Ahmadinejad denies that Iran is pursuing the construction of such a weapon. The uranium enrichment program will provide fuel for nuclear energy plants only, according to the president. Nuclear inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) argue otherwise.
Iran launched its nuclear program in 1957 with the assistance of the U.S. Under the Atoms for Peace program initiated by President Eisenhower, the U.S. provided equipment and information to foreign countries to enable them to build nuclear reactors.
After Iran’s revolution in 1979, most foreign countries discontinued the supply of materials for the program in Iran. The U.S. cut off the supply of highly enriched uranium, forcing Tehran to shut down its reactor. In 1987, Argentina agreed to help convert the plant to a low-enriched uranium reactor and provide the uranium for Iran.
Iran began construction of its own uranium enrichment facility in 2002, which led the IAEA to request immediate access to inspect the plant. As a member of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran complied with the request. One of the provisions of that treaty forbids a non-nuclear-weapons state from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Inspections by the IAEA would ensure that Iran was producing uranium for peaceful purposes only.
An Iranian dissident group obtained documents revealing a secret program to eventually build a nuclear weapon. The international community protested and Iran suspended its enrichment program and agreed to increased inspections by the IAEA. When Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative, took office in 2005, he reinstituted the enrichment program in defiance of world opinion.
The U.N. Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Iran to force them to comply with stricter oversight by the IAEA. The Bush White House considered military intervention to halt the program, including the possibility of nuclear attack on the underground plant. President Bush followed the advice of Secretary of State Condolezza Rice to use diplomacy rather than aggression, although he continued to state publicly, “All options are on the table.” (Hypocrisy or moral hubris seems apparent at this point.)
President Obama has pursued diplomatic means exclusively to resolve the conflict between Iran and the world over its nuclear program. Israel has put relentless pressure on the U.S. to take whatever action necessary to stop Iran’s program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated last week to the U.N. that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium to construct a nuclear weapon by next summer. He appealed to the U.S. to establish “a red line” of tolerable nuclear activities, which would warrant the use of military intervention if the line is crossed.
Five countries (U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China) currently possess 4,400 active nuclear warheads, the U.S. wielding 2,150 of them. An additional 18,765 are inactive and in stock piles. Three other countries, India, Pakistan and North Korea, have over 200 inactive weapons, although these countries did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Most people believe that Israel also houses nuclear weapons, but Israeli officials will neither confirm nor deny it.
Only one country in the world has employed a nuclear bomb in war. President Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding Japan’s surrender in 1945. When they refused, the Enola Gay ascended from the Pacific island of Tinian on August 6, headed for Hiroshima with a single bomb – atomic. That one bomb destroyed over four square miles of the city, killing 70,000-80,000 people. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 40,000-75,000 people. Deaths caused by the radiation fallout of these two bombs reached into the hundreds of thousands.
All players in WWII employed bombing runs on cities, but the extent of destruction that a single atomic weapon could incur was unprecedented. Moral implications for its use rose exponentially. American leaders were desperate to end the war and stop American casualties. They justified the unthinkable annihilation of life as the means to save lives.
In spite of a treaty signed over 40 years ago, five nations still wield 4,400 weapons of even greater capabilities of massacre. And other countries willingly endure world opposition to acquire one.
Can we really explain why anyone would want such a weapon or ever use it? Can any gain fully justify this form of genocide? Are there moral limits even in warfare?
How would Jesus approach this question? Books explore the theological and ethical considerations for war. Christians divide over the issue. When humans take up arms against one another for political or religious purposes, they run the risk of damaging their own humanity. Do we not wound our own soul when we take another man’s life? When violence overrides any impulse towards peace, do we not further scar the image of God stamped on our humanness?
In an earlier civilization, man’s wickedness multiplied itself, until God could no longer tolerate it. When he decided to eradicate the earth of his dissolute creatures, he told Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.” (Genesis 6:13)
Our highly technological society has found more ways to spread violence in the world than ever before. Violence seems to beget violence. Will someone step forward to demand that it stop? Will we find ways to halt violence without harming innocent bystanders? Will we learn the skills of diplomacy and persuasion that intercept the hell-bent rush towards violence? Will we promote diplomacy over military intervention?
These are the questions that should shape the coming election, because they will shape our future.