EPILOGUE : Nuclear Proliferation, American Strategic Thinking, And Iran Nuclear Deal



SUMMARY: This is the last post (First, Second and Third Posts) in the series on Iran nuclear proliferation and American nuclear non-proliferation policy. 

The tree that has hidden the forest of American – Iranian foreign policy tacit accords and national security conflicts by overshadowing all other important and current issues, analyzed previously, for the past decade and a half, has been Iran’s nuclear program. But not much has been said about the American strategic thinking and doctrine on this matter that has been the main driving force in stopping Iran’s nuclear endeavor. Breach of international Treaties namely the 1968  Non-Proliferation Treaty, short for Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT; danger to the regional conflicts, such as Indio/Pakistani or Arab-Israeli dispute; and other objectionable Geo-strategic ambitions has been forwarded by the mainstream academic and news media analysis. Therefore, a very brief recapitulation of the true nature and origins of American doctrine, followed by evidence of its actions on this matter, merits a closer look that can shed a true perspicuous light both on the United States’ past stance on nuclear non-proliferation through the rear mirror, while providing some hint of what might be in the pipeline during the next two decades.



The “Official” Justification For Non-Proliferation Treaty

 And The Power Politics Reality


The realities of a changing rapport de force that the procurement of nuclear weapon can bring to the political calculus of international relations and the undeniable effect it would have on the existing Power Politics are often masked by the public announcements, perception, as well as real consequences of its proliferation that threatens the regional / global stability and security issues. In that respect, there has been a wide divide between the true position of the United States and the rest of the world, including its closest allies, as to which of the above two standpoints are the most genuinely bona fide American perspective on this matter. Therefore, meriting a closer look as to what has been the strongest underlying driving force for the United States in stopping nuclear proliferation.

Stating the obvious, the deployment of nuclear weapons, accidentally or otherwise and its consequences is undoubtedly a serious concern for the global village. But, on the other side of the coin are the harsh realities that the procurement of nuclear weapon is ultimately a strategic game changer in the status quo dynamics of the power relationship. Thus, bypassing the very evident danger of nuclear proliferation, the leverage of a nuclear weapon acquisition and its actual perception and policy application by the United States will in the pursuit of its strategic posture be better understood.

American Nuclear Strategic Thinking

The Balance of Power And The Acquisition of Nuclear Weapon


Opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other countries and the rational by the United States, the first country to have obtained and actually used it was shaped right from the start with the two events that most definitively cemented its assertion.  First, of course, was the determining politico-military advantage the American nuclear bomb represented in ending the war against the Imperial Japan and the devastating blow it made to that country. Second, during the Berlin crisis and its Blockade of 24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949, American nuclear weapon that had already been demonstrated in Japan was a very strong deterrent factor to the Soviet Union that did not possess it – and hence refrained from intervening in the Allies airlift. In fact, there are strong reasons to believe that Joseph Stalin had been warned of the consequences of his possible opposition and actions to the airlift.  Therefore, the enmity to other countries’ possession of a nuclear weapon has been an official, if unspoken United States’ policy posture towards the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This American strategic thinking was reinforced and continued by the most influential American foreign policy decision maker, Henry Kissinger right from the beginning of his official career.  After all, it is the people and personalities that conduct the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. An axiom that even Kissinger would attest to the role of the personalities in foreign policy.  In fact, as he has been quoted in Walter Isaacson brilliantly written biography, a must for any student of history and foreign policy, especially that of the United States:

“As a Professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces.  But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make.”[1]


As such, translating this into Kissinger and his views on nuclear proliferation, it is revealing and a proof that:

In June 1968, Kissinger participated in an academic panel on Vietnam with a dovish cast: Hans Morgenthau, Arthur Schlesinger, Stanley Hoffman, Daniel Ellsberg. In the wake of Tet, Kissinger was downbeat. He still saw the North Vietnamese as puppets of China, though they were in fact aligned with the Soviet Union. But his main point was that the territorial stakes were not all that high. “The acquisition of Vietnam by Peking would be infinitely less significant in terms of the balance of power than the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Peking,” he said.[2]


He, therefore, practiced the above belief system vehemently even after his retirement and the fact that his shadow still looms over American foreign policy – a subject for another Post on this site. Several examples of his ruthless approach to the notion of nuclear proliferation and how he has opposed it exist.




