24 November 2010
Executive Director of Greenpeace International
© Greenpeace / Sudhanshu Malhotra
Disruptive diplomacy may be the only way out of the Iran-Israel nuclear crisis, the only way to pierce the hegemony of hypocrisy dominating the power politics of nuclear weapons control, of those who have them, and of those who are accused of developing them.
Otherwise, this weekend's meeting on Iran's nuclear programme is likely to be yet another missed opportunity, yet another exercise in futility.
Who will meet in Istanbul this Saturday? Iran and the 'P5+1', the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the only "legitimate" nuclear weapons states under the U.N.'s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – the United States, China, Russia, France and the UK, plus Germany.
Together, their collective history with Iran and Israel is one of complexity, pain and – so far as nuclear weapons are concerned – utter hypocrisy. There is no easy solution. What is needed is disruptive diplomacy in which both sides put forward something challenging, and in which everyone gives something up to win peace.
Only four countries sit outside the NPT: Israel, India and Pakistan never signed, and North Korea withdrew.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: by joining the NPT Israel can pierce the veil of its policy of "ambiguity", place its facilities under international safeguards, and begin to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. In this way Israel can help end hypocrisy and build trust. Israel does not need nuclear weapons; these do not offer a safety net, instead they provide a destabilising influence throughout the entire region.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Iran could equally afford to dismantle its entire nuclear programme in favour of smart energy systems, efficient energy use and renewable energy sources. This is not cheap rhetoric. It could be done, and would benefit Iran's people.
In 2007 the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior embarked on a Nuclear Free Middle East tour to address the threat of nuclear weapons in the region and the threat of another "weapons of mass destruction" war.
Greenpeace commissioned a study showing that a combination of decentralised energy systems, renewable energy use and energy efficiency would allow Iran to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, end its nuclear programme and meet the development needs of its people.
At the same time, Greenpeace activists demonstrated outside Israel's Parliament, the Knesset, arguing, "Nuclear developments and nuclear weapons in any country provoke proliferation and undermine security region-wide."
What about the so-called P5? The high-handed posturing of Iran's principle accusers requires some scrutiny. They are the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. They are proof that nuclear weapons provide a seat at the top table of global security and thus power politics. Why else would Britain and France still have their own chairs? What right do any of them have to discuss illegal, so- called "preventative" attacks on a country?
Together they stand for over four decades of bad faith. Under the NPT they promised to disarm in return for all other signatories forgoing nuclear weapons. The P5 committed to negotiate away their deadly nuclear arsenals. They have not done so. Instead, they continue to invest; they continue to modernise their nuclear weapons and delivery mechanisms; they continue to undermine global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
Before accusing Iran of duplicity, the nuclear weapons nations need to stop and reflect. In reality the grand bargain of the 'Atoms for Peace' pact at the heart of the NPT was always a dangerous lie. A diplomatic deceit promising to control the spread of nuclear weapons in return for support in developing nuclear power, an abundant power source that was supposed to be clean, safe and reliable, though it turned out to be dirty, dangerous, and expensive. A pact that Iran agreed to, but Israel has not.
Nuclear power and nuclear weapons are the Janus faces of nuclear technology: you cannot have one without the other. No amount of agreement, treaties and inspection will ever remove the risk and temptation of a nuclear power state becoming a nuclear weapons state.
It can be made harder, but never impossible. Just as the risks of meltdowns are present at every reactor site, the risk of nuclear proliferation is attendant in every nuclear programme and the temptation to balance the possession by others of nuclear weapons is always there. The temptation to enter the arena of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is ever present.
The world does not need nuclear power. Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution – developed over many years with leading scientists and engineers – shows how we can avert catastrophic climate change, phase out nuclear power and transition to a clean energy system based on smart, efficient use and renewable energy sources.
As the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear crisis passes it is even more significant to note that this crisis was man-made, predicated on the inherent failures and risks of civil nuclear power. The earthquake and tsunami may have been natural in origin but the profit-before-safety ethos that pervades all industrial activity left the people of Japan and the world vulnerable to multiple nuclear meltdowns. For all its so-called reliability Japan is down to only one operating nuclear plant.
It is hard to see how any plan to bomb Iran into submission will do anything other than protract the problem and threaten to ignite a powder keg of conflict in the Middle East. As 'The Economist' has noted, bombing Iran will not eliminate the nuclear threat.
In truth, only a world free of all nuclear technology will help to build a workable trust on which to build a lasting peace. In Istanbul, governments should dare to disrupt the endless cycle of hypocrisy, accusation and counter-accusation and take real steps towards peace.
If we are really concerned about human security, if we are really concerned about our children and grandchildren's peace and security, then we should be mustering all investments to move us in a direction of green, clean, renewable energy options. We must recognise that our quest for nuclear energy, the attendant threat of nuclear proliferation, and our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy have been the major drivers of conflict, war and flawed foreign policies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: those from whom we borrow this world, for whom we keep it in trust and who are always caught up as collateral damage in foolish wars and sanctions – our children – deserve a clean, green future free of the threat of nuclear accidents and nuclear war.
[This post was originally published by IPS]