PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad, where we asked if it’s possible to have a rational foreign policy for the United States. Aijaz, one of the critical questions facing any rational foreign policy for any country, particularly the United States, will be its approach to nuclear weapons. It’s at the core of the debate about what to do about Iran, as it’s phrased in the United States. Of course, the Iranians, I suppose, have their own debate about what to do about the United States. The question is: what is a rational approach to nuclear weapons?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Well, if you step back into history, Paul, the non-nuclear proliferation treaty [sic], which all countries of the world which did not have nuclear weapons were invited to sign—and virtually all of them did, with some very notable exceptions—was signed on the assumption that [inaudible] on an expressed guarantee on the part of the members of the nuclear club that there will be a swift move towards universal disarmament, and the countries which already have nuclear weapons would destroy their nuclear stockpiles.
JAY: And rather than that, we’re actually seeing most of the nuclear superpowers developing new nuclear weapons systems.
AHMAD: Indeed, indeed. And worse than that, this is not an issue in the media at all, including the liberal progressives.
JAY: Not even talked about.
AHMAD: It’s not even talked about.
JAY: So the issue now is a country like Iran is told, “You can’t even enrich uranium.” Countries like Pakistan or India now are saying, “Well, okay, you did it. You weren’t supposed to, but it’s okay.” So what about the double standard on the whole question?
AHMAD: Well, you see, Paul, on this issue, certainly, and on a number of issues of this kind, there is an enormous anger and frustration in the world about precisely this kind of double standards. What the world wants from the United States to have a coherent, clear enunciation of basic principles of its foreign policy, which are compatible with international law and the UN Charter, and then apply that policy without fear or favor to all countries of the world, without discriminating between friend and foe. Now, what has happened on the nuclear issue is precisely that the United States picks up some countries to beat up on this issue quite arbitrarily, whereas a number of its friends go scot-free. Iran can be threatened even with invasion if it does not seize nuclear enrichment, which it has the right to do under the Nonproliferation Treaty. But by all agreement, including the CIA, the Israelis have at least 100, possibly 300, nuclear weapons, but it’s a friend, and therefore the same principles would not apply.
JAY: And they more or less say this pretty openly. I saw an interview with Cheney once where he was asked this question, and he more or less gave this answer. He says they’re friends, they’re civilized, we can trust them, and a country like Iran is not our friend, not civilized, and we can’t trust them, and it’s as simple as that. We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons.
AHMAD: Well, the issue of civilization is a very complex one. Are Pakistanis civilized or uncivilized? Pakistanis have not only developed nuclear weapons but are known to have exported nuclear weapons technology clandestinely. They are a close non-NATO ally, as the term is used.
JAY: And there’s a recent—
AHMAD: Close non-NATO ally is the official term for Pakistan.
JAY: —and there’s a recent report in The Washington Post that the Bush administration is actually going to facilitate the development of nuclear energy potential, weapon potential, with weapons potential in Saudi Arabia.
AHMAD: Even in Saudi Arabia. Now, I think that’s just provocative. I think the United States is being provocative towards Iran.
JAY: So what would a rational president do? What would he propose on the question of nuclear weapons specifically?
AHMAD: A rational president, if the United States were to obtain one, should first of all go back to the fundamental commitment. It should call an emergency meeting of all the nuclear weapons states and give them and urge them to agree to a time table for the destruction of existing nuclear weapons, as was the original commitment, and at the same time strengthen international agencies, such as the International Agency for Atomic Energy, IAEA, which is the body which is empowered to renegotiate the Nonproliferation Treaty. It needs to be renegotiated in such a manner that the IAEA gets the authority to oversee that no country in the world develops nuclear weapons, without exception.
JAY: Now, is there an argument—and it makes me a little suspicious—that some of the people in the US foreign policy lobby areas, including some on the quite hard right, even though some of them connected with something called the Committee on the Present Danger, which is all about the projection of US military power, like George Schultz, actually are advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons. And one of the questions is: if in fact have—if have nuclear weapons played a role to stop direct wars between great powers [sic], would the elimination, complete elimination, of nuclear weapons open the door to direct wars between great powers?
AHMAD: Well, it’s very unclear whether it was nuclear weapons, the balance of terror, as it was called, which prevented a war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union actually so inferior in its military capability that it would not win in a conventional war. The only war that it fought was in Afghanistan, and the United States won it hands-down through just some proxies which were not even given the most sophisticated US weapons. So even conventional inferiority in the Soviet Union was really quite overwhelming. So much of it is just propaganda. There is the nuclear weapons that prevented a direct war between great nations. Now, if you don’t have nuclear weapons, the fact of the matter is that those are not the only weapons which should be under global purview; there are now a lot of weapons of what are called [“kar-dih-NAY-sha-nal”], which can do just as much damage as the nuclear weapons could do, and they’re used routinely. They were used in Vietnam. They’re used in Iraq. And there actually has to be an international convention to bring down the level of technological sophistication and destructibility of weapons systems as such. My final point is that if there are no nuclear weapons, is China going to invade the United States? For what? The Chinese wanted to buy Enron. The Congress prevented them from doing so.
JAY: I don’t think the question would be: would China invade the United States? The question is: without nuclear weapons, might there be some breakout in hostilities over some other territory, whether there’s contention in Africa, contention in Asia?
AHMAD: Let’s not be rhetorical. The fact of the matter is that no other power has military installations in Africa—the United States does.
JAY: No, I’m talking about nuclear weapons now.
AHMAD: Supposing there are no nuclear weapons, only conventional weapons are left, only the United States has conventional bases in Africa. No other major economic power in the world does, and they don’t have a capability. China and Japan literally do not have the nuclear capability to supply bases in Africa. They’ve never developed such a capability. So this whole idea that, if there are no nuclear weapons, there may be outbreak of conventional hostilities between great powers is bogus. There might be an outbreak as there always are locally with or without nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, so far as I’m concerned, serve no useful strategic purpose, let alone any moral or human purpose.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s discuss further what it would mean for the United States to be an equal country amongst sovereign nations. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad.
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