by Elzbieta Okuniewska
Nuclear weapons, their possesion, proliferation, possibility of use and related security measures are still a taboo in Israeli public discourse. Although Israel’s possesion of nuclear weapons has never been been officially confirmed, there is no doubt about it. Today, in time of ongoing negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program and rising nuclear ambitions of other Middle Eastern states, the issue of nuclear weapons is back on the political agenda of the whole region. Due to its crucial security meaning for Israel, this issue should become a topic of a broader public debate.
Talking about the Bomb with International Experts
The Israeli Anti-Nuclear Movement (IANM) has made an effort to overcome reluctance to talk publically about nuclear weapons in Israel and initiated an open meeting with international experts from the field. On November 16, in the cozy environment of Tel Aviv’s Kayama Bar founded by members of the social protest movement, Ward Wilson and Paul Ingram – researchers representing a think-tank British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and Wilbert van der Zeijden, a researcher from Dutch peace organization IKV Pax Christi, met with the public. The meeting was moderated by Sharon Dolev, a veteran peace activist and director of IANM. In her opening remarks, Dolev said that the policy of nuclear ambiguity was aimed at the question of whether or not Israel has nuclear weapons, but nuclear ambiguity does not mean that there should be no public discussion about the role, value and danger of nuclear weapons. On the contrary, it’s a civic responsibility to talk about the issue.
Don’t Bank on the Bomb
Wilbert van der Zeijden, the first to speak, presented the outcome of his research on the worldwide involvement of financial institutions, such as banks, insurance institutions and pension funds, in the production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons. According to his study, a more than 314 billion USD investment in companies producing nuclear weapons has been made by financial institutions worldwide. As for the Israeli case, Bank Hapoalim was identified as the one bank involved in funding of nuclear programs with an investment of 13 million USD. The researcher estimated the total costs of the Israeli nuclear weapons program at 2 billion USD per year, according to a comparison with other similar programs around the world. Among companies believed to be nuclear weapons producers for Israel were the German ThyssenKrupp and the Dutch European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). The outcome of van der Zeijden’s research was recently published in a comprehensive report “Don’t Bank on the Bomb”. The report encourages clients to get familiar with policies of their financial institutions and to keep banks accountable. The full report is available at www.dontbankonthebomb.com.
Learning the Narrative of the Other
The following speaker, Paul Ingram, shared his experience of years spent in Iran. As an expert on nuclear issues, Ingram hosted a talk-show on global security on an Iranian domestic TV station. During this time, he became familiar with political and social trends behind the nuclear program of that country. He described the Iranian nuclear program as irrational and economically inefficient. According to Ingram, the program and the social support for it is to a great extend a result of Iranian national narrative – a narrative of living in an unfair world, where the international community is hostile to their country, disrespects its values and position. A great significance of Ingram’s contribution was the emphasis he put on understanding social processes driving nuclear ambitions of states. He also called for the mutual cooperation of nuclear state’s civil societies in an effort to abolish nuclear arms.
Deconstructing the Myth of Nuclear Weapon
Ward Wilson, director of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project at BASIC, based his original analysis of nuclear weapons on the philosophical school of pragmatism. He presented nuclear weapons as a powerful social construct of lower than expected military significance. Wilson argued that while conventional weapons are far more effective on the ground, nuclear weapons remain a “currency of power”, appealing to people’s minds. In his presentation, the researcher referred to several historical events, such as bombing of Hiroshima, the Cuban missile crisis and the 1973 Israeli-Arab war to claim that nuclear capability has not played a decisive role either in military or in political successes. Wilson presented a controversial argument that nuclear weapons are not reliable, not precise, clumsy and old-fashion arms, which due to their dangerously wide range should be replaced by modern conventional arsenals. Since nuclear weapons cannot be used in a limited way, they should be abolished and civil society has a potential to facilitate this process. Wilson’s arguments were summarized in a recent book that he published entitled “Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Is World with No Nuclear Weapons Possible?
Presentations of international experts from BASIC and IKV Pax Christi provided the public with a deep insight into various aspects of nuclear weapons. Importantly, each of them argued that civil society should play an active role in the debate on nuclear programs. Considering the disastrous effects of nuclear weapons on human population and the environment on the one hand and the growing nuclear ambitions in the Middle East on the other, each of us should ask himself/herself and the political leaders: is it better for Israel (or any other state) to possess nuclear arms or to abolish them?