In a post whose main point was to praise Up With Chris Hayes, Freddie deBoer offers one criticism.
I didn’t hear, and haven’t heard, a statement of equitable political principles that explains why it is somehow more legitimate for Israel to have nuclear technology than Iran.
The answer is embedded in his definition. There is no reason in the abstract why Israel “should” possess nuclear technology (I’m assuming he’s referring to nuclear weapons technology), while Iran “should not,” but nation-states aren’t merely abstract, and “legitimacy” isn’t the same as ideal moral justice. Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and withdrawal or being judged in breach would entail costs and complications for Iran, but a prospective decision to acquire nuclear weapons or actual acquisition of them is not in itself, taken strictly on its own terms, a matter of legitimacy.
In other words, even from the pespective of the NPT regime, and taking adherence to its provisions as a standard of legitimacy, Iran could legitimately become a nuclear-armed state, but the possible legitimacy of its withdrawal from the NPT would not prevent it from becoming at that point a pariah state, even if in this regard a lawfully acting one. In addition to Israel, both India and Pakistan are also non-signatories to the NPT, and North Korea is the only state to have withdrawn. It is neither inherently legitimate nor inherently illegitimate for them to be nuclear states – and the same goes for the states that already possessed nuclear weapons when the NPT was originally drafted – but it is presumed to be a matter of interest to other states, and arguably to the entire world, a perspective in fact legitimated by worldwide, though not universal, recognition of the NPT.
It is not difficult to reason out an argument for the justice or morality of denying nukes to “states like Iran,” but allowing them to “states like Israel.” It ends up being an argument for supporting Israel and being suspicious of or hostile to Iran at least in its present form. Put simply: Israel = friend, and Iran = enemy – designations that, not incidentally, neither country’s leaderships have striven much to alter over the last generation or two. Along these lines, we occasionally hear people say that it would be a much different matter if a non-revolutionary – i.e., friendly – Iran went nuclear, but, to return to the original point, I think the reason that the discussion is rarely if ever attempted along the lines deBoer describes is that there is no “principle” in play of the type he wants to invoke.
The above was drafted originally as a comment at deBoer’s blog. He responded to it as follows:
See, if it’s just that, realpolitik or whatever, I understand. But it would have been nice to have that out in the open.
I think the problem is that the assumptions of most interested observers, even leftish ones like Chris Hayes, differ greatly from those of deBoer and others who seem to be seeking fairness or “equitable political principles” in international relations, rather than realpolitik or some other calculation of interests.
Realpolitik is itself only ever a derivative of pre-existing moral-ideal determinations, the same ones that underlie that very basic (for Schmitt the most basic of all) “friend-enemy” distinction. Leftist-internationalists and other free range intellectuals, including those urging an American-Iranian rapprochement for supposed real-political reasons, will question, or be much more open to questioning whether “Iran-enemy” and “Israel-friend” should continue to define so much of American policy in the region. They will also be more interested in examining under what circumstances a revision might be both desirable and attainable. Such a discussion will tend to leave most of the American political audience behind.
That’s not intended to be an argument against holding that discussion. It’s an argument that the Iranian nuclear issue will retain its saliency, and likely remain impervious to fundamental re-thinking, until and unless it can be addressed in full context.