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Mick Hume

The construction of the Islamic Bomb

The Cold War may be over, but British and American statesmen have started warning of an even worse 'nuclear nightmare' to come: the transfer of control over nuclear weapons and scientists from the Kremlin to the unstable citadels of the third world.

For 40 years we were told that Western civilisation was threatened by the Communist Bomb-a threat which turned out to be as empty as the shop shelves in the collapsed Soviet 'superpower'. Now we are told that life in the West is imperilled by the future threat of the Islamic Bomb. This new nuclear arsenal is meant to be supplied from within the ex-Soviet Union, and wielded by the Muslim regimes of the Middle or Far East.

It is impossible to be certain which third world countries might be close to developing nuclear weapons. But Living Marxism can reveal which states have been most closely involved in the construction of the Islamic Bomb issue: the USA and Britain.

The Anglo-American allies have worked flat out for two and a half years to construct a scare about renegade scientists and third world regimes threatening the world. The aim of their campaign has been to legitimise the West's own nuclear militarism-and global power status that goes with it.

The Western powers have no real need panic about the prospect of third world states obtaining nukes. In principle, it is possible any country to get the materials for making an atomic device, and several may have done so. In practice, however, producing effective nuclear weapon is not so simple the British media might have us believe.

In the age of satellite surveillance, secrecy is all but impossible for third world states. None could get close to having a functioning nuclear weapon without some kind of tests or without the West finding out. Once spotted any nuclear development could easily be blown away by the vastly superior conventional firepower of the USA, Britain and their allies. A decade ago, when the West gave the nod, one Israeli air-raid bombed Iraq's would-be nuclear reactor into a pile of rubble.

On the fantastic assumption that an Islamic state had developed a nuclear bomb and wanted to use it, they would find it difficult to threaten the West without a delivery system that could lob a bomb across oceans. The Gulf War demonstrated that even a highly militarised third world regime like Saddam's Iraq lacked the technology to fire a big conventional shell at nearby Israel (remember the 'supergun' fiasco?). The much-hyped threat of Saddam's chemical warfare also fizzled out as his Soviet Scud missiles proved almost useless. Delivering an atomic bomb across the globe would pose much bigger problems.

Mention of Saddam should remind us of the real power relations between such regimes and the West. The total destruction of Iraq gave a glimpse of the force which the Western powers can marshal to put third world 'upstarts' in their place. It is crazy to imagine that the USA, with its massive military potential for non-nuclear violence (backed, even after George Bush's latest cuts, by 5000 nuclear warheads) could seriously be challenged by an Islamic ruler with a handful of crude nukes.

So how has the issue of the Islamic Bomb come to such prominence? Its construction by the USA and Britain began back in the summer of 1989. The Berlin Wall had crumbled and the Soviet Union didn't seem to be far behind it. In public, the Western authorities were celebrating victory in the Cold War. But in private, the US and British military establishments were seriously concerned. Without the Soviet Union, what justification could they have for maintaining Nato and their nuclear arsenals?

Politicians, generals, journalists and academics on both sides of the Atlantic launched a frantic search for new demons against which they could direct Western defence strategy. They came up with the loose idea of 'the threat of third world nationalism'. Margaret Thatcher, as usual in the forefront of right-wing politics, prefigured current discussions by arguing that Nato's nuclear umbrella was still needed to control 'countries in the Middle East with missile technology '.

Back then, however, the scare stories about third world nationalism sounded unconvincing. As a justification for the military budgets and deployments of the Western powers, they were certainly a poor substitute for the Soviet Union's two million troops and huge nuclear arsenal. Even the carefully manipulated image of Saddam Hussein as the new nuclear Hitler wasn't credible for long, once the US-led coalition had blasted Iraq off the map.

Now the Anglo-American propaganda campaign has finally come together, in the idea of an Islamic Bomb being built with the aid of ex-Soviets. There is no longer even much need for the Western powers to find hard evidence of missiles in a third world country. All the papers have to do is report sightings of men in white coats with funny accents, in order to 'prove' that former Soviet scientists are now on the payroll of a Gadaffi or a Saddam.

For US and British militarists, the Islamic Bomb is the perfect issue to link the old Cold War era and the new age. It can give some substance to their crusade against the third world, by recreating scale models of the Red Army around the globe.

The alleged nuclear threat from the third world has already been used by George Bush, to explain why he is not going further with defence cuts and is increasing expenditure on the Star Wars project, and by John Major, to justify why Britain is increasing its nuclear arsenal by buying Trident submarines. And we can be sure that this one will run and run. One top American politician recently had a vision of Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and some former Soviet republics all going both nuclear and Islamic fundamentalist 'later in the decade'.

The renewed emphasis on the need for the West to maintain nuclear weapons is a response to a new challenge to the USA and Britain. The challenge comes not from the Islamic states of the third world, however, but from the rival industrialised nations of Germany and Japan.

From the moment the H-Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ended the Second World War, nuclear weapons have been a symbol of American supremacy on Earth. The USA's allies, Britain and France, also got the Bomb and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as a sort of deputy sheriff's badge.

Much has changed since 1945. The defeated powers of the Second World War have risen to be the economic giants of our time. Now military might, especially of the nuclear variety, is just about the only thing that the USA has over Germany and Japan-and just about all that Britain and France have to keep them at the top table of international affairs. This is why the old powers are so desperate to find a credible reason for retaining nukes.

The Islamic Bomb is a device constructed to prolong America's leading role in international affairs, and Britain's role as America's sidekick. They may talk about the threat from the third world and the former Eastern bloc. But the reason they want to preserve a high military profile-and to monopolise nuclear weapons-is to maintain the old pecking order among the major capitalist nations. A secret Pentagon report, leaked to the press in January, argues that the USA should keep a 5000 warhead-strong nuclear arsenal aimed at every reasonable adversary' on Earth. Why? In order to discourage Japan and Germany from the Bomb.

The short-term effectiveness of the Islamic Bomb as a diplomatic weapon was revealed in January at the first-ever summit of the United Nations Security Council, convened by Major to discuss the problem of post-Cold War nuclear proliferation. This stage- managed affair was a blatant attempt by Britain and America to refocus the West's attention away from Eastern Europe (where Germany holds the economic whip hand), and towards the 'threat' from the third world (where the USA can assert its military authority).

The Japanese used the occasion to suggest that, as the second largest contributor to the UN, they too should now have a seat on the Security Council. In response, the British exploded the Islamic Bomb. The Security Council wasn't for those with money, they said, it was for those with the will and the weaponry to defend the Free World. And in any case, argued one British newspaper, changing the Security Council to make it more globally representative would mean admitting a Muslim member-and that would be madness, wouldn't it?

The Security Council summit agreed a declaration with, noted Major, 'a hard cutting edge' - a pledge to use 'appropriate measures' against any state suspected of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the hands of the US and British authorities (who have already destroyed Iraq on the pretext of non-proliferation), the Islamic Bomb looks like posing a mortal threat to many more third world peoples.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 41, March 1992

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