Iran has no legal right to nuclear arms. Iran is a party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT divides signatories into two groups of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” Five “nuclear” states (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Red China) are allowed to possess nuclear weapons This was a necessary concession to reality, as these were the states possessing nuclear weapons in 1968. Iran falls into the NPT’s second category of signatories which are forbidden from acquiring nuclear weapons but which are allowed to develop nuclear energy solely for peaceful uses. The International Court of Justice (the “World Court”) recognizes no universal right to nuclear arms. To the contrary, the Court has not even been able to bring itself to endorse the use of nukes even in the extreme case of an existential threat. In its 1996 Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, the Court could manage no more than a weak concession that in such an extremity, resort to nuclear weapons might not be unlawful. Finally, the UN Security Council has passed four resolutions between 2006 and 2008 calling on Iran to cease enriching uranium.
The International Second Amendment may appear unassailable because its simplistic fairness: if any state possesses nuclear weapons, all states must be allowed nuclear weapons. But this is naive morality at best: if Johnny gets a cookie, then Sally must get a cookie. Reality is not so evenhanded. In actuality, the Left only condemns nuclear weapons in the hands of the United States and Israel. Russia, China, and Iran get a pass. Left unanswered is the question of why nukes are objectionable in the hands of democracies but not in the hands of authoritarian states.
The answer may lie with the Left’s accusation that the United States and Israel are hypocritical to possess nuclear weapons while forbidding them to other states. This is a morally frivolous objection for two reasons. First, it dispenses with any assessment of the dangers states like Iran may pose. Nor does it give any weight to the history of restraint represented by the United States and Israel. The United States has proven a responsible steward of the atomic bomb. We have used nuclear weapons only twice—sixty-four years ago—and that was in a war which began with an attack on the United States. Israel, which has possessed nuclear weapons since the 1960s (an open secret), has never used them. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel’s very existence was on the line from the invading armies of Egypt and Syria. Israel did not use nukes even then.
We can agree that hypocrisy is a bad thing. However, advocates of the International Second Amendment think there is nothing worse. By all means, let Iran incinerate Tel Aviv; at least we will not have hypocritically infringed Iran’s right to nuclear weapons. During the Cold War it was often said, “Better dead than Red.” Today that’s become “Better dead than hypocritical.”
But where is the hypocrisy? Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is not hypocritical since Israel has not signed the NPT: Israel has not promised not to develop nuclear weapons. Any hypocrisy lies with Iran which has signed the NPT and thus has pledged itself to nuclear development only for peaceful uses.
There is no universal right for all states to possess nuclear weapons. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, no one argued that Cuba was entitled to nuclear arms. Instead, the United States, with the approval of the world, moved to interdict them. What all states do possess, however, is the right to self-defense. Since the prime target of Iranian nuclear weapons would be Israel, Iran’s putative “right” to possess nuclear arms gives way to Israel’s right to self-defense. Israel has every reason to feel nervous. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has declared that Israel “should be wiped off the map.” Iran’s apologists have protested that this statement was mistranslated. Irrespective of this statement, anxieties reasonably remain. In 2006, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sponsored an international conference of Holocaust deniers in Tehran. Iran continues to back the terrorist group Hezbollah, whose charter names the destruction of Israel as a goal. Finally, the Iranian leadership adheres to an apocalyptic form of Islam which looks for the return to Earth of a legendary figure: the Twelfth, or “hidden,” Imam. Believers hold that the destruction of Israel is necessary for the Twelfth Imam’s return. Even if it were true that Ahmadinejad’s provocative statement was “mischaracterized,” Israel’s fears would be far from allayed. Iran refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and will not exchange ambassadors. Iran also supports Hamas and Hezbollah. It is no wonder that the West reads the worst in Iranian intentions.
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