Tag Archives: nuclear proliferation

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.