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The problem with letting the Iranians (or the North Koreans) have nuclear weapons but to then try to deter them with some promise of retaliation if they use (or are suspected of using) their nukes, is that such threats are simply not credible given our track record. If we were going to take this approach, we might as well tell them that if they don’t immediately end their nuclear programs (or surrender unconditionally to us) that we’ll nuke them now. That at least might work, but no one has the stomach for it. That leaves deterrence against an enemy who has famously not been deterred by anything we’ve said or done since 1979. I am not optimistic.
More fundamentally, though, the “let a thousand nukes proliferate” approach fails to address three of our fundamental national security interests. One, it creates a condition in which the use of our conventional military power (and non-military tools like economic sanctions) against certain nations is effectively impossible. This severely limits our freedom of action while greatly increasing that of nations who routinely use unconventional methods of warfare because they will now have a shield or a sanctuary from which to operate. Two, it creates the potential for enormous disorder in the world by protecting regimes that have no interest in a transparent, rule-of-law or Western style approach to international politics or trade. Related to this is, of course, the potential for nuclear war between third-rate nuclear powers, states that don’t have thousands of miles of separation (and thus warning time and second strike capabilities) between one another (a situation that helped stabilize the nuclear element of our relationship with the former USSR and, today, with China), a situation that could utterly disrupt the international system. Either of those two conditions is not in our interest. Third, and hardly least important, it creates the opportunity for nuclear strikes against us, either through terrorist supplied weapons or by smuggled weapons in the hands of agents of particular states. The threat of massive retaliation may work against the latter, assuming the enemy makes only a limited strike and we can identify the perpetrator. Both of these assumptions are less likely the more nukes proliferate and the larger any nation’s stockpile becomes. Moreover, the Iranian leadership has said that it doesn’t care if Israel killed most of the Iranian population because the latter represents only a fraction of the global Muslim population. Since our principal enemy is a transnational religious ideology that embraces suicide (and since Iran invented the use of suicide bombing), deterrence doesn’t seem like a particularly good bet against them.
Finally, we need to consider the possibility that our enemies are playing to win i.e. that they are looking for ways to use nuclear weapons against us. Historically, the limited number of nuclear powers, the absence of effective defenses, second-strike capabilities, self-preservation and the inability of anyone to launch attacks covertly prevented first strikes. Those conditions are now breaking down. Consider this, if Iran has 100 nukes and smuggles 10 into the U.S., the blow to us will be enormous. Wiping out Iran won’t give us back our cities, nor restore our economy, nor in effect, “take the other guy down with us” (unlike the case with the USSR). There will be two losers, but the Islam will go marching on, and so will China, Europe, Russia, Japan and so forth. In other words, we will have lost a lot more than they did. And, that doesn’t even consider the mindset of enemies who welcome such conditions. After all, conventional suicide bombing makes no sense to anyone who values his own life, but so far it has been very effective. The administrative situation in the Palestinian Authority’s territory and the quality of life in Taliban Afghanistan would be intolerable for us, but that hardly seems to have mattered to the locals. We need to consider the degree of agreement between both the statements and actions of our enemies and draw our conclusions accordingly, not project our values and assumptions onto them.p>Ever since the end of WWII, we have had the luxury of being able to consider nuclear war unthinkable and nuclear weapons unusable, except in the extremely unlikely event that someone used them on us. Having concluded that nuclear weapons were effectively unusable, we continue to conclude that everyone else will reach the same conclusions. This is a mistake because in any battle between two sides, one of which believes that a particular set of options is unthinkable and thus dismisses them, the balance will lie with the side that thinks otherwise i.e. that looks to find ways to make those options practical. That was what happened on September 11. It was also why Germany defeated France in six weeks in 1940. In my opinion, deterrence will not work against Iran, nuclear proliferation will not be to our advantage, and we need to start thinking about other options. br> — Anthony Mirvish br> Toronto, Ontario /p>
Wonderful point! The only defect in the reasoning is that the same moral cowards that now wish us to make nice with the murderers of New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania would show the same lack of resolve in dealing with an Iranian nuclear weapon that hit, say, Houston. The progression goes roughly as follows: “Those *&^%$#@ murdering scum, let’s crater them!” Then comes the Ted Kennedy take: “Look, we are not absolutely positive this terrible weapon came from Iran so let’s have a big congressional investigation.” Then the Jimmy Carter/ Cindy Sheehan faction weighs in: “America is a wicked place filled with evil intent and evil people. It is America’s despicable conduct towards poor, innocent Muslims that caused this disaster. Plus, its only Houston which is filled with Republicans! Why go to war over them?”p>A year later. Houston still glows, a ghost town with 3 million dead. The Speaker of the House, Ms. Pelosi and Senate President Mr. Reid are on their third trip to Iran trying to get the Iranians to accept $30,000,000 in payment for the cost of the bomb they used and to agree to demand the US President and Vice President’s extradition to Iran to be beheaded for insults to Allah. Al Gore appears on the nightly news and says: “If we have to give up the Republican President, we should gladly do so. After all think of what one more nuclear explosion would do to the environment.” br> — Jay W. Molyneaux
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