by Patricia Lewis

A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong About Nuclear Iran

A Dangerous Delusion is a small, short book that enters what Peter Oborne and David Morrison call 'a plea for sanity' over the Iranian nuclear issue.

The authors catalogue several of the proposals put forward in various negotiations and meetings with Iran and the EU3+3 group (Britain, France, Germany plus the US, China and Russia) over the past decade to demonstrate how Iran has tried to play fair but been shunned at almost every attempt. Indeed, this is nothing new. Trita Parsi's excellent book A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran, published last year by Yale, examines such failures in detail.

A Dangerous Delusion outlines what the authors call 'myths, falsehoods and misrepresentations' about Iran's nuclear programme.

Ayatollah Khamenei's 2005 fatwa against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is examined, as is President Ahmadinejad's statement, mistranslated as a call to 'wipe Israel off the map' when it should have been rendered as 'the occupation should vanish from the page of time'. The authors stress that they are not arguing that Iran is a perfect democracy, or that Iran's human rights abuses should be ignored. They also accept that Iran has breached its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and so distrust of Iran's statements and actions is a reasonable response.

They point out, however, that others have done the same or similar and not had such harsh punishment. Indeed, India has been rewarded for developing nuclear weapons.

One of the most interesting quotes is from John Kerry in 2009 in the Financial Times in which he is reported as decrying the 'bombastic diplomacy' and 'wasted energy' of an inflexible US administration under President George W. Bush. Iran has a 'right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment for that purpose', Kerry is quoted as saying.

The authors' plea is to rescind any talk of subjecting Iran to military threat, stop 'stigmatizing and punishing' Iran and get back to negotiations with the aim of striking a deal over Iran's right to enrich uranium.

The book fails to make the case in two respects: the first is the impact of concerns regarding human rights abuses in Iran; and the second is the scientific and technical discussion on which so much depends, barely addressed in the book.

Few, however, can be better qualified to address human rights as applied to a wide variety of countries and situations than Geoffrey Robertson, QC. In his book exploring the neglected aspects of human rights in nuclear weapons policies, the lawyer has put human rights issues firmly back at the centre of the nuclear weapons debate and challenged the field of human rights law to put the nuclear issue on its agenda, and to do so urgently.

The only problem with the book is that, while making his case and setting the scene -- and none may doubt Robertson's knowledge of human rights law -- he has had to distill Iran's rich and complex history into a few dozen pages and thus had to leave out several important events. More significantly perhaps, the book would have benefited greatly from a scientific and technical review that would have caught some of the unforced errors in his account of this intractable problem.

Robertson's book, however, is well worth reading and the case he makes is strong. He has interviewed more than 40 former prisoners and relatives in his chambers and this alone gives the book an edge similar volumes do not possess.

After stating his view that there is 'no graver threat to international peace and security than the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons', Robertson begins with a heart-breaking account of his investigation into the largely forgotten 1988 mass killings of political prisoners in Iran. The book is divided into three parts: Iran; the bomb; and the law. The first part contains the harrowing account of the human rights atrocities, which he demands be discussed openly in international forums.

The second part is a book about nuclear weapons: how they were used in 1945; the law that currently deals with them; Iran's nuclear hedge and the Israeli nuclear conundrum.

Part III is where Robertson is really on his home turf. This is where he shines. There are few to match his expertise and intellectual rigor when he addresses the issue of nuclear weapons and how they breach human rights principles and laws, and what should be done about them.

His analysis of the laws of war, human rights law and nuclear weapons pulls no punches and should be read by every international relations expert, diplomat and UN official.

The threats to attack Iran by Israel are deftly handled from a legal and ethical standpoint and he concludes that there is no entitlement to Israel under Article 51 of the UN Charter to attack Iran in anticipatory self-defence. And, as a matter of law, in a paradoxical situation, it is Iran that is under an imminent threat of attack, not Israel.

Robertson does not shirk in his duty by leaving us with a mere insightful analysis of the Iranian nuclear situation, the bomb and the law. Instead he takes it further and thoughtfully presents the case for a way forward.

Building on President Obama's April 2009 speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, Robertson analyzes all that has changed since the 1996 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons and makes the case that that, 'for the present, the world should proceed on the basis that nuclear weapons are self-evidently illegal', human rights and disarmament need to be reunited as subjects for urgent combined discussion so that nuclear disarmament is taken out of the papers of policy wonks and into the hands of all right-thinking people.


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A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong About Nuclear Iran


Patricia Lewis is Research Director, International Security, Chatham House

Article: Copyright ©, Tribune Content Agency.

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