Middle East | Will states acquire nuclear weapons to deter regime change by US?

Will states acquire nuclear weapons to deter regime change by US?

Christina Lin August 22, 2016 3:06 AM (UTC+8)
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America’s senseless pursuit of regime change has destroyed lives and ruined nations in the Middle East and Africa. Drawing lesson from what had happened to former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, countries blacklisted by Pentagon will now go nuclear like North Korea and Pakistan to prevent US from toppling their governments.

In 2011, Christian Science Monitor published an important article on lessons learned from US’ illegal war against Libya. Entitled “A troubling lesson from Libya: Don’t give up nukes”, the implication is that if a state gives up nukes, it risks being invaded by the US.[1]

A view of the scene following a car bomb attack in al-Gharbiat in Sirte
A view of the scene following a car bomb attack in al-Gharbiat in Sirte, Libya, August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

In 2003, Muammar Gaddafi agreed to dismantle its fledgling nuclear program in exchange for diplomatic recognition and integration into the global political economy. However, in 2011 he was murdered and his country violently destroyed when the US aggressively pursued regime change.

In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. In 2003, US invaded Iraq and killed Saddam Hussein in another pursuit of violent regime change.

In 2007, Israel destroyed Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear reactor.  In 2011/2012, on the heels of its Libyan regime change operation, US began to work with Saudi Arabia//Qatar/Turkey to conduct regime change in Syria.

This begs the question. Would US have been so eager to invade these countries if they had nuclear weapons?

General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, disclosed that in 2001 the Pentagon actually had a list of seven countries targeted for regime change: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.[2]  He was perplexed that none of them were linked to al Qaeda or Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Now with several of the targets already checked off the list, some of the remaining countries may be compelled to seek the ultimate deterrent against regime change. In fact, North Korea cited Libya and Iraq as prime examples of why Pyongyang would never give up its nukes.

In January 2016, when Pyongyang conducted a fourth nuclear test, its official KCNA news agency stated, “the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord.”[3]

It is also a twist of irony that after Gaddafi gave up his nuclear program and Tripoli was cited as a model for Iran and North Korea to follow for nuclear disarmament, now it is a model for nuclear armament.

As Doug Bandow argued in The National Interest, US “regime change” foreign policy would now have the unintended consequence of provoking states to seek nukes as a security guarantee, since “no foreign state, no matter how close it might appear to be to Washington at any point in time, can feel secure from a future attempt at regime change.”[4]

Indeed, Turkey may be another state feeling those sentiments.  Lauded as a NATO ally for decades, after the recent coup attempt, Ankara could seek the nuclear path to deter future regime change.[5]

As Reza Sanati observed in the Christian Science Monitor, US treatment of Libya and Pakistan differed greatly due to presence of nuclear weapons.  Tripoli dismantled its nuclear program and halted support for terrorism in return for western benefits, but it was still attacked. In contrast, nuclear-armed Pakistan hid the world’s most-wanted terrorist Bin Laden for roughly a decade, supported jihadi groups aiding the Taliban, yet suffered no consequences and still enjoys US economic and military aid.

Now, Doug Bandow issued a sober lesson learned that US war against Libya “has done more than destabilize North Africa. The West’s eagerness to overthrow a government that had given up nuclear weapons creates yet another incentive for proliferation. Washington may rue this precedent for years to come.”

However, looking at current policy, one does not get the impression Washington would rue this precedent. If anything, it seems bent on checking off the rest of the regime change list and weaponizing “human rights” as a mean toward that end.

Already the photo of an injured boy in East Aleppo is plastered all over US media in an effort to push for a full-scale invasion of Syria to finish the job of overthrowing the government. However, a similar photo of a little girl in government-controlled West Aleppo, injured by US-backed jihadists’ shelling, never made it into mainstream media.

two faces of Aleppo

Nor did the photo of a little boy refusing to leave his mother buried under rubbles as a result of US/Saudi war against Yemen.[6] Or the photo of a little Yemeni girl struggling to get access to safe water in a country completely destroyed by US/Saudi airstrike campaign.

yemeni boy doesn't want to give upThis type of selective humanity and outrage to further US regime change agenda only prolongs the suffering of all the civilians and especially the children.

As Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) told CNN last week: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.” US supplies the bombs, the jetfighters, refuels them midair, and provides intelligence and targeting assistance for the Saudis.”

This also begs the question how serious is US in countering ISIS when it supports the Saudis and their Wahhabism.

search for water

As Fareed Zakaria exposed in a clip from CNN, the former Imam of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque stated “We have the same beliefs as ISIS.  We share their ideology, but we express it in a more refined way.” [1]

There is also an American imprint on many civilian lives lost in the various countries US has targeted for regime change—Iraq, Libya, Syria. As such, in order to avoid similar fates as failed states and to protect their children, more countries now may indeed seek the nuclear option as the ultimate deterrent against regime change.

Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.

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[1] “A troubling lesson from Libya: Don’t give up nukes”, CS Monitor, August 30, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0830/A-troubling-lesson-from-Libya-Don-t-give-up-nukes

[2] “General Wesley Clark reveals 2001 US plan to conduct ‘regime change’ in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran”, SOTT, May 22, 2011, https://www.sott.net/article/246771-General-Wesley-Clark-reveals-2001-US-plan-to-conduct-regime-change-in-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon-Libya-Somalia-Sudan-and-Iran; https://twitter.com/walid970721/status/751387849140887553

[3] “North Korea cites Libya dictator Gaddafi’s ‘destruction’ as nuke test defence’ The Indian Express, January 9,2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/world/world-news/north-korea-cites-moammar-gaddafis-destruction-in-nuke-test-defence/ http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2933884

[4] Doug Bandow, “Thanks to Libya, North Korea Might Neve Negotiate on Nuclear Weapons”, The National Interest, September 2, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/thanks-libya-north-korea-might-never-negotiate-nuclear-13756

[5] Hans Ruhle, “Is Turkey Secretly Working on Nuclear Weapons?”, The National Interest, September 22, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/turkey-secretly-working-nuclear-weapons-13898; http://www.thetoc.gr/eng/news/article/die-welt-turkey-secretly-developing-nuclear-weapons

[6] “The US is promoting war crimes in Yemen”, The Guardian, August 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/18/us-promoting-war-crimes-yemen-saudi-bombing-obama; “Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?” Counterpunch, October 8, 2015, http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/04/04/yemen-a-genocidal-war-against-children-and-civilians-sanctioned-by-the-un-us-uk-nato/

Christina Lin
Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.
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