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January 04, 2010

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Good post -- I do have a semi-random question though. Let's say that Israel does decide to strike Iran (putting aside question of whether it could be effective, which I doubt).

What would be the immediate reaction? Is this war? Or would Hez do the counterattack? Just sort of curious

meahwhile, you may want to head on over to Juan Cole's blog - looks like afghanistan is about to blow

What would be the immediate reaction? Is this war? Or would Hez do the counterattack? Just sort of curious

There's no way to answer definitively - obviously - but the guess is a stepped up proxy campaign in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Some possible harrassment from Hez. As well as some Hormuz action. We would be targeted because of our complicity, but it is unlikely that Iran would opt for all out war.

Contra the scaremongering, Iran doesn't really have the ability to project force even to a country as close by as Israel (let alone its supposed plans to take over Europe and the US). Logistically speaking, they can project via proxy. Which is necessarily limited.

Jeez ed, quite a week huh?

"The acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program represents a defeat for the Clinton Administration's drive to halt the spread of nuclear technology to Iran."

This false analysis may be the key here -- can anyone give a short analysis of what the former President's "failed" drive can teach us about continuing efforts today.

I'm reminded of my passenger-side exterior mirror: "Caution: Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear"

While it's certainly possible that the NIE's judgment are incorrect, and Iran does has an active weapons program, or a desire to return to one in the near future, it is also possible that Iran wants to perfect enrichment for domestic purposes, while remaining close to weaponization which it can pursue if deemed necessary.

This doesn't pass the smell test. The cost to Iran for developing enrichment technology is massive. They can acquire only a small amount of technology on the open market, so they have to devote a big chunk of intellectual capital to figuring out how to do enrichment. They have to buy expensive equipment on the international market and deploy hardened infrastructure to house the enrichment facilities. And, of course, they have to endure layer after layer of international sanctions and condemnation, which will cripple their economy more and more the longer they resist.

In contrast, there is no shortage of countries that would be happy to provide them with pre-assembled fuel rods and post-processing facilities for civilian power generation. But the idea that Iran would invest heavily in nuclear power when they're sitting on top of some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world only makes sense if its leadership is either incompetent or insane. If either of those is the case, then the rest of the world still ought to be considering the implications of children playing with matches.

So the answer to the question, "Does Iran want a bomb?" is almost certainly yes. I'm OK with the assertion that maybe they can't build a bomb tomorrow, but that's not really the next question to ask.

The real question is, "Can we tolerate the current Iranian regime with nuclear weapons?" If you think the answer to that question is "yes," then questions about timing don't really matter, do they? You can get on with formulating a reasonable deterrence strategy and not worry about when you need it.

On the other hand, if you judge a nuke-armed Iran as an intolerable situation, then questions about when they'll have a bomb are crucially important, because the answers define how much time you have to try solutions short of military action. If there's not enough time to wait for the international community to agree on crippling sanctions, or there's not enough time to wait for the regime to collapse, then you have to go with your military options.

Now, I suspect that the US can live with a nuclear Iran. It's pretty easy to put in place a simple policy where, three hours after any nuclear attack, anywhere in the world, all instruments of Iranian state power cease to exist. Iran can't reasonably harm the US, or even the West, with nuclear weapons.

This is not true of Israel. Israel might be able to absorb a one- or two-bomb attack and remain a functioning state. But it would be a near thing. And anything beyond that, Israel ceases to exist. Israel is tiny. In contrast, Iran is huge. Iran has 75 times Israel's land area, ten times its population, and 6 times the number of cities with a population greater than 100,000. A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

Israel knows all of this, and so does Iran. Iran is betting that Israel can't stop them. Israel will be forced to try.

In contrast, there is no shortage of countries that would be happy to provide them with pre-assembled fuel rods and post-processing facilities for civilian power generation. But the idea that Iran would invest heavily in nuclear power when they're sitting on top of some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world only makes sense if its leadership is either incompetent or insane.

Because, ya know, nations are always 100% rational actors. Matters of prestige or perceptions of self-reliance never enter into planning, nope!

This is not true of Israel. Israel might be able to absorb a one- or two-bomb attack and remain a functioning state. But it would be a near thing. And anything beyond that, Israel ceases to exist. Israel is tiny. In contrast, Iran is huge. Iran has 75 times Israel's land area, ten times its population, and 6 times the number of cities with a population greater than 100,000. A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

So true. Plucky little Israel and its 300 modern warheads deployed in a completed triad could never hope to harm the insane and suicidal Iranian state, who can and will obliterate Israel as soon as it builds two or three weak, bulky nuclear bombs.

A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

...and what possible motivation would there be for this cartoonishly-evil Iranian government to want to trade the destruction of Tehran and a dozen other major cities for the complete destruction of Israel?

Even the most evil regimes in history had actual reasons for their evil acts. Sometimes insane reasons. But reasons nonetheless. What reason exists for Iran to launch a genocidal nuclear attack on Israel?

I basically agree that the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at least at having a breakout capability for nuclear weapons. However, intentions and capabilities are not the same thing. And as for the idea that Israel is "forced" to try to stop Iran, I have no idea what constitutes being "forced", there; the US was not "forced" to attack the USSR when it threatened to develop nuclear weapons. Nobody currently at peace with another country is "forced" to go to war with them. And airstrikes are an act of war.

A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

And the rest of the world would do...what? Sit back and go "gosh, sucks for Israel."

