For quite a number of years I have thought that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was playing games with the world. He’s said some horrible things, done some horrible things. It’s better to not get carried away with all the horrible things heads of state are responsible for, the state being what it is, horrible things are the core brief and central reason for existing (not forgetting Obama’s ongoing conversation regarding the [not] legality of assassination programs, though the ongoingness doesn’t matter much to Bin Laden or Anwar al-Awlaki).
Ahmedinejad has got stuck into all sorts of nastiness and hurtfulness over the past seven years or so: his remarks about AIDS, the holocaust denial, the forced retirement of scientists and scholars, the arrests and secret prisons, the “there are no gay Iranians” thing, the endorsement of 9/11 conspiracies, the rationing of energy (in Iran!), the insouciant crushing of student and grassroots protests, not to mention the missing billions of oil revenue. None of these are sparkling gems on his crown.
The thing that keeps turning my head is the nuclear issue, Ahmedinejad called the system of nuclear non-proliferation nuclear apartheid. He’s right; the nuclear weapons club is a club that doesn’t want new members. Ahmedinejad is one of the few who calls this as it is, non-proliferation is a black ball system: we are, you aren’t, let’s keep it that way. Looking at the nuclear armed states it’s a white boy thing. The US, Russia, the UK, France: nuclear weapons are big white boys toys. China is not white but it’s really big and it behaves like a superpower, honorary big white boy in this respect, especially while so much global economic growth depends on the (at last!) maturity of the China market.
Israel, all comfy in its atomic ambiguities, is left alone to manage the Dimona warehouse because, you know, it’s pretty white, and has big mates. India and Pakistan, contrarily, are badgered and disciplined like ten year olds chopping carrots. Be careful, don’t cut yourself, watch what you’re doing, are you sure you want to do it that way? After the Shakti tests in 1998, the US imposed sanctions that were only lifted when India accepted George Bush’s promised rewards for being good. Pakistan responded to Shakti with six nuclear weapons tests, but sanctions were already in place against Pakistan for not promising not to test. These sanctions were, as it happened, lifted shortly after the September 11 attacks.
North Korea is treated like a kid up a tree with a slingshot: troublesome adolescent urges result in some quick slaps and being sent to bed without dinner or watching TV. South Africa is congratulated for dismantling its nuclear weapons programs and lauded for its global good citizenship: not white anymore, just big, the Michael Clarke Duncan of international politics. Syria got swiftly bombed the moment the thought of carbon rotor centrifuge came into Bashar Al Asad’s head. The generals of Myanmar were rapped across the knuckles for thinking about doing some kind of deal with North Korea. And we all know what happened to Iraq, toys or no toys.
The heart of nuclear non-proliferation is the big boys saying we’ve got them and you can’t have them. In many respects it is a straightforward reflection of global power, the pragmatics of which means that those with the power, and the nukes, want to keep their oligopoly going. It really does become an apartheid arrangement, Ahmedinejad is correct; it’s a racist and authoritarian system for managing global power. Ahmedinejad represents a state without nukes so it’s hardly surprising that he’s interested in breaking up the non-proliferation system. But here’s the thing: for the rest of us, the mere citizens of one state or another, the real goal has to be deproliferation. Arguing for there to be no more nuclear states is to maintain the status quo and means we never to get around to arguing that there shouldn’t be any nuclear weapons at all.