Tag Archives: nuclear bomb

The Whispers of War With Iran

Main Point: Suppose Iran will eventually get a nuclear weapon. Given that, how do we work towards peace in the Middle East? And no, war should not be “on the table” (maybe under it).

In recent news, interviews, books, the drums of war with Iran are beating. Top political leaders have gone from talk of sanctions, to talk of “all options are on the table”, and finally to explicit statements that if all else fails we must be willing to invade Iran.

What is the justification for such a preemptive war? It echoes that of the Iraq war: “we must prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” – Ehud Barak (Israeli Defense Minister) talking about Iran on Charlie Rose. For him, and many others in the Israeli government, a nuclear-armed Iran is the end of Israel. Moreover, he claims that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and then decides to invade a small state in the region (as Iraq did with Kuwait), the claim is no one will want to do anything about it.

Even if you believe everything Ehud Barak is saying, the common sense reality it seems is that most of the countries in the Middle East will gain access to a nuclear weapon eventually. That’s the reality from which all conversation has to begin.

It seems to me that there are no comforting answers here, but the hope has to lie in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. We have to confront the terror of a nuclear attack rationally.

I’ve asked this question before: what happens if a nuclear bomb goes off in one of the major cities in the United States? From the interview above and the many conversations I’ve had on this subject, it seems that people are not willing to even remotely consider such a possibility. It is spoken of as some infinitely horrible event that would destroy all of civilization.

Talking about it in such a way does two things. First, the fear of it is grows without bounds and leads to irrational domestic and foreign policy. Second, it increases the likelihood that the response to such an attack will lead to an even worse catastrophe than the attack itself would cause.

These discussions need to happen in the international community and every country in the world has to be heard, included, and an agreement reached.

Nuclear Proliferation: Walking Up to the Edge of the Cliff

I watched an interview with Scott Sagan and was impressed and terrified by a refreshing level of insight into the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of deterrence theory.

The idea of deterrence is that the promise of mutual destruction is sufficient to prevent nuclear war. What Scott Sagan argues is that nuclear-armed states are unfortunately not rational single players in a game (in game-theoretic terms). He argues that the control of nuclear weapons is in the arms of large hierarchical organizations (i.e. governments). As such, their behavior is unstable and “noisy”. For example, a false alarm may lead to escalation with the spread of misinformation or misinterpreted information up the chain of command.

What is the scenario that he is so concerned with? Something like the Cold War. Where two or more states walk up to the edge of the cliff in order to threaten that they may jump. And since states are not individual people but chaotic organizations, they are much more likely to accidentally slip once they are standing at the edge of that cliff.

All this, of course, is ignoring the elephant in the room which is a terrorist organization acquiring a nuclear weapon (through theft or some back-door deal). From the cold hard perspective of probability, it seems inevitable that this will happen sometime in the future. Given that people do not learn from history, I can’t help but think that we will be reminded of the destruction that a nuclear weapon can bring once we forget, and we will forget, we always do.

Nuremberg Laws

In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws established the legal basis for racial discrimination, with almost no opposition from the German people.

The image to the left shows the method for determining whether you were Jewish blood or German blood based on what your grandparents were.

Not only marriage, but sex between those labeled as Jewish and those labeled as Germans was forbidden. Also Jews were no longer permitted to display German colors (national flag) but were encouraged to display Jewish colors.

I came across these laws recently in researching the Nuremberg Trials, which by the way I recommend highly if ever you wonder about the limits of human nature. Here’s a link to the complete transcripts. It’s the darkest play you will ever read.

I bring up the Nuremberg Laws because of the question that has worried me for a long time: “Can the Holocaust happen again?”. Particularly, can I envision a reasonable downward path into a society that can breed the same mix of hatred, nationalism, and mass-conformity as was present in Nazi Germany. The Nuremberg Laws to me represent a critical step that I can envision many modern countries taking if the populous is deceived through a large propaganda campaign, most likely amidst a major war and/or an economic crisis. Or, for example, suppose that an organization like Al Qaeda detonates a nuclear weapon in a major American city, and declares that it did so in the name of Islam. Can a major horrific event erase the progress of the civil rights movement in the 20th century by forcing all Muslim citizens of the United States into concentration camps? It’s sick to think about, and surely seems impossible, but is it?

Human rights are violated world-wide on a mass scale, every day, still. We need to learn, ask questions, and help. A book I’m currently reading (Mountains Beyond Mountains) covers just one example of human suffering and an American that gives all his time to make the tiniest incremental improvements in their quality of life.

What Happens if a Nuclear Bomb Goes Off in the United States

The NY Times front page: U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable

The article talks about how to increase your chances of surviving a nuclear attack. It also addresses the fact that, as a society, we consider a nuclear attack too horrific to think about. The result is that we are not prepared to deal with it on a personal level or a national level. The article covers the personal response, and that it’s best to not “flee” for a period of 24 hours, and instead recommends that you hide in the basement or other such shelter.

The subject of personal or city-wide response to a nuclear attack is important, but what to me seems significantly more important is the discussion of our government’s response. Given how we rushed into war in Afghanistan and Iraq without much discussion, I think NOW is a good time to talk about what happens if such an attack is executed by a terrorist organization on our homeland. What should the military response be? If we don’t talk about it now, I fear that the response would be too drastic and only escalate the conflict, potentially leading to millions more deaths.

Such an event is almost too horrible to talk about, but perhaps we should, so that the people that do survive can use their head and prevent the government from loosing theirs in a rash widespread military response on suspected “host” nations.

If you think that such an attack is extremely unlikely, unfortunately, I disagree with you. The strategy and technology of destruction is always one step ahead of an effective defense. In my mind, major terrorist attacks in the world are inevitable as long as there are people living in financial and moral poverty somewhere on Earth.

The fact that the risk exists is enough of a motivation to deliberate on a effective policy of a political and military response in the case of such a tragedy.