The day after General Zia ul-Haq, the Chief of the Pakistani Army had staged a coup d’état on 5 July 1977 against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – who had appointed him to that post under strong American recommendation that had a Military Assistant Advisory Group (MAAG) in Pakistan, the disposed Prime Minister under House arrest at his home in Larkana had sent a message to the Shah of Iran through his twin sister Ashraf Pahlavi, asking him to dispatch a trustworthy emissary for an important message. Then, the Head of the Iranian Foreign intelligence Service was assigned this mission and clandestinely met with Bhutto at his home and stayed there as a guest for two days. The essence of their important conversation later reported to the Shah during those initial stages of unrest in Iran that lead to the overthrow of his regime will be discussed at a future Post.  During their two-day conversation and amongst other things, however, Bhutto had blamed the United States for appointing Zia ul-Haq to the post of Army Chief of Staff under strong recommendation from the American Military Assistant Advisory Group (MAAG) in Pakistan and consequently the premeditated American instigated and supported of Zia ul-Haq’s coup d’état and the tragedy and misfortune of Pakistan at the time. The memories of Benazir Bhutto, his daughter and a close collaborator  serving twice as Prime Minister and  eventually assassinated in 2007 in Pakistan clearly captures American and the notorious Kissinger’s role in the coup that had toppled his father because of Bhutto’s insistence to obtain nuclear energy and of course later the bomb due to Indio-Pakistan conflict. As Benazir recalls,


I didn’t want to believe the United States was actively destabilizing the democratically elected government of Pakistan. But I kept coming back to a remark Henry Kissinger had made to my father during a visit to Pakistan in the summer of 1976. The issue then had been my father’s determination to move ahead with negotiations with France on a nuclear reprocessing plant; a plant which would give Pakistan energy at a time when skyrocketing oil prices had adversely affected the economies of even the prosperous West. Dr Kissinger had been equally determined to dissuade my father from continuing these negotiations. The US government evidently saw the plant only in terms of its potential to produce a nuclear device, and the ‘Islamic bomb’, as it came to be known, was decidedly not in the best interests of the Free World.


The meeting had not gone well and my father had been flushed with anger when he returned home. Henry Kissinger, he told me, had spoken to him crudely and arrogantly. The US Secretary of State had made it clear that the Reprocessing Plant Agreement was not acceptable to the United States. The agreement either had to be cancelled or delayed for several years until new technology excluded the possibility of the nuclear device option. During the meeting Kissinger had claimed that he considered my father a brilliant statesman. It was only as a ‘well-wisher’ that he was warning him: Reconsider the agreement with France or risk being made into ‘a horrible example’.


Now I couldn’t wipe that conversation from my mind, even though Jimmy Carter had taken office as President of the United States three months before and Cyrus Vance, not Henry Kissinger, was now Secretary of State. But changes in the US administration did not necessarily mean changes in all the US centres of power. From my seven years of government studies I knew that the CIA often acted autonomously and that their policies were not established overnight. Had it been their policy option to get rid of my father if they could not get him to cancel the Reprocessing Plant Agreement? Had my father inadvertently played into their hands by calling elections a full year ahead of schedule?


I could just picture the CIA dossier on my father. Here was a man who had spoken out against American policy during the Vietnam War, who had promoted normalised relations with Communist China, who had supported the Arabs during the 1973 war and advocated independence from the superpowers at Third World conferences. Was he getting too big for his boots?


Another intelligence report came in, this one a taped conversation between two American diplomats in Islamabad. ‘The party’s over! He’s gone!’ one had said, referring to my father’s government. ‘Gentlemen, the party is not over,’ my father had responded in an address to the National Assembly, ‘and it will not be over till my mission is completed for this great nation.’ Meanwhile the subsidised fundamentalists in the streets were sinking to a new low. ‘Bhutto is a Hindu, Bhutto is a Jew,’ they chanted, as if the two religions, neither of which my Muslim father practiced, were mutually compatible.


