TThe announcement that US and Iranian negotiators will join talks in Vienna this week to resurrect the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran is a rare step forward at a time when global efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons have receded.
The meeting is taking place against the backdrop of what has been described as a new nuclear arms race, mainly involving the United States, Russia and China. Britain joined last month when Boris Johnson unveiled unnecessary plans to expand Britain’s arsenal.
Joe Biden, US President, deserves credit for grabbing the Iranian nettle despite fierce opposition from Republicans, and some in his own party, to any relaxation of Donald Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions policy.
Trump did his best to destroy the Offer 2015, withdrawing the United States from the pact. Iran has responded by increasing uranium enrichment, bringing it closer to building a bomb, although it insists that is not its goal.
Biden is attempting to restore the status quo while raising the prospect of follow-up talks on Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, its alliance with the Syrian regime, and its support for anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Iranian government, or at least that part not controlled by anti-American extremists, also deserves credit for taking that first step. The Iranians have suffered terrible hardships under the sanctions and Biden has yet to alleviate them.
It’s not entirely clear what Tehran wants in return for compliance. The lifting of the American and international blockade, certainly. There have also been requests for reparations and a refusal to discuss regional issues.
In short, one should not expect too much substance from these initial talks, not least because, according to Tehran, the modernization and expansion of threatening nuclear capabilities by its putative enemies is neither auspicious nor inspiring.
The United States is in the midst of a more than trillion dollar nuclear deterrent upgrade, started by the Obama administration and accelerated by Trump. It includes a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles and a new submarine-launched cruise missile.
Perhaps of more immediate concern to Iran is the major expansion of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert. Israel has never disclosed its capabilities, but the Federation of American Scientists estimates it has around 90 warheads.
There are persistent reports, meanwhile, that the Saudi regime, another Iranian enemy, is interested in acquiring nuclear weapons know-how and has been aided by China and sales of nuclear weapons. US nuclear technologies authorized by Trump.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin frequently brags about his new, advanced nuclear weapons. As with the low output Trident warheads deployed by the United States and nuclear weapons on the battlefield, these and similar developments are increase the probability of nuclear war.
Much to the relief of arms control experts, Biden and Putin recently extended the 2010 New Start Treaty, which limits the strategic arsenal deployed to 1,550 warheads each. But several other keys Cold War-era treaties lapse, leaving a gaping hole in the nuclear safety net.
With China also expanding its arsenal and North Korea again testing missiles against Japan, the proliferation environment has rarely been more volatile. Still, that didn’t stop Johnson from jumping with both feet.
Governments the decisions increasing the stock of British warheads by 40%, reversing decades of cuts and reducing transparency on operational deployments were already damaging enough. They broke many solemn promises.
Even more dangerous was Johnsons’ assertion of the right to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, such as a cyber attack. This obviously increases the chances of first nuclear use. This undermines global anti-proliferation efforts. It sharpens non-nuclear states. It makes Britain less secure. It is reckless. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemns Johnsons total hypocrisy. He is right to do so.
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