Iran's secret facility and the greater picture

Word is out that Iran has a secret facility linked to nuclear technology.

OK, that in itself is something between not newsworthy and normal. Many states have secret facilities, and secret nuclear facilities aren't exactly an Iranian innovation either.

Iran is also (at least still) in the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty (NNPT), and this facility could be a violation of that treaty. Maybe it is - maybe not - I don't care much about the difference for now. Let's assume it is a violation.

That would mean that Iran is in violation of an international treaty. Let's repeat that: Violation of an international treaty.
That's in itself quite the same as for example violating WTO rules - which happens frequently, and quite important nations already violated international treaties quite often.
A treaty violation falls well short of an aggression.

So what's the problem? The NNPT has no chapter about sanctions for violations. I know that because I read it - and because we would have heard about the sanctions quite often if they existed. The Soviet Union and United States of America were in permanent violation of the NNPT till the nuclear arms reductions began in the 1980's (it's debatable whether the UK and France were in violation as well).
Again; no Iranian innovation.

Oh, by the way; Iran can leave the NNPT and thereby delete all its obligations in only three months if it wishes so (see Article X of the NNPT).

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OK, what's the excitement really about?

The next suspect for a good reason is that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as international authority on war & peace affairs has issued resolutions on the Iranian nuclear affairs topic: UNSCRs 1696, 1737, 1747 and 1803.

Now keep in mind that the UNSC rests on the United Nations which rest on the Charter of the United Nations - a decidedly pro-peace charter. The fundamentals of the UN would not be violated by such a secret facility or even defensive nukes (preparation of a war of aggression would be another story). I doubt that the UNSC would have a good foundation if it really decided sometime to legalize violence against Iran based on a nuclear arms program.

The UNSC is a weird committee for critique against Iran anyway; its most important (veto) members are all nuclear powers themselves, and some of them have already violated the NNPT themselves. Some veto owner nations also protect a country that's in a steadfast defiance of a UNSC resolution.

In a fair world, several members of the UNSC would be outlawed states for waging wars of aggression and repeated violation of international law. Instead, they're the jury on Iran - a nation that hasn't caused any war for generations. The foxes are in control of the henhouse.

The UNSC may sanction Iran, but that would likely be on feet of clay in regard to ethics. Such an action would likely be Realpolitik and power politics. It would likely be an institutionalized exercise of the rule of force - in the head of an organization that was meant to replace the rule of force by the rule of law.

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The only actions that would really justify and legalize violence against the Iranian nuclear program would in my opinion be:

(1) Preparations for a war of aggression.

(2) A war of aggression.

A nation that prepares to attack another one deserves to be outlawed to some degree. Yet, even that is a question of proportionality. It would be inappropriate to completely outlaw a state and deny its sovereignty totally for mere preparations for a small border war, for example.

A secret facility in itself doesn't prove an intent for a war of aggression and doesn't qualify as a preparation either. Such a facility can have many uses.

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This begs the question why do press and blogosphere comments mostly sound so differently and hawkish in their analysis of the secret facility affair?

I blame the warmongers a.k.a. "hawks".
Many people in the Western World have accepted the point of view of the hawks. The Western median publicized opinion on Iranian matters has drifted far away from a rational & neutral stance to one driven by warmongering. The hypocrisy has been veiled by propaganda and a very strange, one-directional view has been adopted by Western mainstream.

Strong, even violent actions may soon be appropriate against Iran - but let's not ignore the many domestic problems of the Western World. Supreme respect for the Charter of the United Nations would suit us well.

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The whole treatment of Iran is extremely unsettling to me. Iran is a direct neighbour of the NATO member Turkey. The Turks live in a quite hot quarter of the world without going nuts and paranoid at all. Their relaxed and friendship-seeking, even mediating ways of foreign policy are almost admirable (they're badly tainted by their irrational politics in regard to the Kurds). That's especially true if compared to some other alliance member's fearfulness in face of by comparison marginal foreign threats and in comparison to their foreign policy.

The alliance with Turkey obliges us to care about their national security. Lighting a fire in a haystack right next to their house is on the other hand likely detrimental to our Turkish allies' national security and legitimate interests.

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Let's look at the issue again - this time from yet another angle:
Let's look at the possibility of defensive intent and assume that we're not talking about the emotion-laden "Iran" but about Uruguay (sorry, Uruguay!). Uruguay (or "Country Orange") wants to build nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in this scenario. It leaves the NNPT, everything is formally correct.
Could the intent of having nukes - or the nukes themselves - be illegitimate?

