The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Germany speaks truth to power

June 22, 2006

Previously, I’ve pointed out the overt hypocrisy of American non-proliferation policy. The U.S. continues to seek new nuclear weapons and maintains a very large arsenal of these weapons; yet, it tries very hard to prevent many other states from acquiring these same armaments.

Since the U.S. position is that states like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea should abide international norms about nuclear proliferation, this hypocrisy could be viewed as a fairly serious problem. Many realists, however, note that this sort of hypocrisy is normal in international relations.

In any event, the contradictions in American policy are fairly obvious and targeted states like Iran have no problem using this argument against the U.S.

This past week, the new German foreign minister not only noticed the tension in U.S. policy, he called for action (Reuters):

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — to make concessions in the context of the Iran dispute, Spiegel magazine reported.

“I am in fact of the view that, beyond the current Iran conflict, we must review the worldwide nuclear armament status,” Steinmeier told Spiegel.

“We are in favor of effectively applying the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It contains the promise of the nuclear powers disarming, and we should press them to do that,” he said.

He didn’t mention Israel in these quoted lines, but Israeli weapons are clearly at issue in the broader context.

Critical theorists like me are interested in pointing out hypocritical arguments because we think change is most likely to occur when the contradictions are apparent and no longer sustainable.

Note that German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is hopeful about the current round of diplomacy, which is not about broader disarmament:

“What is positive, however, is that we are apparently for the first time seeing Iran in a state of reflection.”

Given that the Bush administration has quietly abandoned the goal of nuclear disarmament “for the foreseeable future,” everyone must hope that Iran will make concessions about its nuclear program to resolve the current dispute.

The U.S. may offer Iran some shiny baubles and bangles, but it is not going to start dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal or research programs.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.