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Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (AP/Mehr News Agency)

Nuclear options

International | As the world's nuclear equilibrium wobbles dangerously, Christians seek moral clarity on the issue

As Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu urged President Barack Obama to exert more pressure on Iran to stop its pursuit of nuclear power, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran is already testing that power. He claimed today that Iran successfully launched a medium-range Sajjil-2 rocket, and that Iran could "send to hell" any attackers. Just yesterday, an East West Institute report announced that Iran could develop a simple nuclear device in the next one to three years and a ballistic missile in six to eight years.

Ahead of major speech by Obama on national security Thursday and as the world's nuclear equilibrium continues to wobble dangerously, the United States is adapting its foreign policy to a post-Cold War world. On a moral level, Christians are attempting to bring a moral voice to the issue of nuclear weapons. "Unless we cast a decisive vision of a world free of nuclear weapons," said Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, director of the advocacy group Two Futures Project, "we are in fact walking down a path where they're used. And I think we can find that path morally unacceptable."

As Iran steps up its threats, the United Nations came to yet another impasse on the issue at the Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The 2005 conference ended in diplomatic disaster, with member states unable to reach a consensus. This year, United Nations delegates met May 4-15 to submit recommendations for the next Review Conference in 2010-and it also ended with member states unable to reach consensus, supplying only a document outlining the procedural arrangements for meeting next year.

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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is built on three pillars: non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. International debate focuses on balancing these three pillars, with the goal of reducing the weapons the world already has and not making more. Countries like Iran obfuscate the debate by deflecting attention to nuclear weapon states, complaining that failure to comply with nuclear disarmament "is still threatening international peace and security." How long should non-nuclear weapons states wait, Iran asked the Preparatory Committee, "to witness the noble goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, as enshrined in the NPT, to come into reality?"

But the United States warned that Iran and North Korea have broken the treaty commitments of nonproliferation and that it has "no confidence" that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. It also reminded the committee that in an April 5 speech in Prague, President Obama signaled a shift in U.S. policy, saying the United States is now taking "concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons." The United States and Russia are now working for reductions lower than in existing arms-control agreements, along with verification measures. By 2012, the United States told member states, its nuclear stockpile would be reduced to half of its 2001 level and a fourth of where it was in 1990. The United States also now supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

Wigg-Stevenson said this commitment to nuclear disarmament reveals Iran's rhetoric as hollow: "If the nuclear weapon states are showing no signs of moving toward disarmament and honoring their treaty obligations . . . any time the spotlight gets shown on Iran, they can say, 'Look at the big bad West, they're not doing what they're supposed to.'" He added that if the United States and Great Britain show a strong commitment to arms reduction, "Iran's rhetoric is revealed as being empty and an attempt to distract."

Sidney Drell, professor of physics emeritus at Stanford University, said committing to the vision of zero nuclear weapons will help build the consensus and transparency needed to strengthen the NPT. According to Drell, with nuclear technology now spreading to other countries, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is "outdated" in a post-Cold War world, adding that because terrorists are often suicidal, the same philosophy of deterrence doesn't hold.

Nuclear elimination is a cause former Secretary of State George Schultz calls "nonpartisan." On Tuesday, Obama met with Schultz, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Sen. and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. In a press conference, Schultz, who served under President Reagan, said the United States, as long as nuclear weapons still exist, is setting the right tone with a commitment to arms reduction while making sure there's a nuclear deterrent: "We want to go down, but we're going to be very conscious of our national security each step of the way."


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