There's no reason why Uruguay shouldn't have the right to have them if other states have that right. So it's either not about the nukes themselves (and for the purpose of this scenario we already assumed a defensive purpose) or something is wrong about the established arsenals.
So what could make such nukes in Uruguay a bad idea (aside from the costs)?

It comes down to the risk of their use with the associated indiscriminative mass destruction and contamination (a problem that applies to established nuclear arsenals as well) and the idea of non-proliferation.

These two motives in turn come down to the idea that nukes in themselves are evil and we should get rid of them or at least minimize their quantity.

And that's exactly where the responsibility of the established nuclear powers sets in. The hypocrisy of those who criticize Iran and on another day criticize Brown or Obama for their recent nuclear arms reduction intents is difficult to stand. There's still the obligation to work towards nuclear arms reductions and disarmament in the NNPT, after all. Non-nuclear powers in the NNPT have a claim on this - this includes Iran since it signed.

We can criticize Iran for an alleged intent to build nuclear weapons. Yet at the same time we should go forward in nuclear arms reductions and set a minimal deterrence with nukes in the range of dozens instead of hundreds or thousands as a medium term goal.

See also the newest UNSCR, which is on this topic:

There's no credibility to be found in a hypocritical stance on nuclear arms.

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I would prefer to have no loud-mouth in (partial) power in Iran, and I would prefer an Iran without NBC weapons and medium or intermediate range ballistic missiles.

On the other hand I would prefer a Western world without a high level of hypocrisy, and with a minimal nuclear deterrence strategy in the U.S., UK and France. It would also be preferable if no nation violated the Charter of the United Nations or The North Atlantic Treaty with warmongering, threats to other countries or wars of aggression.

This world is a shitty pace in some regard. And let's be honest; the Western world has its share of responsibility for this poor state of the world.

By the way; I would become really, really angry if all that fearmongering, warmongering and hawkish diplomacy drags my country into a war.

Sven Ortmann

Some people (usually hypocrites) argue that all this international law and ethics stuff is really not that important. They refer to the rule of force.

Well, most of them are ignorant hypocrites in my opinion.
They may have a point about the rule of force (albeit they're usually just blind in regard to the huge amount of backlash caused by international law violations and unethical behaviour in general). Yet, if we grant them the right to praise the rule of force then we should not allow them to refer to the rule of law in those cases when it fits their interests. A selective respect for international law is no respect for international law.
Outlaws have no respect for the law.

I'm in a hurry this time, there will be no post on Sunday and I won't be able to publish comments this weekend.

edit 07/201: Hunt on typos.


  1. You have a good number of valid points here, however two issues you have left out that DO play a role:

    * the strong rhetoric of some Iranian representatives in the direction of "Isreal must be destroyed"

    * substantial support for Hamas and Hisbollah

    If you combine these with the rather obvious aim to build a fission bomb (you did not doubt that), then where exactly does "Preparing an agression" start?

  2. Even the rhetoric isn't even nearly as extreme as hawks on both sides would like it to be:

    And honestly, I don't see anything extraordinary in support for Hezbollah. Support for such asymmetric resistance and politics organizations is perfectly normal and also in the tool set of nuclear powers.
    Iranian support for Hamas is furthermore small; the support from Saudi-Arabia is much greater - and we're delivering Eurofighter Typhoons (and the Americans deliver much else) to them.

    Political hawks and warmongers cook a meal of fear based on their worst case fantasies, but fantasies are no good reasoning or even justification for sanctions or even organized violence.

    Now maybe the Iranians (or few of them) prepare for an aggression; how about giving that an inferior priority to the response to actual aggressions?
    The U.S. did still not even excuse for the invasion of Iraq.
    That says a lot about their moral right to criticize SUSPECTED PREPARATIONS for aggression of Iran against a THIRD PARTY.

    Now that's my problem with the whole affair; the publicized view on these affairs may be right in some details, but it's distorted beyond repair by the info ops of warmongers.

  3. Excellent post, sir. I have been intentionally lazy in addressing this issue, given all the hyperbolic noise surrounding it. I'm much of the same opinion - this is not really threatening news, and all the hand-wringing and raised voices frankly irritates me. The nonprolif people are just as annoying as the warmongers, both sides need to settle down for a long-term engagement instead of calling for action within the short span of months or a year.


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