‘I do not know what to write about the situation here,’ my mother wrote. ‘I know what we read in the newspapers and you get the papers there, too. The Morning News is the most correct paper and does not believe in sensationalism, so actually you know as much as I know.


‘I have written to Sanam [my sister had entered Radcliffe in 1975] and Mir not to invite any friends this summer. I do not know if they have got my letters as many have gone astray. If you get this letter, let the others know just in case.’


The leaders of the (Pakistan National Alliance) PNA continued to refuse my father’s offer to negotiate a peaceful solution. In the face of looting, arson and murder of PPP [Pakistan People’s Party] supporters, my father was forced to detain several of the PNA leaders. Perhaps the temporary silencing of their calls to violence would calm the country. But on April 20, the long-planned-for ‘Operation Wheel Jam’ paralysed Karachi’s streets. The truck drivers were on strike, and shops, banks, markets and textile mills remained closed. On April 21, in accordance with the constitution, my father called out the army to help the civil powers restore order in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad. The protests subsided. A massive demonstration and nationwide strike called for April 22 never materialised. Nor a week later did the ‘Long March’, the PNA’s call for two million people to march to Rawalpindi and surround the Prime Minister’s House. The failure of the Long March punctured the balloon of the PNA agitation once and for all. My father drove through the streets of Rawalpindi greeted by cheering crowds.


But the PNA agitation had taken its toll. Thousands of new cars and buses had been burned. Factories in Karachi were closed or behind schedule. Millions of rupees’ worth of property had been destroyed. Lives had been lost. I breathed a sigh of relief when the papers reported on June 3 that the PNA had finally agreed to talk with my father, while my father seemed amenable to the idea of dissolving his government in preparation for fresh elections.


Reason seemed to be returning at last to Pakistan. Four days into the negotiations my father withdrew the army, and a week later the PNA leaders and others detained during the troubles were freed. Following my father’s announcement that he would hold new elections in October, even the most stubborn PNA leaders seemed optimistic about the future.

‘I now see a light at the end of the tunnel. Let us pray it is not a mirage,’ one of the opposition was quoted as saying in the June 13 issue of Newsweek after a meeting with my father.


Relations with the United States, too, seemed to be improving. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Mr Aziz Ahmed flew to Paris for a meeting with the US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. He took with him a fifty-page Foreign Office report containing the grounds of our suspicion about American involvement in the destabilisation of the government. My father told me that Secretary Vance put it to one side. ‘No, Mr Aziz Ahmed, we want to start a new chapter with Pakistan,’ the Secretary of State reportedly said. ‘We value greatly the long and close friendship we have with your country.’


Did the Americans play a role in disrupting my father’s government? We will never have proof. I have since tried through friends in America to find out more information through the Freedom of Information Act, but was unsuccessful. The CIA sent back six documents, including an analysis of China’s support for Pakistan during the 1965 war with India when my father was Foreign Minister, and a cable reporting the movement of civilian convoys through Rawalpindi during the same period. Only one document dealt with my father and the PPP, and that only with the resistance to his proposed Constitution of 1973.


‘We can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of any CIA records responsive to your request for records pertaining to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,’ the covering letter read. ‘Such information, unless, of course, it has been officially acknowledged, would be classified for reasons of national security. By this action, we are neither confirming nor denying the existence or nonexistence of such records. Accordingly, this portion of your request for documents pertaining to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is denied….’


Whatever happened in Pakistan in 1977 happened because there were people who allowed it to happen. If the leaders of the PNA had acted in Pakistan’s national interest rather than their own, if my father’s Chief-of-Staff had acted in Pakistan’s national interest rather than his own, the government could not have been overthrown. It was – and is – an important lesson for all of us to learn. The United States was acting in its national self-interest, but we were not acting in our own. Some people take the easy way out by putting the whole blame for the events of 1977 on the USA. Had there not been those among us who collaborated, who looked to their own chance of power rather than that of serving their country, no harm could ever have come to the elected government of Pakistan. But as a student at Oxford, I did not yet understand that.[3]


But Pakistan’s nuclear program continued uninterrupted under General Zia ul-Haq much to the displeasure of Henry Kissinger who had probably thought he would be more susceptible to follow American request of abandoning Pakistan’s nuclear program. Further, he had supported the country’s push, with much encouragement from the United States towards the Islamization of Pakistan and the Sharia Law. However, by now, he was confidently at the helm of Pakistan’s politico-military apparatus and indispensable to the fight against the Soviet’s in Afghanistan. But while Pakistan’s domestic political situation was becoming ever more deadlocked over the years and the Soviets were ready to throw in the towel and closely discussing their exit from Afghanistan with the United States under the era of new Soviet leadership with Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost, there was no more need for Zia who had outlived his utility as the longest serving leader of Pakistan.

