REV. STEPHEN H. PHELPS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
I asked a White House correspondent from the Middle East what would happen if during a press conference with the POTUS someone put this question:
Mr. President, given that since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, any non-nuclear nation which we treat as an adversary may be reasonably terrified that the U.S. will invade it too, and perhaps on false pretexts; and given that no nation in possession of a nuclear weapon has ever been attacked by any of its foes; and given that you have declared that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon; what is the U.S. doing to give Iran absolute confidence that neither the U.S. nor any other nation will ever attack it "preemptively," if it agrees to abide without a nuclear defense?
"What would happen?" the correspondent shrugged. "The questioner would never put another question in the White House briefing room. His editor would take him off the desk, maybe fire him. You cannot get an answer to a question like that."
Regardless the accuracy of the correspondent's surmise, it corresponds with a feature of American policy toward other nations: Their pursuit of their self-interest is a priori excluded from the foreign-policy calculus—if they are considered enemies. Like seven-year-olds in a playground fight, our media and masters claim that the motives of foes are malign and ours benign; that they started it, and we only defend ourselves. The fact that Americans believe these constructions has tragic consequences in violence. The fact that leaders who know it is spin spin it anyway can best be explained by the seductions of power that dance in the heads of those who prepare for more war.
Consider the self-interest of the members of the nuclear club. With the possible exception of the United States, which alone has used a nuclear weapon, each nation developed its nuclear arms for reasons of self-defense—the U.S.A. in 1945, Russia in 1949; the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, China in 1964, India in 1974, Israel (their silence on the matter notwithstanding) in the late 1970s, Pakistan in 1998, and North Korea in 2006.
Something surprising hovers in the "self" of the national self-interest that built these nations' nuclear arsenals. In each case, the greatest segment of the population is (or was) aligned with a separate religious tradition. The U.S. got the Protestant bomb. Russia got the Orthodox bomb. The U.K. got the Anglican bomb (no, Anglicanism is not a division of Protestantism; ask Henry VIII), France the Catholic bomb, China the Confucian/Taoist bomb, India the Hindu bomb, Israel the Jewish bomb, Pakistan the Muslim bomb, and North Korea, alas, the nobody-believes-anything-but- Il bomb. No two Protestant countries have a bomb. No two Catholic countries have a bomb. No two Orthodox, no two Anglican, no two Muslim nations are members of the nuclear club.
Except for Buddhism (whose largest populations are in Thailand and Japan; the irony or tragedy of this exception would take too much space to explore), all world religious traditions whose adherents form a plurality in at least one nation are present as the dominant tradition in the nuclear nations. To a Martian, it might seem that the religions have the bombs—with one nation appointed guardian for each. The fact that sane people do not think "their" bomb essential to their religious tradition does not reduce the significance of this alignment. Rather, the fully bomb-fitted family system of world religions reveals how security really works. Security means that nations feel secure when huge numbers of "people like us" gather under a nuclear umbrella. Shared religion is a proxy for being like us.
Cynics love to lay against religion the bromide that its adherents are narrow-minded and belligerent in defense of the(ir) Truth, to the point of causing the world's wars. The likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins sound gleeful when cataloguing the sectarian identities of combatants in notorious conflicts such as the "troubles" of Ireland, the massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Serbia twenty years ago, and the perennial hostilities in the Middle East. But correlation does not prove causation, as any real scientist knows.
A more natural explanation for the religiosity of warring parties lies in the fact that humans, being like all other animals fearful, and often aggressive when insecure, use whatever tools they can to advance their interests. Since the beginning of civilization, religion has been a very effective tool for strengthening the bonds that enable large populations to function as a unit, manage their fears, and focus their aggression on making wealth and war. Religious passion is virtually never the reason people make war. Rather, groups who go to war have become capable of that dark art by becoming unified, and religion has always served, in part, as a term of the social cohesion required for wealth and war. Certainly war-makers appeal to their deities, however insincerely, for comfort and resolve against their enemies, but it is not religious teachings that move them to the fight. To the contrary, if they read them and applied them, the teachings would dissuade them from war. In the real world, however, only scarcity and its attendant fears, real or imagined, motivate people to war.
These factors bear directly on the question of Iran's desire to acquire a nuclear weapon. Begin with the fact that the lumping together (above) of all Muslims as adherents of one religion overlooks a division within Islam at least as sharp as those that separate the four major Christian groups. Since the rise of ISIS in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq, the West has been getting a stiff lesson in the distinctions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims which the U.S. invasion(s) of Iraq willfully ignored. Most Muslims are Sunni. In the nuclear club, Pakistanis are virtually all Sunni. Therefore, among the populous religious traditions (pace Buddhism), only Shiite Muslims stand without a nuclear umbrella; Pakistan's is certainly not for them. Moreover, the evil is known to all which befell majority-Shiite Iraq when its leader was falsely accused of acquiring a bomb. As great storm clouds form, the only other Shiite nation, Iran, is out of doors with no umbrella. No nation can tolerate this.
Efforts by western nuclear nations to block Shiites from a nuclear shield are no better than trying to fix a leaking faucet by screwing the handle down harder. Talk and sanctions cannot staunch a nation's legitimate need for security; therefore, Iran's need must be understood in the context of the whole bomb-fitted world family system. If the nuclear nations really want progress and security (alas, hawks in the West really want war), they need to join new behaviors. They must stop spewing the propaganda that Iran, unlike every other nation, seeks a bomb only to sow trouble, rather than for self-defense. Such drum-beating uses emotion to overwhelm all reasonable assessments of Iran's national purposes. Next, if calming Iran's fears by giving them a bomb outright is not "the Christian thing to do," then, beginning with the U.S. and Israel, the nuclear club must find out how to prove to Iran that they respect it and will protect it and strengthen it in every way possible.
Finally, the correspondent who asks about all this ought to get an answer. And a promotion.