Is Chavez Following Iran Down the Radioactive Brick Road?

“Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez admitted last week that his government is ‘carrying out the first studies’ of a nuclear program [but his] suggestion that he is merely studying the idea . . . is misleading,” according to a Foreign Policy article by Roger Noriega. (Let the buyer beware: a one-time diplomat, the author is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.) He continues.

Chávez has been developing the program for two years with the collaboration of Iran, a nuclear rogue state. In addition to showing the two states’ cooperation on nuclear research . . . sensitive material obtained from sources within the Venezuelan regime [suggests] that Venezuela is helping Iran obtain uranium and evade international sanctions [in apparent violation of] U.N. Security Council resolutions. . . . All countries have the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Venezuela is a signatory. However, Chávez’s decision to rely on one of the world’s worst proliferators [sic] to help develop his country’s capabilities in this sensitive technology sets alarm bells ringing.

Indeed, the evidence is alarming.

Deep suspicions . . . were raised in December 2008 when Turkish customs authorities intercepted a shipment sent from Iran to [a] “tractor factory” in Venezuela. According to media reports, 22 cargo containers and crates labeled “tractor parts” were found to contain barrels of nitrate and sulfite chemicals — bomb-making material — as well as components of what Turkish experts described as an “explosives lab.”

Noriega concludes:

If the United States and the United Nations are serious about nonproliferation, they must challenge Venezuela and Iran to come clean and, if necessary, take steps to hold both regimes accountable.

We all know that the United States is “serious about nonproliferation.” Would that it felt the same way about disarmament. Conservatives and some centrists maintain that states aspiring to nuclear weapons may actually be immune to disarmament on the part of the United States. But, should the United States enact substantive disarmament measures — aside from the new START, which is leavened with eye-popping funding for the nuclear-weapons industry — at least we’d have more of a leg to stand on when calling on other states to refrain from proliferating.

Common sense — not to mention courtesy, a crucial component of negotiations — dictates that, without disarmament, nonproliferation is a non-starter. Disarmament might also might decrease the chances that the steps we take “to hold both regimes accountable” are military in nature.