Iran seems more
determined than ever to acquire nuclear weapons. Under its new
president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has rejected a European Union
offer of security and economic incentives, including nuclear fuel
for energy, in return for stopping all uranium conversion in
Isfahan. The reason? The EU's offer failed to recognize Iran's
"right" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich
Ahmadnijed himself has been less diplomatic, denouncing the package
as "an insult" to the Iranian people. He
has even demanded an apology from the EU-3.
counter Tehran's claim that it only wants enriched uranium-a
requirement for nuclear weapons-for energy purposes. For example,
the new defense minister told the Iranian parliament this week that
developing ballistic missiles is among the new government's highest
in order someday to provide launch vehicles for nuclear
Europeans are getting nervous that the United States is about to go
to war against Iran. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said last
week that the "military option . . . should be off the table." But
if that option is gone, and if the EU-3 negotiating track isn't
getting anywhere, what do Schroeder and other Europeans propose we
do next? More talking? More carrots? More of the same that clearly
is not working? One should be forgiven for wondering whether the
EU-3 negotiations are aimed more at keeping the United States from
using force than actually disarming Iran. Could it be that some
European governments are becoming resigned to the fact that Iran
will someday acquire nuclear weapons?
It would be a
serious mistake to let Iran get nuclear weapons. Put aside for a
moment all the arguments about the collapse of the nuclear
non-proliferation regime if Iran were to acquire nukes. Iran itself
is simply too untrustworthy to be trusted with nuclear weapons.
Tehran supports international terrorism, flouts international law,
and suppresses its own people with a relish and a thoroughness that
are breathtaking. Nuclear proliferation alone is bad enough, but it
is especially dangerous when very irresponsible authoritarian
countries are getting the bomb.
Unlike the Soviet
Union, which was at least predictable enough to deter, Iran is
simply too radical, unstable, and contemptuous of both
international law and basic standards of decency to be allowed into
the nuclear club. The world has already seen human rights-abusing
regimes with nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and China.
It does not need another.
The basic issue
here is trust-as in, what kind of regime can be trusted with
nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to place in the
hands of people who pay for terrorists to blow up women and
children and who hang a mentally incompetent 16-year-old girl for
"acts incompatible with chastity." Nuclear weapons are too tempting
to use for a regime that is so disdainful of its citizens that it
tortures children for eating during Ramadan,
uses amputation and flogging as punishments,
and imposes the death penalty for uttering insults against the memory of Imam
Amnesty International reports at least nine cases of amputation
since 2002 and four cases of execution of children.
It is all the more insidious that
these abuses are done in the name of proving the rightness
of Iran's particular brand of Islam.
rights record is appalling. Imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, a
former Republican Guard turned reformist, was close to death before
he ended a hunger strike last Tuesday. His offense? Reporting that
intelligence officials had killed five Iranian dissidents. Though
he is in the final year of his jail term, world leaders like
President Bush and Kofi Annan are calling for his release.
The Iranian regime
routinely arrests journalists for writing "propaganda against the
Islamist regime." It regularly shuts down newspapers and
Internet sites. An Iranian-Canadian photographer died in police
custody in 2003 after being arrested; the government eventually
admitted that her death was caused by blows to the
head. Journalists the world over should be outraged by this
crudest form of censorship and oppression.
A few days ago,
the new Minister of Justice announced that "improperly-veiled
women" would be treated as if they were not wearing a veil at all
and arrested. The regime is stepping up its campaign against
"social vices," such as wearing makeup in public or playing music
too loudly. Under the new regime, women are barred from serving in
parliament. Women's rights groups the world over should
rise up in protest.
As various Iranian
websites also reported last week, Iranian Kurds demonstrating
peacefully in Mahabad after the killing of a young activist were
met with a barrage of police bullets; at least four died. And
Tehran is now instructing paramilitary forces to use "brutal force"
on students "harboring anti-government sentiments." People who care
about minority rights should be deeply concerned about such
To be fair, some
human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights
Watch have spoken out against Iran's abuses. But they have not yet
connected the dots to the dangers of Iran's nuclear weapons
program. These groups seem unconcerned that Iran could soon have
its hands on the world's most terrible weapon and thereby threaten
human rights-and lives-the world over. The human rights
community should be as worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons
as the Bush Administration is. Human rights groups should be
issuing reports, holding vigils, and giving Iran a prominent place
on their websites. They need to shine a spotlight on the fact that
one of the world's most repressive regimes-which Freedom House
ranks as next to the bottom in political and civil rights-may
be on the verge of getting a weapon that could obliterate hundreds
of thousands of lives in minutes. Moreover, nuclear weapons will
make the regime more confident of its own survival and therefore
more emboldened and oppressive.
Yet Iran is
sensitive about its international image. It would be more
responsive to pleas to abandon nuclear weapons development and to
cease abusing its people if the international community and human
rights groups spoke out more loudly against it. The only way to get
Teheran's attention is to move the issue of Iran's nuclear program
into the United Nations Security Council for consideration of
sanctions against its oil industry. Yes, China, Russia and others
may try to block sanctions, but what else is new? Moving the issue
to the Security Council would put the Europeans on the spot and
force them to get off the fence.
The U.N. human
rights machinery, including the Commission on Human Rights, must
also more forthrightly criticize Iran's abuses. There is more
at stake than the reputation of the United Nations. Also being
tested are the international human rights non-governmental
organizations that make it their business to hold abusers
accountable. They often accuse others of complicity through
silence. That standard should to apply to them as well.
Raising the stakes
on Iran's domestic human rights situation would force the regime to
explain itself to the United Nations and other international
organizations. Tehran fears this kind of negative publicity. It
prides itself as a major diplomatic player in the international
arena, and that requires the fiction that Iran is a normal country.
Having European, Middle Eastern, African, and other countries
asking questions about its human rights record would at least end
the culture of impunity that now prevails.
Countries all over
the world sign human rights declarations and pass resolutions in
the U.N. Why is there so little outrage when Iran flagrantly
violates these resolutions? It is time to end this double standard.
For too long, the member states of the United Nations have given
Iran a free pass for a variety of spurious reasons-because they too
hate the United States, they too are repressive, or they want
solidarity with the developing world bloc. But these are no
excuses. It is time for the international community to speak up on
behalf of oppressed women, children, religious minorities, ethnic
minorities, journalists, and lovers of freedom and democracy,
regardless of race or religion, and to realize how dangerous it
could be for Iran to have nuclear weapons.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.,
is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and
Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.