Not the dawn of non-nuclear peace

Eddie Ford warns that the US-Russia agreement on nuclear arms is also about targeting Iran

To much fanfare and acclaim, stretching from conservative to radical left opinion, presidents Barack Obama and Dimitry Medvedev agreed on March 26 to a treaty which seeks to reduce their stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons by nearly a third. After finalising the deal together in a ‘last-minute’ telephone conversation, or so we are told, the two presidents will meet up in Prague on April 8 to formally sign the treaty.

The new deal, catchingly entitled Measures to Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, replaces the old 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) - a product of the fag-end of the cold war and Mikhail Gorbachev’s goodbye gift from the unlamented and terminally dysfunctional Soviet bureaucracy. December saw the old Start finally expire. The ‘new Start’ also replaces the much looser 2002 Moscow Treaty, which lacked any verification provisions - always a thorny subject for the prickly Moscow regime, paranoiacally sensitive as it is to US/western interference in the internal affairs of mother Russia.

As a consequence of the new treaty, Russia and the US now have seven years to meet the targets and requirements set out last week. Of course, the treaty does not cover, for example, battlefield or medium-range warheads and still leaves both countries with thousands of assorted types of nuclear weaponry between them. Nor does it prevent the US from ‘improving’ its missile defence system in Europe or elsewhere - as the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, was keen to remind us.

So Obama and Medvedev have agreed to limit their total capacity to 1,550 nuclear warheads - perhaps generously assuming that the treaty is ratified by both the ever fractious US senate, which will require some Republican support in order to do so, and the rather more passive duma. They will also reduce the number of warheads that each missile carries, so the abominable destruction that can be rained down is now slightly less abominable. The deal also calls for cutting by about half the missiles and planes that carry the weapons to their targets, and limits missile delivery vehicles to 800 (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, bombers, etc).

In reality the Obama-Medvedev agreement, far from being a body blow to military pride or a sudden, unexpected advance towards nuclear disarmament, comes as an actual relief for most generals and commanders. Hence the approving words of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, admiral Mike Mullen, to the effect that the military “stand solidly behind” the treaty.

The plain fact of the matter is that the US arsenal is centred on ageing, if not positively antiquated, Minuteman missiles, first introduced in 1962 by a fresh-faced and eagerly militaristic John F Kennedy. The latter, of course, had fought his presidential campaign against Nixon on a classic cold war basis, claiming that the Republicans had let ‘their guard down’ and that it was imperative for US imperialism to close the (non-existent) missile gap with the Soviets.

Obviously, Kennedy’s sabre-rattling - even if he is now routinely portrayed as a virtual modern-day saint, a harbinger of world peace and all that crap - gave the US an unassailable qualitative lead when it came to missiles, and military technology in general. The cold war was never a war of equals. However, by today’s standards the Minuteman belong in the museum, eg, its gimballed inertial guidance system, it is fair to say, is less than reliable (god knows where they will end up). Time for an upgrade. Naturally, Russia’s generals take a similarly dim view of their own missile systems.

Importantly, and clinchingly, the putative Prague treaty includes a new verification mechanism that will ensure the “irreversibility, verifiability and transparency” of the reduction process - as Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency carefully phrased it. The Kremlin, just to make sure that there is no misunderstanding or ambiguity on this point, issued a statement declaring that the pact establishes a “legally binding” linkage between “offensive weapons and missile defence systems”, and how Russia will expect or “demand” the deployment of all strategic offensive weapons “exclusively on national territories”.

This, of course, is a barbed reference to the aborted ‘son of Star Wars’ project, which saw the Bush administration under its original bellicose plans hope to plug the alleged missile ‘gap’ that existed in US imperialism’s ‘defence’ strategy. A gap that purportedly left US forces stationed in Europe vulnerable to a sudden Pearl Harbour-like attack from ‘rogue’ states such as Iran, armed with truly deadly Shahab-3 missiles possessing a range of up to 2,000 kilometres, and other such patent nonsense. Thus Bush and his fellow hawks wanted to move a radar station currently based in the Micronesian republic of the Marshall Islands - described in 1956 by the Atomic Energy Commission as “by far the most contaminated place in the world” thanks to wanton US nuclear testing - to Brdy in the Czech Republic and install 10 additional interceptor silos in Poland. All the time trying to get us to believe that in a split second these weapons could magically knock out any incoming enemy missiles, like something out of a bad science fiction movie.

Needless to say, the Russians were not exactly over the moon at the prospect of having a US-controlled anti-ballistic missile system plonked right on their doorstep - denouncing the entire scheme as tantamount to an “act of war” and which would be dealt with accordingly if pursued. Obama in turn junked Bush’s interceptor white elephant following a defence ‘review’, though, of course, denying that he had caved in to the Russians. Surely not.

