Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bracing the Nuclear Tide

Ever since the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear programs became the headlines and the India – US nuclear deal was inked in New Delhi in March this year that subsequently being approved unanimously by the US Congress last week, there has been a tendency among developing nations to follow the India way: building an alternative source of energy through nuclear technology.

With cheaper oil price is nowhere in sight and the possibility of expansion of the technology for peaceful purposes to even those NPT non-signatory states, the nuclear tide is surging high and fast. The latest to join the tide is the oil-rich Arab states, which declared last Sunday that they also want to acquire the technology for peaceful purposes.

Following the footpath of the Developing-8 Group, which declared its intention early this year after a summit in Bali to pursue the N-technology, the new ambition by the Arab states to pursue the same technology needs to be scrutinized. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman are known for their substantial oil resources. Under the banner of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the group announced on Sunday that it commissioned a study on setting up a common program in the area of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, which would abide by international standards and laws.

Why these oil-rich Arab states so suddenly and so eagerly want to pursue the N-technology?

If we follow the recent development in this region, there is one very important factor that bothers these Arab states: Iran.

In the past months Iran has been so defiance toward the call by the US government and its European allies to suspend the uranium enrichment to support Iranian nuclear ambition. Even though Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity, but suspicion among the US government and its European allies is high that Iran is also pursuing nuclear weapon technology.

The Sunni – Shia factor is also on the table. Iran is a Shia state while Sunni Muslims are the majority in the region, including those of six Arab states. With no sign of immediate end of Sunni – Shia sectarian violence and domination of Shia party in Iraq and the overt Iranian support for the Palestinian’s Hamas-led government and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, there is a growing worry among the Sunni states on the increasing Iran’s influence.

This Iranian factor has forced the Arab states to react. Kuwaiti columnist, Fouad al-Hashem wrote in Al-Watan newspaper that the declaration by the GCC is a clear, strong and courageous message to Iran that GCC nations will not sit and watch while Iran presses forward with its nuclear program. And with the help of their allies, these Arab states want to balance the power equation in the region by developing nuclear technology, even though they do not really need it.

It is true that double standard is apparent on the nuclear technology issue. Iran, a democratic state and a signatory of the nuclear NPT that has been religiously following the guidelines given by the international atomic body, the IAEA, has been prevented from pursuing its rightful choice to develop peaceful nuclear technology.

The US and its European allies have been arguing that Iran is not fully pursuing the technology for peaceful purposes but it intends to build a nuclear weapon technology. Reasons like Iran’s defiance to stop its uranium enrichment program and that Iran is among the largest country in the world that possesses substantial natural resources have been used as the basis of suspecting Iran’s ill intention.

On the other hand, countries like Pakistan, India and Israel, all are non-signatories of the NPT, have developed and possess nuclear technology, both for civilian and military use. Pakistan and India have declared themselves as nuclear power states while Israel has been in denial about its nuclear weapons. But the recent admission by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in a TV interview in Germany claiming that Israel possesses nuclear weapons proved this double standard.

Asked about Iran’s nuclear program, Olmert said, “… when they [Iran] are aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel, Russia?”

Furthermore, with the final approval by the US Congress to a Bill on the Indo – US nuclear deal signed in March this year came this week that will allow the transfer of nuclear technology and material to India, the nuclear apartheid is even clearer.

To conclude, developing nuclear technology is the basic right of any country, be it India, Iran, Indonesia, Israel or even the Gulf countries. This is not an exclusive right of the P-5 nations. As long as the country is acting responsibly and uses the technology for peaceful purposes like generating electricity and medical research, there is no need to prevent them from acquiring such technology. The decision by the GCC to pursue the nuclear path to join the tide should not be of a worry as long as they act responsibly and for the benefit of humanity.

What is needed is strict guidelines and control by an independent international body like the IAEA with regard to the usage and development of such technology so as not to be deviated into military purposes like developing nuclear weaponry. Treaty like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is of no use when even the signatory to the treaty is prevented from developing the technology while the non-signatories of the treaty freely develop the technology.

When there is a possibility to develop cheaper, more sustainable alternative source of energy to suffice the growing, insatiable energy need, why don’t we join the tide and enjoy the ride? Concerns about a regional nuclear arms race is understandable but concerns about the benefits of the technology for humanity is also important.

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