A well-known expression of the dramatist Anton Chekhov says that if a pistol appears in the first scene of a play, it must be fired in the last scene. The meaning of this saying to the real world is that once a technology or a weapon exists it will be used sooner or later by some state, leader or group, dreadful as that will be. Since the discovery and development of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, they have been used only once when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even then, it was done without full awareness of their destructive power and their potential for altering the political balance. Since then, many thousands of warheads and tons of radioactive materials and waste have been produced and stored -- sometimes in highly accessible locations -- by numerous countries and have functioned as symbols of national power and as imaginary insurance policies against external attacks and invasions.
However, it has become abundantly clear that the very existence of N-weapons is not only useless for the defense of any country but is the only major threat against the very existence and survival of human civilization and indeed of human life itself. The usual arguments are that, so far, nuclear weapons have not been used since the end of World War II and that nuclear powers are usually headed by responsible leaders who recognize the doomsday outcomes resulting from the use of their arsenals. Nevertheless, both arguments do not provide us with any insurance that ultimately the devil will not be freed from the bottle, even by a supposed “responsible” and stable state or leadership.
Just recently, France’s President Jacques Chirac declared that France must be able to “hit back hard” at a hostile state's centers of power and its capacity to act. He clarified that France would be ready to use nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack against it, reaffirming the need for its nuclear deterrent.
This is a complete change in the doctrine of nuclear deterrence as it was formulated during the cold war. Directing nuclear warfare against terror is perhaps fashionable but also a horrifying development, which easily might be followed by other nuclear powers that consider France to be a stable, “sane” and responsible country.
One major character of world terrorism is that it lacks a state or legitimate government. For example, let us suppose that a local or international al-Qaida cell commits a major terror attack by blowing up the Louvre Museum, which would indeed be a major crime against France, human culture, and all of humanity. Such an attack would also be an enormous provocation. But whom would France nuke in such a case? All countries suspected of harboring al-Qaida operatives, even if some of their terror cells operated from Britain, the US, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the occupied Palestinian territories, or even France itself?
Right now it is considered important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities but it is only a marginal and side issue. The major issue is that because the US, France, Russia, Britain, China, Israel, India and Pakistan openly or discreetly possess and produce “legitimate” nuclear weapons, the international community, including the UN and International Atomic Energy Agency, have lost any moral basis for demanding that any state, including Iran, refrain from developing its own nuclear arsenal, not to say to give legitimacy for its invasion, even is regime constitute a on long run a danger against the humanity. NPT is passé and useless.
Before threatening Iran, what humanity desperately needs is a process of denuclearization of all countries without exception. Then we will have the moral basis to demand the denuclearization of Iran.
Baruch Kimmerling is Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the author of recently republished book The Invention and Decline of Israeliness.
Other Articles by Baruch Kimmerling
Piper of Hamelin, or Sharon’s Enigma