The Bigger Picture
Published on June 25th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I closed last week’s column by saying that “I think erasing these huge deficits (in order to extricate our national economies from the current recession) will become the biggest political issue of the coming decade in the US and Europe. But that doesn’t mean I believe grappling with these government budget deficits will be the biggest political issue of the coming decade for the rest of the world. As regards the world, which of course also includes the US and Europe, I believe the biggest political issue of the coming decade will be halting the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology.
Although I happen to believe that climate change due to man-made global warming poses the greatest long-term threat to our planet, I think nuclear proliferation poses a much more serious and imminent threat to our planet in the near term. But given the fact that no country has used a nuclear weapon to attack or defend itself in more than sixty years, I’m afraid that far too few people around the world share this concern. In fact, when I first broached this issue in a discussion with some of my friends about the greatest threats to peace and security in the world, almost all of them dismissed the idea.
Granted the vast majority of people living today have all grown up in a world where the threats of a nuclear war between ideological enemies like the US and Russia was always a distinct possibility. But all the nations that developed and possessed nuclear weapons, regardless of their political ideologies, were also keenly aware that using such weapons to attack or defend themselves would also likely lead to their own destruction.
What has changed in the world since the Cold War days of “mutually assured destruction” is the very real possibility that nuclear weapons could soon be used by countries or individuals to advance their pseudo-religious political beliefs.
The reality of this new nuclear threat is that religious extremists, regardless of their particular religious faith, are unlikely to rationally consider the consequences of using nuclear weapons. Such religious zealots believe that if they and or millions of their fellow citizens were to die as the result of a nuclear holocaust they initiated, then that is simply the price that must be paid to cleanse the world of those who don’t agree with their own particular religious beliefs. They truly believe that they will die honorable deaths as martyrs just like the suicide bombers in Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan have.
I’m not just pointing a finger at Islam here because suicide attacks are not just a feature of Islamic inspired pseudo-religious terrorism. The Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka were primarily Hindus who built the concept of martyrdom around a secular idea of individuals altruistically sacrificing for the good of the local community. The leaders of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas borrowed this same secular concept and then added the trappings of the Islamic faith to it so that they could more easily recruit weak minded individuals to carry out their suicide terrorist attacks. In fact Taliban and al Qaeda suicide bombers have actually killed far more Muslims than westerners or other non-believers.
There are also pseudo-religious extremist Christians in the US and Hindus in India who I have no doubt would be just as willing to use nuclear weapons to advance their own agendas regardless of cost in human lives. After all, prior to 9/11 the worst bombing in US history was carried out by Christian political extremists in Oklahoma City. Hindu extremists have also attacked defenseless Sikhs, Christians and Muslims throughout India.
But until recently, nuclear weaponry and technology has been under the control of secular governments in the US, Russia and India that viewed them as a means of assuring their own security rather than as a way to advance their respective political ideologies. Even though North Korea is also run by a secular regime, my concern is not that they would ever actually attack the US or any other country, but rather that they might sell their weaponry or technology to terrorist groups like the Taliban or al Qaeda.
With respect to Pakistan, I am even more alarmed about some part of their nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands given the increase in suicide bombings and recent territorial gains made by the Taliban and their al Qaeda supporters.
Farther to the west sits Israel with a very sophisticated nuclear arsenal that is the worst kept secret in the world. My concern about Israel is not that their quasi-secular government would lose control of these nuclear weapons but that Israel might feel it needs to use them to defend against future attacks by Islamic nations. Israel came very close to using them once before during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Then of course we have Iran, a religious theocracy sitting squarely in the middle of the world’s largest powder keg of religious inspired violence. Despite Iran’s repeated denials of nuclear weapons ambitions, a recent slip of the tongue by Iran’s ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, is telling. Soltanieh told reporters outside an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna that; “There is no difference between any factions or groups of the Iranian nation on the inalienable right of nuclear weapons.”
This is the reason why the Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, states that; “(Iran) wants to send a message to its neighbors; it wants to send a message to the rest of the world: yes, don't mess with us, we can have nuclear weapons if we want it.” So what is there to prevent an Islamic religious theocracy with the means and the political will to subvert the recent democratic Presidential elections in Iran and the will of its own people from acquiring nuclear weapons?
I’m afraid that if we don’t find a more effective way to deal with this issue of nuclear proliferation, the answer will be a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran by Israel.