First Strike - Nuclear Weapons - Persian New Year
by kamanda, Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 06:33:11 PM EST
There's been a lot of discussion about the US response to Iran's nuclear weapons development program. President Ahmadinejad is one crazy dude, and Dick Cheney would love to invite him on a quail-hunting trip. As I understand it, when folks in the administration discuss using "military options" against Iran, they basically mean nukes. This is primarily because the majority of the suspected nuclear enrichment facilities are deep underground and can't be destroyed with conventional military weapons, thus the need for a nuclear bomb to ensure these strategic targets have been decimated.
I'm still not sure how I feel about this. I would like to say that it is a bad idea partially because it is loosely based on an antiquated "first-strike" policy of the Cold War military strategy, the assumptions of which (threats from communist Soviet Union) are no longer valid. And perhaps more importantly, the policy is inconsistent with the Nonproliferation Treaty. But how else do you ameliorate a situation in which a very angry man who would like to blow up your country, is developing the capability to do so?
Nuclear proliferation is probably one of the most important issues in American foreign policy. And it is not surprising that policy discussions about non-nuclear or counter-proliferation frequently reference the Cold War, particularly because the birth of our nuclear arsenal was the result of a geo-political battle against Communism and the Soviet Union. But as the common vulnerability known as "Mutual Assured Destruction" eroded because of US nuclear primacy and the decay of Russia's nuclear arsenal, the counter-balancing component of Cold War military strategy (the communist Soviet Union) has disappeared and now new nations have acquired nuclear power.
The nuclear power landscape has changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. To date, 18 countries have at some point developed nuclear weapons programs; a number of them have abandoned their progams in recent years. But many have not. Five countries signed the original Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 (US, Soviet Union, France, China, UK). Others have since developed their programs with little complaint from the international community (Israel, India). The fact that these countries place great value on their nuclear development programs reinforces the importance of these weapons in geo-political competition. This is exacerbated by the fact that the US continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal in order to "deter any and all potential nuclear adversaries." Iran, Pakistan and North Korea recognize the value of such weapons in their regional conflicts (Israel, India and "everyone", respectively).
Iran is trying to become the pre-eminent player in the Middle East and in the least a balancing force against so called "imperialist US interests." Ironically, Iran is only more emboldened by its supporters in the region, by talk of a US-led military conflict. Given this context, the country's actions are entirely rational. Forget for a minute that Ahmadinejad claimed that he wanted to wipe, Israel off the map. Iran is confronted with a strong Western military presence, an enemy with a nuclear bomb, and a frustrating inability to shape its own destiny. In comes A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program and nuclear weapons proliferator extraordinaire who is willing to make a deal and supply him with the technology to develop his own weapons program. What would a rational actor do in that position? As a rational actor faced with these impending threats, you go into negotiations, right? Right?
And while you're at it, appeal to as many of your co-regional supporters, like Hamas, who feel threatened or humiliated by "American military arrogance", with hateful but effective rhetoric. Build support among terrorist groups by facilitating the proliferation of nuclear weapon technological in addition to conventional military weapons. Mobilize the youth in your country, as well as Arab/Muslim countries also targeted by the US, like Syria.
As talk about a US nuclear war with Iran continues, Iran's "street cred" rises, even if there are a number of Arab states that are yet reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. Even if the US does successfully nuke Iran's weapons development programs (which is extremely difficult 1. because we aren't even sure where the strategic targets are 2. the IAEA isn't even sure that what we consider strategic targets are actually development programs to begin with), this doesn't actually stop the proliferation of underground/black market nuclear weapons technology through channels like the A.Q. Khan network, and it exacerbates the situation because an attack would destablize a region that was in a precarious state to begin with.
Isn't there another option that doesn't play directly to Ahmadinejad's strength?
Does diplomacy still work?