Noam Chomsky: The Gravest Threat to World Peace
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Reporting on the final U.S. presidential campaign debate, on foreign policy, The Wall Street Journal observed that "the only country mentioned more (than Israel) was Iran, which is seen by most nations in the Middle East as the gravest security threat to the region."
The two candidates agreed that a nuclear Iran is the gravest threat to the region, if not the world, as Romney explicitly maintained, reiterating a conventional view.
On Israel, the candidates vied in declaring their devotion to it, but Israeli officials were nevertheless unsatisfied. They had "hoped for more 'aggressive' language from Mr. Romney," according to the reporters. It was not enough that Romney demanded that Iran not be permitted to "reach a point of nuclear capability."
Arabs were dissatisfied too, because Arab fears about Iran were "debated through the lens of Israeli security instead of the region's," while Arab concerns were largely ignored – again the conventional treatment.
The Journal article, like countless others on Iran, leaves critical questions unanswered, among them: Who exactly sees Iran as the gravest security threat? And what do Arabs (and most of the world) think can be done about the threat, whatever they take it to be?
The first question is easily answered. The "Iranian threat" is overwhelmingly a Western obsession, shared by Arab dictators, though not Arab populations.
As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the United States; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats.
In high places in the U.S., some concur with the Arab populations' perception, among them Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the Strategic Command. In 1998 he said, "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East," one nation, Israel, should have a powerful nuclear weapons arsenal, which "inspires other nations to do so."
Still more dangerous is the nuclear-deterrent strategy of which Butler was a leading designer for many years. Such a strategy, he wrote in 2002, is "a formula for unmitigated catastrophe," and he called on the United States and other nuclear powers to accept their commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to make "good faith" efforts to eliminate the plague of nuclear weapons.
Nations have a legal obligation to pursue such efforts seriously, the World Court ruled in 1996: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." In 2002, George W. Bush's administration declared that the United States is not bound by the obligation.
A large majority of the world appears to share Arab views on the Iranian threat. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has vigorously supported Iran's right to enrich uranium, most recently at its summit meeting in Tehran last August.
India, the most populous member of the NAM, has found ways to evade the onerous U.S. financial sanctions on Iran. Plans are proceeding to link Iran's Chabahar port, refurbished with Indian assistance, to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Trade relations are also reported to be increasing. Were it not for strong U.S. pressures, these natural relations would probably improve substantially.
China, which has observer status at the NAM, is doing much the same. China is expanding development projects westward, including initiatives to reconstitute the old Silk Road from China to Europe. A high-speed rail line connects China to Kazakhstan and beyond. The line will presumably reach Turkmenistan, with its rich energy resources, and will probably link with Iran and extend to Turkey and Europe.