Following the March 26 announcement, Obama said the deal was part of a US effort to “reset” relations with Russia - a new détente for a post-cold war world, especially now that the heat generated by the Russian-Georgian-South Ossetian-Abkhazian conflict of 2008-09 seems to have cooled down. More significantly still, Obama solemnly stated that other countries should now meet their “obligations” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - which is up for review at the United Nations in May.

Here we have the key to understanding the Prague pact - in the context of the negotiations and renegotiations surrounding the NPT. Under the terms of the 1970 treaty the then non-nuclear powers ‘agreed’ not to equip themselves with nuclear weapons and the existing nuclear powers ‘agreed’ to scale down their own nuclear arsenals. Of course, the 1970 NPT was no shiny beacon of hope in a world gone mad - as is often made out by cynical pro-imperialists and naive liberals - but rather a ringing affirmation, and warning, that the nuclear powers were indeed a privileged club consisting of the permanent members of the UN security council: the US, UK, France and Russia (to be joined by mainland China in October 1971). In other words, the ‘great powers’ wanted to retain their monopoly over nuclear weaponry and the NPT is a way of maintaining that status quo.

You could say that things have not gone entirely according to plan. There has been substantial nuclear ‘leakage’ - India, Pakistan, South Africa (subsequently abandoned), North Korea and Israel, which has a formidable nuclear capacity of at least 150 weapons. And the sheer aggressive, irrational mindset to use them, regardless if needs be of American assent or approval - though it goes without saying that at the end of the day the US will always stand by its gallant, though sometimes troublesome, outpost in the Middle East.

Which, of course, brings us to Iran - the number one target of any possible Israeli nuclear attack and in turn the object of a US solidarity blitzkrieg when it retaliates with everything it has got - which is not much, frankly - against the Zionist enemy. Clearly, or at least for the US and its close allies, the Prague treaty and the renegotiated NPT are instruments with which to tackle the ‘real problem’ of Iran - by righteously posing as the good guys in white hats who have remained true to the terms and conditions of the NPT. Unlike Iran, which is irresponsibly knocking at the nuclear door - trying to barge its way into the members-only clubhouse. So, speaking on behalf of the nuclear aristocracy, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the Prague treaty sends out a loud message to Iran - and North Korea - that it is one of imperialism’s “top priorities” to “strengthen the global non-proliferation regime” and keep nuclear weaponry “out of the wrong hands”.

In other words, the Prague accord and the redrawn NPT is primarily about countering any possible menace from the mullahs - mad or otherwise - in Tehran, with the North Koreans serving as purely ritualistic bogeymen or whipping boys for imperialism. And, of course, to this end, squaring up to Iran, Obama’s defence review concluded that there was “no need” to deploy an interceptor system in Europe - seeing how Iran had not concentrated on developing long-range ballistic missiles, “as had been expected”, but was instead focusing its energies on building shorter-range ones. Therefore the best and most efficient use of US imperialism’s resources was to build up and improve the current naval and land-based systems already near the Persian Gulf in order to meet the Iranian ‘threat’.

Clearly then, the ‘new Start’ hoop-la - the Obama and Medvedev Prague summit - does not promise a new dawn of global peace. Quite the opposite. If anything, it signifies a growing danger of military confrontation and a new hot war. That is, the budding entente cordiale between the US and Russia, if indeed that is what we are witnessing, represents a ‘triangulation’ manoeuvre against Iran - with Russia preparing to give the green light, or at least a nod and a wink, to US military adventures in the region.

That is exactly the opposite message we are hearing from the likes of Kate Hudson, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and stalwart Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star member. Hence she glibly informs us in an anodyne little article for the SWP-in-exile, Counterfire - a sort of less brainy version of the ex-Revolutionary Communist Party’s various projects - that the new Obama-Medvedev treaty is a “relief” and a “small step in the right direction” towards a nuclear-free world. Yes, it is a “bit like rearranging the deckchairs”, as the “nukes are still there”, but nevertheless the deal is “significant” and thus to be welcomed by all socialists and peace campaigners (www.counterfire.org).

Surely a useful idiot if ever there was one. No hint of the perils posed by the current round of imperialist machinations, or that under capitalism ‘peace’ is just the continuation of war by other, non-violent or non-military means. Peace presages war and war presages peace - such is the imperialist logic. Furthermore, comrade Hudson and her co-thinkers seem to imagine that ‘rogue’ states like the one in Tehran have not learned the lesson of Saddam Hussein - that not possessing weapons of mass destructions is openly inviting your own destruction. No wonder that the mullahs want their own bomb - with all its potentially catastrophic consequences for the Iranian working class, caught between the vice of theocratic/Islamist repression and US imperialism.