needs to be commended for trying to build a nuclear power plant” got me tickled. I cannot agree with you more. Your arguments are very compelling and all I request to do is very briefly give them a further twist.

It is my conviction that any country with nuclear capabilities whether fully accepted in the international community of states or otherwise is a threat to its neighbours. Iran notwithstanding. Iran has been insisting that its enrichment activities are intended for peaceful civil purposes. On the other hand, most Western powers led by the US argue that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons programme/capability. Now, let me draw your attention to the international system. My memory fails me a little bit here but I think its Thomas Hobbes who talks about the state of nature and the international system… anyway, he says that the international system is in a constant state of anarchy (if I can remember well). In brief, that means that if its not Osama issuing threats to the new president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif, then it is Obama issuing threats to rein in North Korea for its nuclear ambitions….or China courting despotic Mugabe much to the West’s chagrin…or president Ahmedinajad of Iran flirting with Kenya’s president Kibaki right under Obama’s nose (and pledging to advance Kenya’s energy programme to “another’ level). Now if that’s the case, the world then needs a Leviathan, a prefect who would write down the noisemakers, rein in the bullies and bludgeon the incorrigible into submission. It is my personal opinion that that is very much in order (except for the last one), but it’s not just anyone who can play Leviathan. As at now there is no state better positioned to play that role other than Big Brother, the US with its hegemonic power being the perfect leverage. I fully support that role since someone somewhere needs to crack the whip in order to retain and restore some sense of sanity and normalcy in this world. Nom, in case you get the time please read “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes.

However, I would like to depart from my argument by unequivocally stating that the world needs a prefect, not a principal. A prefect with limited powers that recognizes and respects individual states’ sovereignty while contemporaneously attempting to strike that delicate balance with meddling in the internal affairs of states in as far as world peace and stability is threatened. The US has demonstrated in the recent past that it cannot effectively play this role. Pardon my digression though. The issue at hand is not the US but Iran. Now, going back to the West’s insistence that Iran is pursuing nuclear capabilities, I would be more than happy to dismiss such rhetoric as empty innuendo bent on distracting our attention from real issues while chaffing the person of Iran. For me this is a pure deterrent strategy. That’s how I see it. We know that Iran’s nuclear capability starkly exists and we want to beat on Iran before they can even barely enrich this uranium for domestic purposes. This is an argument I would like to mould further but I wont due to lack of space. But just to advance it a little further, point me one state that would ignore the lure of basking in the glory of being a nuclear power. Honestly none. That would clearly only apply to a state without ambitions and strategy; so let Iran be.

Onto my second radical point (uuu I have decided to be radical on this day): I would partially locate Iran’s pursuit of nuclear advancement within the dynamics of Middle East politics. Am keeping in mind that other arguments and perspectives can and have been proffered to rationalize Iran’s nuclear ambitions (like the Iran-Iraq war that you mention etc etc). In fact what am advancing (in terms of the nexus between Iran’s nuclear pursuit and Israel) is nothing new, am only casting my individual point of view. But just before I delve into that nexus, I would like to mention that I have been asking myself why the alliance of super-powers has had no qualms letting bitter foes like India and Pakistan pursue nuclear capability. I would partly attribute this to the ideological propaganda that has been peddled by western think tanks in the wake of global terrorism and aggressive nuclear development pursuance. Terms like pariah states, rogue states and most recently the axis of evil have been peddled in international circles to separate and alienate the civil from “uncivil” states. Let me just rationalize for a second, if states are indeed rational thinkers, why would any state for that matter want to use nuclear weapons on another knowing well neigh that it may in turn be obliterated? As simplistic as that sounds, it beats me. I would want to believe that its not just the list of terror that exists. In fact I think this other list of pariah/rogue states existed long before the list of terror. Different countries have at one time or another enjoyed a brief if not perpetual appearance in this list of shame (rogue states). You see, just the same way the UN Security Council has permanent members is the same way some countries “enjoy” permanent membership in this list of rogue states, with one long-standing member being Iran. So what is it about rogue states? According to Wikipedia, a pariah state is one whose conduct is considered to be out of line with international norms of behaviour. So now Pakistan and India possess nuclear capabilities, the general perception is that they are able to make rational decisions NOT to use it for destructive purposes like bombing their neighbours into oblivion. On the other hand, the general perception is that there are states that are not capable of making rational nuclear decisions. Iran happens to belong to this latter group. Why? Search me. Who decides? Search me.

Now, coming back to the Iran nuclear programme and the Israeli nexus: Iran actively supports Hamaz and Hezbollah. It is also alleged that Iran has been involved in aiding attacks on US forces in Iraq and that’s how Iran found its name on the shortest list of shame thus far, the Axis of Evil. In addition, Iran enjoys membership among rogue states more because of its position on the Israeli-Palestinian Question. President Ahmedinajad of Iran once threatened to wipe Israle off the map and Israel continues to whine over why Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy is a real threat to its existence. Iran’s threat to Israel is perceived as considerably higher more so because of Iran’s existing status as a rogue state within the international community of nations. Iran has continued to defy international attempts to rein it in mhmh…so it seems it shall continue to enjoy the status of rogue state unless Obama does something. Nom, it is at this point that I conclusively concur with you. Other than vilify Iran’s nuclear adventurism, Iran should be welcome to the fold of “civil nations” and given the political space to pursue its nuclear ambitions in a safe manner. Obama should tightly embrace Ahmedinajad and make him feel like the legit child.