The US Congress and the Specter of an Iranian Atomic Bomb

Basil Wilson's picture

In another fortnight, the world community will remorsefully commemorate the dropping of two atomic bombs by the United States of America on the civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.  The exploding of the two atomic bombs forced the Japanese to surrender to the Americans and brought about the end of World War 11.  The rationale given by the then American President, Harry Truman, is that it saved American lives.

World War 11, like most wars preceding it, was known for its unique horrors.  The Nazi genocide of Jews living in Germany and Eastern Europe resulted in the slaughter of six million Jews.  As the war raged, the allies abandoned the Geneva Convention precepts of not bombing civilian targets and bombed places like Dorsten in Germany that compounded the horror of the war.  The nadir was reached with the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and again on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, killing over 129,000 Japanese.

In the post-World War 11 period, despite the fierceness of the ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union, there emerged the sane realization that nuclear war was unthinkable and there was the need for both superpowers to contain and roll back their nuclear arsenal.

The world community recognized the dangers of nuclear proliferation and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970.  Not all countries have signed the agreement and countries unilaterally have proceeded to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.  India and Pakistan have created their own respective nuclear arsenal.  Israel which was never a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has also amassed a nuclear arsenal.  South Africa voluntarily abandoned its pursuits and so did Libya under the rule of Colonel Gaddafi.  Japan has remained under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, even though its rival in the Pacific, the People’s Republic of China, has long since entered the nuclear club.

Although Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini vowed that Iran would not manufacture nuclear weapons, Iran was caught by the International Atomic Energy Agency of covertly pursuing the prerequisites for becoming a nuclear power.   It is remarkable that five permanent members of the Security Council, the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France in conjunction with Germany (P5 + I) passed resolutions in the United Nations Security Council that imposed severe sanctions on Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons.

The Security Council seldom agrees on anything pertaining to world affairs but the solidarity of imposing sanctions against Iran had a deleterious effect on that country’s economy and brought Iran to the negotiating table.

After 20 months of negotiations the P5+1 and Iran have come to what is called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Iran has joined the ranks of nations adhering to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has agreed for the International Atomic Energy Agency to oversee and verify the dismantling of the infra-structure that Iran had constructed to develop their nuclear arsenal.  Iran under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will still have the right to pursue the peaceful development of nuclear energy.  Once Iran opens up its nuclear sites and the degrading of the sites are verified by the IAEA, then the sanctions can be lifted and the approximately $150 billion in assets that are Iran’s money will be released.  Those funds can be used to improve the collapsing infrastructure of Tehran’s economy.

This agreement has pitfalls and possibilities.  It proves that the major nations of the world, irrespective of ideology, can come together and thwart the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  It demonstrates that the Security Council can play an important role in bringing some degree of order in a world writhing with conflict.  And it also illustrates that nations that have been in a state of chronic antagonism can find common ground and step back from nuclear conflagration.  Equally important is that the JCPOA is an example of diplomacy over warfare.

The agreement is not a bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran.  It is an international/Security Council agreement with the theocratic government of Iran.  All the major powers included in the agreement see it as a breakthrough in international diplomacy except the Congress of the United States.  Every Republican Presidential candidate has unthinkingly dismissed the agreement.

Congress has sixty days to scrutinize the agreement and to pass a Resolution in favor or in disapproval of the JCPOA.  The President can veto the Resolution but in order for Congress not to derail the agreement, the Obama administration must obtain enough votes to sustain the President’s veto.

Iran is a nation of 80 million people and is a major power in the Middle East.  It is not an Arab nation but in fact is Persian. Iran represents the Shia denomination of Islam. The religious power struggle in the Middle East pits Shia against Sunni.  From time immemorial, religious sects have used state power to suppress groups of other religious persuasion.  That is what Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, did to the majority Shiites in Iraq, Assad in Syria, an Alawite, has collaborated with Shiites to suppress the majority Sunnis in Syria.  That in part explains the success of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq which provides foothold for Sunnis from Iraq and Syria.

How can the Shias and the Sunnis turn their swords into plowshares? This is where the international community can play a role.  America can lead in this endeavor but it must be in conjunction with the Security Council and the United Nations.

The Iran/Security Council agreement is a triumph of diplomacy.  That triumph can be built on to bring about a political settlement in Syria and to establish a united front against the barbarism of the ISIS regime.  At this juncture, the Congress of the United States can join the world community or wallow in its concocted political backwardness.

*Dr. Basil Wilson is Provost Emeritus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Executive Director of the King Research Institute, Monroe College, Bronx, New York. He can be reached at: