Let’s just recap. We have condemned Iran’s decision to restart its civil nuclear power programme, which involves technology which could be used to make bombs. We abhor this attempt to get round the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, (NPT) even though Iran has not broken any of its terms.
But we have. Britain has already started preparatory work on a new generation of nuclear weapons, even though the Prime Minister has made no formal announcement about replacing Britain’s Trident missile system.
America has meanwhile launched a programme to develop a new generation of bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons. These drive a coach and horses through the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Yet we demand that Iran should halt a programme which doesn’t.
This is the kind of grand imperial hypocrisy which done so much to damage the West in the eyes of the Muslim world. It rests on an unspoken assumption of moral superiority. We can be trusted to use these nuclear arsenals purely for peaceful purposes, whereas the dodgy Arabs will only use them, well, to kill people.
But can we be trusted? Yesterday’s sabre-rattling at Iran took place on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb, dropped by us, which killed 70,000 civilians. No only are we hypocrites, we have no sense of irony.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I find the thought of Iranian Ayatollahs spreading the word of the Prophet by thermonuclear fission as terrifying as anyone. People who believe passionately in an afterlife tend to be rather casual about prolonging life in the here and now. No doubt there are mad mullahs even now preaching nuclear jihad against Israel. A confrontation which would kill millions of Arabs, but would at least leave an irradiated Middle East safe for Islam, might seem a price worth paying to people who see suicide bombing as morally justified .
But to stop this nightmare we are going to have to do more than throw our weight around in the UN Security Council. Nuclear proliferation is arguably the most serious issue facing humanity after climate change. It’s not just Iran. Pakistan and India have come perilously close to nuclear war over Kashmir. China is a nuclear power with ambitions to retake Taiwan, which America has promised to protect with all necessary force.
Russia is clinging on to its Soviet-era nuclear weapons because it fears a Chinese invasion of its southern borders. North Korea holds a nuclear gun to the South. And of course, Israel has made clear that it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East - nuclear weapons which , as BBC’s Newsnight revealed last week, had been designed with British know-how.
No one wants Iran to join the nuclear club. But proliferation cannot be stopped by diktat from countries which themselves have launched a new and dangerous round of nuclear weapons. We need to set an example. If other countries are to give up nuclear ambitions - real or imagined - there must be something in it for them. We have to show that we are prepared to live up to our own moral pronouncements. Yet we are doing the reverse.
The White House claims that its new tactical weapons are not really weapons at all because they are designed to penetrate deep bunkers within which are stored weapons of mass destruction. This is sophistry of the highest order. A bomb is a bomb is a bomb. You can’t give it a moral makeover by promising that it will only be used to destroy other bombs. Anyway, we invaded Iraq in pursuit of WMD which were non-existent, so we are quite capable of blasting bunkers which don’t contain anything but people.
At Aldermaston Britain is refitting production lines for turning out nuclear warheads for a replacement of the ageing Trident missile system. Parliament hasn’t even had a chance to debate whether it is in our interest to replace a system which could kill half the planet and was originally designed to destroy Russian cities at a range of thousands of miles.
The Russians are supposed to be on our side now, so you’d think this might merit just a little more thought. It would be nice, for example, if Tony Blair could tell us exactly who these new weapons are to be aimed at. No doubt the Iranian Ayatollahs believe they are destined to be part of the Christian crusade against Islam. After all, who else could they be used against?
This is why the present round of arms proliferation is so dangerous. We live in a time when the political balance is shifting. There is a real risk of a clash of nuclear fundamentalisms, Christian bombs and Muslim bombs.
Iran clearly believes that it can gain prestige for its Islamic theocracy by thumbing its nose at the West. One suspects that the newly-elected fundamentalist President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad does not expect to get away with processing weapons-grade uranium at Isfahan. But merely to have incurred the wrath of the West, and threats of action from the Security Council of the UN, will confirm to the Islamic world that, as far as nuclear weapons are concerned, there is one law for the West, another for the Muslim world. It suits the propaganda of the Islamists for America to be threatening to take military action against Iran. How many more suicide bombers will be recruited to the cause by the thought of the West invading the first Islamic Republic?
I can’t believe that even George W. Bush would be stupid enough to invade Iran, but nothing can be ruled out. Britain is a key player here, not just as America's ally, but because we have historic ties to Iran. So here’s a radical thought. Why couldn’t Britain take the initiative and propose a new round of mutual and reciprocal disarmament with Trident on the negotiating table? That after the NPT was supposed to about eliminating nuclear weapons.
Of course, Labour politicians scoff at the idea of unilateral nuclear disarmament, a policy which they believe kept them out of office for 18 years. But far-sighted individuals, like the late Robin Cook, had been arguing cogently that the real value of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent could be to give it up. Not overnight, of course, but as part of a move to revitalise the disarmament process.
This is not idle fancy. Unilateralism has had some real success stories in recent years. South Africa gave up her nuclear weapons after the fall of apartheid, and Ukraine did the same after the fall of Communism. Argentina and Brazil dropped their nuclear programmes after negotiating a non-nuclear pact.
It’s not inconceivable that there could be a similar pact between Russia and China, and between India and Pakistan. But it take someone to get the ball rolling, to show the world that the west really is serious about eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. Even Iraq abandoned its nuclear programme in the early 1990’s - though we didn’t believe it.
In his last days Robin Cook made an appeal to his party to seize this window of opportunity: “Find the courage”, he said, “to let Trident be the end of Britain’s futile and costly obsession with nuclear-weapon status”. What better memorial to Cook than to listen to him now.