Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This Isn't a Global Gun Control Mission

On August 8th, the headline was this: Iran Resumes Uranium Conversion. The story read, "Iran has restarted work at a nuclear facility, saying it is for peaceful purposes only, and flatly rejected a European offer aimed at ensuring the nation does not seek nuclear weapons."

Now the headline is this: Iran uranium trace tied to equipment bought in Pakistan: U.S. officials admit find dispels the evidence of a weapons program. This story read, "U.S. officials have privately acknowledged for months that they were losing confidence that the uranium traces would turn out to be evidence of a nuclear weapons program. A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran is further away from making bomb-grade uranium than was previously thought, according to U.S. officials."

I don't profess to know what Iran's intentions are for any nuclear program they are or are not developing. The latest findings do not provide strong evidence to conclude that Iran is a threat or that it is not. While it may be good to know the weapons capabilities of other countries, this is not the sole determinant of whether we label the country friend or foe. Finding "weapons of mass destruction" is not an end goal.

From a strategic standpoint, ignoring any moral arguments - however valid, finding significant weaponry that is not typically used in a defensive manner has some strong implications. It does not prove that the country plans to attack the U.S. or other countries, but that is possibility that should be considered strongly and weighted against other factors. Some main factors are the likelihood, or perceived likelihood, that the country will be invaded, the motives of the country's leaders (or likelihood that they will invade other countries), and the amount spent on weapons programs. The amount that the government is willing to spend indicates, to some extent and on a relative basis, the value placed on having weapons. This value is influenced by its perception of neighboring countries and corresponding value of being perceived as a potential threat by would-be aggressive nations. It is also influenced by what the country might gain from invading another country. Distinguishing between defensive and offensive intentions requires further analysis. While the motives are at least partially reflected in the choice of weapons, the means to commit a crime is nothing without the accompanying desire to.

Likewise, the lack of "weapons of mass destruction" does not prove by default that a country is friendly. Stalin had no "weapons of mass destruction." Neither did Hitler. Dictators have slaughtered millions of people without the aid of nuclear and biological weapons. The most threatening weapon of mass destruction is the dictator himself, or any oppressive government, who suppresses dissent and imposes his will on the people through force.

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