In short, the U.S had completely miscalculated the long-term intentions of Zia ul-Haq, who would not acquiesce to their demands, and continued on the path of developing Pakistan’s nuclear arm for both nationalistic and – in his case – religious reasons, towards what became to be known as the Islamic Bomb. Thus, unable to stop him, Kissinger personally interjected again, and so Zia too was eliminated in extremely mysterious circumstances, in a plane crash on August 17, 1988. Of all the theories proposed by the Western media concerning his death, none has mentioned an American-instigated plan.

However, interestingly – to say the least – the FBI was prevented by the Department of State from conducting an investigation at the time– surprisingly so, since both the American Ambassador, Arnold L. Raphael, and General Herbert M. Wassom, the Head of MAAG, were also present on the plane. In fact, contrary to subsequent denials, including that of the Ambassador’s wife, both men had boarded the plane reluctantly, as Zia had literally insisted on their boarding as insurance for himself.  However, he didn’t realize that the raison d’état or as Kissinger likes to say “Reason of State” was indispensable, and surpassed even an Ambassador’s life.[4] The rest, as the saying goes, is history with the resulting scars on US-Pakistan relationship and still worst, domestic Pakistan’s socioeconomic and political development and foreign policy posture in the region – notably Afghanistan and the price it has to pay because of Taliban and Pakistan’s home-grown Islamist that it continue to pay until now and everyone blames on the United States’ inept foreign policy left over from Bhutto’s undermining.




The Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi renounced its ambitions of acquiring a nuclear weapon and starting in 2002 handed over officially to the United States thousands of P2 centrifuge needed to produce enriched uranium. In return, Gaddafi was promised both a nuclear plant that would bypass the option of nuclear device capability; and the pledge by U.S not to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs.Translated into the plain language it meant not to help and/or organize any opposition forces. In fact, the CIA became a close collaborator with the Libyan intelligence services and even used them as a surrogate against the Islamist both in terms of intelligence collection as well as torture and imprisonment.

However, at the opportune moment, the West lead by Britain, France, and the United States toppled him and created the destabilized country that is witnessed today by the world. This is certainly a clear case that points to the argumentation presented in earlier essay for acquiring nuclear weapon in order to be immune from a superior actor on the scene of global power politics that cannot risk the wrath of a smaller player with the ability of inflicting “unacceptable” damage militarily and still worst tarnishing its political image and prestige.



The one well-kept secret that has not been discussed much is the Shah’s attempt at developing Iran’s nuclear program with Israel’s help in a joint venture for a missile capable of delivering the nuclear arm.[5] This was an added element to several other factors in the Anglo/American undermining of the Shah’s regime. At the time, the United States could not have dealt with the Shah in opposing his ambitions for a nuclear Iran as it had with the mullahs since he was a staunch American and Western ally. However, he was also supposed to have been made an example of in his descent from power – although not like Bhutto or the ones that followed him a few decades later. Still an example, nevertheless.



As stated before, the American posture toward nuclear proliferation was a blanket policy that included even its allies packaged in various forms. Hence, “…The American president objected, given the prohibitive cost of such armaments, France would not be able, by a long way, to reach the Soviet level.”[6] But it could not in any way impose on French independence, and what its Defense position actually became under General Charles de Gaulle, who withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in avoiding a subservient relationship with the United States and its politico-military strategy.

