Dan Plesch: Let's ignore Dr Strangelove. Iran's threat means working even harder for peace

It is a delusion to think you can have WMD and never use them

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How can we manage Iran's alleged ambition to build the bomb without resorting to pre-emptive war? Accepting for a moment that the Bush administration is telling us the truth about Iran, the alternatives are to manage Iran as a nuclear weapon state or to make disarmament the key objective for all countries, including India, Israel, Pakistan and the West. The Americans have to fulfil their obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to get rid of their own weapons, along with everyone else.

At present, disarmament is imposed by coercion on those states out of favour with the White House. Tony Blair and George Bush preach "Do as we say, not as we do", an attitude no more effective internationally than at home. If such a U-turn in Western policy seems as unrealistic as creating peace by launching another pre-emptive war, let's think about managing with many nuclear-armed states in the 21st century.

Accepting a nuclear-armed Iran as part of the international system can be made to sound attractive. The Iranian government is complex and has been trying to reach out to Washington for more than a decade, but with no response. Back in 1998, the US air force analyst Mark Haskins wrote: "The choice is ours. We can continue to cultivate an animosity that can only lead to regional trauma, or we can open the door to a new relationship with Iran." From this perspective, Iranian threats to Israel should be regarded as bluster.

The chief of the US Defence Intelligence Agency explained last year that "Iran is likely continuing nuclear weapons-related endeavours in an effort to become the dominant regional power and to deter what it perceives as the potential for US or Israeli attacks". Deterrence worked in the Cold War, runs the argument, and seems to be working with newly nuclear North Korea.

In short, should we go along with Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove and learn to love the bomb? The answer is a flat no. The idea that we, or anyone else, can have weapons of mass destruction without having to use them is a wimpish liberal delusion.

Donald Rumsfeld has put the bombers back on Cold War alert and tested Trident for a pre-emptive strike. Whatever our view of the bi-lateral nuclear stand-off of the Cold War, a world of multiple nuclear states is a world headed for nuclear war. The domino effects of unintended consequences are terrifying.

Iranian motivation is an excellent example. In the West, Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme is regarded as aimed at Israel and the US. Among my Iranian friends, though, the key moment for public opinion was in 1998 when Pakistan set off a bomb. They compare it to waking up in London and finding Belgium had exploded a bomb when Britain had none. For its part, Pakistan's actions were all about India, not about Iran. After Iran we can expect Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to go nuclear - and how long before Germany and Japan join in?

Thankfully, most of the world is still working for disarmament. The South African foreign affairs minister, Abdul Minty, put the view of the majority of nations: "Those who rely on nuclear weapons to demonstrate and exercise power should recognise that such dependence only serves to increase insecurity."

Mr Minty is ignored by our Western media and political elites. We have forgotten that the only triumph in Iraq was that the UN inspectors got it right. In Iran, too, Mohamed ElBaradei and his colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency have been effective in uncovering Iranian deception. Even better inspection systems are only held up because countries fear the imposition of double standards. On biological weapons it is President Bush who vetoed new, effective global verification measures.

Jimmy Carter reminded us in a recent article that President Bush has discarded the disarmament achievements of his predecessors going back to Dwight Eisenhower. In laddish Britain, it is politically incorrect to even utter the word "disarmament". Despite all our self-congratulatory compassion for the poor of Africa and concern over global warming, the idea of world disarmament is regarded as absurd.

The abandonment of disarmament is a tragedy that would have appealed to the Ancient Greeks. In a fit of hubris we have forgotten the golden decade of disarmament from 1987 to 1996. It began with the Reagan-Gorbachev treaty that removed Cruise from Greenham and the SS20s from Russia. It ended with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that has stopped the nuclear powers testing nuclear weapons for the first time since 1945 - the brief exception being the Indian and Pakistani tests of 1998.

In this period, agreements were made and adhered to that still govern many types of WMD and all the conventional weaponry in Europe. Robert Cooper, sometime adviser to Mr Blair, and now a senior official in the EU, argues in The Breaking of Nations that it is the agreements made in the Charter of Paris and the Vienna Accords that provide the foundation of peace in Europe today.

But as Nato and the EU project themselves east and south, their own disarmament agreements are the one set of regulations they have failed to export.

The obstacles we face in Iran, Israel, and south and east Asia are trivial compared to those we overcame when dealing with the Soviet Union. Our policy towards Iran should be to draw it into the broader disarmament process that we ourselves are committed to.

In Britain, which sources its WMD in the United States, the only thing we have to give up is the pretence of a deterrent that is independent of America.

A Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction should be part of a global renaissance of disarmament. Britain does not have to lead. It merely needs to catch up with the many countries in Europe and in the developing world that remain determined to achieve disarmament. The Prime Minister is correct in arguing that WMD are the great threat of the age - his tragedy is that he has done too little and done it badly.

Imagine, though, what Tony Blair's legacy would have been if he had invested the political and financial capital he has wasted in Iraq on pursuing global disarmament. Then his legacy would count alongside Gorbachev, Mandela and even Reagan.

Dan Plesch is the author of 'The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace'

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