By Dr. Kayhan Barzegar
The emphasis on the theme of “nuclear terrorism” in the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is closely related to global and Middle East nuclear disarmament, and preventing the use of nuclear energy by other nations. By connecting the United States' security to global security, as well as Middle East security, the Obama administration aims to redefine the United States hegemonic role in the world. Such a policy is in line with the unilateralist policy of the predecessor administration of George W. Bush, and in obvious contradiction with the Obama's policy of "change".
There are two noteworthy points in the NPR. First, the United States will not use nuclear weapons against countries lacking such weapons, excluding Iran and North Korea. In case of Iran, this is the first time that Washington explicitly threatens a non-nuclear-weapons state in its official doctrine. This concept totally belongs to the Cold War era and proves that the United States still considers nuclear weapons as cornerstone of its deterrence policy. Emphasis on the use of nuclear weapons on security grounds is a grave obstacle on the way of global nuclear disarmament particularly in the volatile region of the Middle East.
This aside, using nuclear deterrent power to threaten countries is at odds with Obama Administration’s pronounced goals of strengthening global peace and security because when deterrence is used as a threat factor, other countries will deem it their right to inhibit such threat by any possible means. In fact, this provides them with a good ground to justify their self-defense policies. Therefore, although Obama claims that the new nuclear position is a step forward to consolidate global peace, it is still founded on the old policy of threat which has been simply gift-wrapped for publicity purposes.
The second and more important point is the emphasis that new strategy puts on nuclear terrorism. Obama maintains that access to nuclear weapons by terrorist groups is "the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term, and long-term." This was the central focus with the recent Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
Focusing on the concept of nuclear terrorism roots in redefinition of US security strategy, aiming to maintain its supremacy in the world. Following 9/11 terror attacks, global fight against terrorism has been a milestone in US national security strategy. Under this pretext, the George W. Bush administration connected the security of America and the world to the security of the Middle East, subsequently started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, Obama is taking that policy a step forward, connecting it to a more advanced threat, nuclear terrorism, as the most important asymmetrical threat endangering US national security.
The important point here is the direct connection between the concept of nuclear terrorism and the concept of “interconnected security” in the world. According to this strategy, U.S. security is equivalent with global security and at the center of that the Middle East security. That explains why the United States tries to convince other nations to accept its leadership in war against the so-called greatest threat against the international community that is nuclear terrorism, and to ensure that terrorists will never gain access to nuclear weapons or nuclear materials. This will also bolster the international legitimacy of U.S. measures, the legitimacy that America had lost during Bush’s presidency.
By incorporating nuclear terrorism as a new theme in its nuclear strategy, the United States will create the settings to make broad interpretations of threats against global security and entitle itself to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. In this context, some observers believe that the threat of nuclear terrorism is being intentionally exaggerated and is a new tool for the Obama administration to achieve its global aims.
Meanwhile, the focus on nuclear terrorism will distract the public opinion from nuclear disarmament and the U.S. obligation to promote it. Nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and peaceful use of nuclear energy are the three pillars of the NPT. The United States has been more interested in nonproliferation of nuclear weapons than the other two pillars because it will provide Washington with a leverage to restrict other countries’ access to nuclear energy and prevent them from focusing on all-out disarmament endeavors, pursued as a goal by non-aligned countries, and especially Iran. The Obama administration's NPR is an example of how the United States will work to maintain its global leadership by tools such as overstressing on nuclear terrorism.
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar: Professor of international relations, and director of international affairs, Center for Middle East Strategic Studies