It sounds rather ridiculous that we should resort to the use of force to disarm the world. But there is evidence of the use of military action in order to achieve disarmament. The most recent and controversial one is the 2003 Iraq war launched by the U.S. even without authorisation from the UN, in which is vested the only power, under international law, to legitimise the use of force. Then the presidency of George W. Bush (2000-08) decided unilaterally that a strike against Iraq was justified to rid the regime of Saddam Hussein of all Weapons of Mass Destruction (MAD).
In his recent commentary "Disarmament Wars" carried by Foreign Policy, Jonathan Schell, author of "The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger", talks about a new kind of war which the world has invented to stop a country from obtaining nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
Learn from Iraq
He recalls the bitter experience gained in the Iraq war which has proved to be an exercise in bloody futility. The use of force has not been an effective tool of disarmament, rather it has generated utter controversy. Though the U.S. administration in 2002-03 launched a disarmament war in Iraq amidst growing opposition from the international community, no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and their facilities were spotted inside the targeted country. This has lent credence to the accusation that the U.S. had no justifiable ground to strike Iraq.
Against the backdrop of the nuclear impasse in Iran, though negotiations have resumed in Turkey after long interruption between countries belonging to the P5+1 group (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) to resolve the issue, an intense debate has emerged as to whether it is prudent to strike Iranís nuclear sites preemptively to prevent the country from going nuclear.
In his Foreign Affairs essay "Time to Attack Iran", Matthew Kroenig, a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "Exporting the Bomb Technology Transfer and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons", has argued that a strike is the last bad option. To him the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is both grave and imminent.
Defending his argument, Kroenig has said that the U.S. has little choice but to attack Iran now before it is too late. In his opinion, military action is preferable to other available alternatives, and he even believes that the U.S. can manage all the associated risks if Iran is coerced militarily to respond to the call for denuclearisation.
Presenting opposing views, Colin H. Kahl, associate professor of Georgetown University, counters the above contention through his essay "Not the Time to Attack Iran". His advice is that one should learn lessons from Iraq and Washington should refrain from choosing war when there are still other options. In his words, now is not the right time to strike because any coercive action against Iran would most likely lead to a protracted war in the Middle East.
However, Kroenig quotes the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-profit organisation, which estimates that Iran could now produce its first nuclear weapon within six months of deciding to do so. He further recommends that if Iran expels inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, begins enriching its stockpiles of uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90%, or installs advanced centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility in Qom, the U.S. must strike immediately or forfeit its last opportunity to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.
As eloquently explained by Jonathan Schell, the purpose of a disarmament war is to prevent proliferation, locally and regionally. He agrees that Iranís secret pursuit of nuclear weapons, though not sufficiently corroborated but doubted by the international community, is also one route to proliferation.
He expresses serious concern by saying that engaging in military confrontation with Iran in order to stop its acquisition of nuclear weapons is probably a quicker and surer route to the same destination, i.e., proliferation.
President Obama has called an Iranian bomb "unacceptable" and happily Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly stated that holding such arms is a sin as well as "useless, harmful and dangerous". Could these two leaders agree on certain points that will help postpone the possibility of striking the nuclear sites if not settle the issue permanently?
The latest meeting (April 14) between negotiators of Iran and the six members of the P5+1 group held in Turkey has at least provided some sense of relief by narrowing the possibilities of preemptive military action in Iran. They have decided to meet again on May 23 to give diplomacy another chance.
Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has made a realistic assessment of the scenario surrounding the question of nuclear debate in Iran. Through his insightful article "Answering Iran", he has said that the only certainty may be that Iranís nuclear programme will be a major international issue in 2012 - quite possibly the most important one.
Reporting for the New York Times, Steven Erlanger writes under the title "At Nuclear Talks, Iran and 6 Nations (China, France, Russia, UK, U.S. and Germany) Agree to Meet Again", Iran claims that its nuclear programme has no military aim, but the members of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with inspecting nuclear programmes, have expressed doubts.
Whether Iran must be stopped militarily from pursuing its nuclear programme on suspicion that the countryís intentions are not peaceful has to be judged against the inherent right of a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which permits operation of nuclear reactors for civilian purposes. The news that the next round of negotiations between the P5+1 group and Iran would be focussed on the NPT has raised some optimism for diplomacy to succeed. Use of force to seek disarmament can neither be cost-less nor risk-free.