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Common Cents

Beating the bomb

Ralph Murphy

(5/2013) In a November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), U.S. policy makers allowed that Iran had halted an active nuclear weapons program in 2003, and it remained inactive through 2007. This assessment was well received by Iranian authorities, who had just been hit with UN sanctions for failing to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into their nuclear facility to certify the uranium enrichment wasn't up to a weapons grade of 20%. However, the assessment was met with incredulity from Iran's many enemies who were preparing for significant action against the Shiite regime. Nations that believed that their very existence was threatened. A belief shared by other world powers that were also worried about North Korea, Pakistan, and less directly India and Israel. All but Israel openly admitted to having nuclear weapons stockpiled and ready for offensive delivery.

To digress, Iran launched a nuclear power program at the behest of their former ruler- Shah Reza Pahlavi. This program was set up with American help. This "Atoms for Peace" endeavor was terminated in 1979 following the Iranian revolution which brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. The Ayatollah was only slightly more accepting of modern technology than the Amish. He considered the nuclear bomb not only undesirable, but also "anti Muslim". The Iraq- Iran war did, however lead to ground work for a nuclear weapons system which increased dramatically in 1989 following Khomeini's death.

Iran was a signer and member of the 190-nation Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allowed signatory countries to adhere to the non proliferation of nuclear weapons; engagement in disarmament, and gave them the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful use. In comparison Israel, Pakistan, and India refused to sign the treaty.

The Iranian government was later found to be non compliant with the NPT and subject to mandatory sanctions. Seven resolutions were handed down between 2006 and 2011 and led to polarity, not compliance. Iranian President Ahmadinejad boasted that Iran could enrich Uranium to 80% levels, and in February 2010 the nation called itself a "nuclear state". Military sanctions are vital to a known belligerent, and usually effective. Economic sanctions have historically led to entrenchment of positions; starving of the masses, and lack of intelligence access to these targets- insuring a festering problem and the possible need for military action.

On 26 January, 2013 in the periodical "Examiner" Reza Kahlili reported

that an Iranian intelligence source claimed a major explosion in Iran's Fordow nuclear facility that destroyed much of the installation and trapped 240 workers 300 feet under a mountain entrance. If true, it shows either extreme negligence, or an intelligence coup by one of Iranís enemyís. No further reporting was offered, and the Iranians will probably simply rebuild from where they left off. The Iranians have been working closely with the Russians to develop their nuclear capacity, both insisting it's for peaceful energy pursuits. If this is true, then why not let the IAEA inspect it?

North Korea and Iran were believed to have received help from Pakistan's top nuclear scientist Abdul Qader Khan, who admitted offering those nations the technology in the 1990's. In 2005 he retracted his statements - claiming that he was a government "scape goat". Pakistan is believed to have gotten sophisticated missile technology from the North Koreans, who along with Iran, have reportedly sent payloads into space. This is technology which can be used for warhead delivery.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council all have the bomb, but are considered disciplined players. India was the first country to develop the A-bomb outside this exclusive club. They were inspired into such action by a 1962 war with China, in which it lost territory. India's first nuclear test took place on 18 May, 1974 following a war with Pakistan. This led to a consensus that both China and Pakistan had to be deterred by a nuclear weapons system. Codenamed "Smiling Buddha", the Indian nuclear weapon was quickly matched by Khan's Pakistani efforts, and on 28 May 1998, several weeks after India's second nuclear bomb test, Pakistan detonated 5 nuclear devices. This led to international condemnation and sanctions, which lasted until that nation became a needed ally in the war against international terrorism in the early 2000's. The U.S. claimed that China played a "major role" in the establishment of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. An assertion the Chinese flatly denied to Indian press reporters.

Arguably, the greatest concern, in the near term. is with North Korea that has successfully tested its nuclear weapons on at least three occasions. The first in October, 2006. The second in April 2009 that led to more IAEA-led sanctions.

These sanctions appear to be making the "hermit kingdom" even more erratic. The third, and most recent test occurred in mid February and it left potential targets with little, other than the military option. North Korea does, however, reportedly have a strong, chemical weapons capability. South Korea, among others, would be vulnerable to a two-pronged, nuclear- chemical attack. The North Koreans are a real threat, but are geographically isolated and too remote from potential targets to realistically threaten them with their current missile technology.

Iran operates in an area of vital importance- until the world can come up with a clean, alternative to oil. Speaking to the world about Iran in 2010 President Obama claimed his administration "would not tolerate actions that flout the NPT, risk an arms race in a vital region, and threaten the credibility of the international community and our collective security." So the struggle goes on. Hopefully it will be contained in diplomatic channels, but there is always the possibility that the more aggressive nations will might try to force the west into some type of military action. Hopefully, the 190 nations of the Non Proliferation Treaty will choose the peaceful option and not be held hostage to the whims of a few malcontents!

On March 14th, President Obama appeared on Israeli television and claimed, to the relief of few in the international community, that Iran would need "a year or so" to develop a nuclear bomb. He went on to say that diplomatic disarmament of the Islamic regime's weapons program was viewed as "a more lasting solution" to overt or covert force, but allowed that "all options (are) on the table"!

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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