Thus, in reply to the American president’s proposition that France would be unable to match the Soviet Union’s quantitative level, General De Gaulle’s simple, pertinent and to the point reply was: “You know very well that on the scale of megatons, a few rounds of bombs would destroy any country. For our deterrent to be effective, all we need is enough to kill the enemy once, even if he has the means to kill us ten times over.[7]

This was the end of the conversation in France’s independent nuclear testing and development. Further, as seen above, it has not hesitated to help other developing countries such as Pakistan to do the same as it was demonstrated and clearly encouraged by the British –  who have always played a double jeu with the United States and in this particular case, it was their adherence to both the longstanding tradition of Balance of Power as well as never to have  completely reconciled their  relations with India after the independence.




Finally, another indisputable example that the US nuclear proliferation policy knows no limit or boundary even with its allies is the case of Germany and  straight from the horse’s mouth, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt:

“…..[W]e also withstood Carter’s attempt, by withholding shipments of nuclear fuel to us, to force us to break our contract with Brazil by refusing to make technology for the civilian use of the nuclear energy available to that country. According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we were thoroughly entitled to such shipment.”[8]

The case of Germany is certainly a reinforcement of the notion put forward that not only the United States has and shall for at least considerable future push hard against nuclear proliferation, but also the above examples are clear signs of strong divergence of views between the U.S and its other strategic partners.




The only noteworthy point to add for the conclusion is that the current rhetoric by American and Russian leaders about building up their arsenals of both conventional and nuclear weapons has had and will continue to add fuel to fire in creating a new arms race. This means countries like North Korea that have been on American radar for a long time to no avail, will continue accelerating their nuclear programs and not hesitate to spread and sell the nuclear technology in order to frustrate American policy.

Further, the United States has used hundreds of thousands of times the Depleted Uranium ammunitions both in the war against Iraq as well as recently in its combats against ISIS. This is hardly a reassuring thing in convincing other countries not to pursue their nuclear or other deadly, toxic, and effective mass destructive programs as a  means of defense and deterrence from outside aggression and/or interferences – namely the U.S  in their internal affairs that is viewed as national sovereignty. Particularly, in an environment of complete mistrust that America has been largely responsible for creating and nurturing for the past few decades.





[1] Kissinger, during a background talk with reporters on his plane after his first Middle-East shuttle, January 1974. As quoted in Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 13.

[2]Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography, p. 123.

[3] Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of Destiny(New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2008)pp 86-89.( My Emphasis)

This is a very detail insider account of Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy that puts it in both historical and contemporary context.



[4]In-field interview with a high-ranking Pakistani official present at the moment of Zia’s boarding the fateful flight with the Ambassador.  According to the source, Zia almost dragged the Ambassador onto the plane. For a meticulous report on the political, intelligence and even technical analysis of the mysterious crash of Pak One, see Edward Jay Epstein, “Who Killed Zia?” Vanity Fair, September 1989. See also James Bone and Zahid Hussain, “As Pakistan comes full circle, a light is shone on Zia ul-Haq’s death,” Times Online, August 16, 2008. Although this second Times online article must be considered part of the white propaganda campaign – as late as 2008.  In the words of Edward Jay Epstein’s very pertinent article with his masterfully investigative reporting putting the entire episode into the bigger context of Pakistani Power Politics and the region at the time: “… [I]n the United States, the State Department blocked any FBI interest in investigating the death of the Ambassador and, through press “guidance”, distorted the event into just another foreign plane accident. The one unaccounted casualty of Pak One was truth.”

[5] For the detailed report which reveals the above for the first time publicly, see Martin Bailey, “Arms for Oil Agreement United Israel and Iran in Secret Missile Project: The Blooming of Operation Flower” The Observer, February 2, 1986, p. 19.  See also Elaine Sciolino, “Code Name ‘Flower’: Israel’s Secret ’77 Plan to Sell Missiles to Shah of Iran” International Herald Tribune, April 2, 1986, p. 2.  The above was also confirmed in some detail in an in-field interview during the course of this study.

[6]U.S. Congress, Senate, Nonproliferation Issues, hearings before the Subcommittee On Arms Control, International Organizations And Security Agreements Of The Committee On Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 94th Cong., 1st and 2nd Sessions. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1977) p.2l2.


[8] Helmut Schmidt, Men And Powers: A Political Retrospective(New York: Random House, 1987), page, 187.






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