In contrast, there is no shortage of countries that would be happy to provide them with pre-assembled fuel rods and post-processing facilities for civilian power generation. But the idea that Iran would invest heavily in nuclear power when they're sitting on top of some of the largest natural gas deposits in the world only makes sense if its leadership is either incompetent or insane. If either of those is the case, then the rest of the world still ought to be considering the implications of children playing with matches.

Does refinery capacity enter into it? As well as the value of oil as an exportable good? Nuke power is actually cheaper in many ways. Refining capacity is lacking. Iran has sought nuclear power since the Shah's reign.

So the answer to the question, "Does Iran want a bomb?" is almost certainly yes. I'm OK with the assertion that maybe they can't build a bomb tomorrow, but that's not really the next question to ask.

I think that's probably right, though the breakout capacity is also something they could be hunting. A near-completed potential to be used as a deterrent. As for pointing to what seems rational, for a country that supposedly wants a nuke to shut down its weapons program is also odd to say the least. Yet Iran did.

On the other hand, if you judge a nuke-armed Iran as an intolerable situation, then questions about when they'll have a bomb are crucially important, because the answers define how much time you have to try solutions short of military action.

True, which makes it odd how spectacularly wrong Israel has been for the past 20+ years of "Iran is only a year or two away" type formulations.

This is not true of Israel. Israel might be able to absorb a one- or two-bomb attack and remain a functioning state. But it would be a near thing. And anything beyond that, Israel ceases to exist. Israel is tiny. In contrast, Iran is huge. Iran has 75 times Israel's land area, ten times its population, and 6 times the number of cities with a population greater than 100,000. A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

Dunno. Israel has a lot of nukes. Enough to make "survive" and "win" terms of little meaning for Iran.

Further, even a sufficiently evil regime probably wouldn't initiate a nuke war because of the drawbacks. They would have to be genocidally evil, suicidal and wildly irrational - having not shown that penchant over the past 30 years.

for a country that supposedly wants a nuke to shut down its weapons program is also odd to say the least

Three semi-plausible reasons: one, they got a complete weapon design from someone else and are so confident that they will be able to build it and that it will work that they don't think they need a weapons program right now. Seems unlikely that they would place that much trust in an acquired design though.

Or two, they're so far from having the materials for making a weapon that they think the weapons program is a waste of money until they have enough HEU.

Or three, they just took the weapons program still further underground and cut off the US spies.

I'd say option two is the most likely. If you know you won't have enough HEU to make a bomb for another five or ten years, and you are dealing with budget constraints and a small number of nuclear scientists, working on weapons instead of centrifuges and reactors would be a waste of time, whatever your eventual goal.

Iran's direction has been clear for some time. The speed of development has been hard to predict.

The question is what will these holocaust-denying nuts do with the bomb when they get it? Well, somebody who knows Khamenei well says he's crazy.

So if the Iranian government survives, which is unclear, they can be very destructive.

That link is:
http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/30386/ex-spy-chief-says-iran-government-about-to-collapse

The Obama administration says Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Apparently it's been a consensus for about 15 years. See that article from the NYT that Eric quoted. But see also this article where they say the NIE about Iran stopping work is no longer believed, due to new information.

What if we're sure that Iran is at least 10 years away from a working nuclear warhead, but we're sure they're working on it: What do we do? Clearly it's not too early to apply sanctions.

The question is what will these holocaust-denying nuts do with the bomb when they get it?

Probably the same thing every other nut with the bomb has done - nothing (save us, of course).

Well, somebody who knows Khamenei well says he's crazy.

Not exactly. He did say A-Jad and Yazdi were crazy, but not Khamenei. Better links please.

The Obama administration says Iran is working on nuclear weapons.

Big surprise considering the Iran hawks in its ranks.

Apparently it's been a consensus for about 15 years.

Riiiight. The consensus being, they're 1-2 years away. For 15 years. Awesome.

What if we're sure that Iran is at least 10 years away from a working nuclear warhead, but we're sure they're working on it: What do we do?

Um...invade and occupy Paraguay?

Hey, cut me some slack, here -- I'm still trying to get my head around this whole neocon thing...

I remember Danielle Pletka (as per the link in the post) from a documentary on the neocons, as they were beating the drums of war for the Iraq disaster. She was asked what would come after SH had been toppled - her answer: "It doesn't matter." Why are such clearly insane or just plain evil people, who also happen to have been wrong about everything, given space on the WaPo editorial page and allowed to cheerlead for war once more? I've had it.

novakant,

As my friend Matt Duss put it, and I paraphrase:

Any group willing to cheerlead for war will always have powerful friends in Washington. That's big money we're talking.

There are many folks who think that Israel's Samson Option is "irrational" and real.

Not surprisingly, no nation state has attempted to attack Israel since 1973. A former Israeli official justified Israel’s threats. “You Americans screwed us” in not supporting Israel in its 1956 war with Egypt. “We can still remember the smell of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Next time we’ll take all of you with us.”[14] General Moshe Dayan, a leading promoter of Israel’s nuclear program[15], has been quoted as saying “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”[16] Amos Rubin, an economic adviser to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said "If left to its own Israel will have no choice but to fall back on a riskier defense which will endanger itself and the world at large... To enable Israel to abstain from dependence on nuclear arms calls for $2 to 3 billion per year in U.S. aid."

MORE SAMSON OPTION

A sufficiently evil Iranian government could almost guarantee that it could win a nuclear exchange, where "win" means that Iran survives and Israel doesn't.

Not to pile on, but it would take an Iranian government that was not only evil but almost comically stupid to try it. Iran might survive in the sense that a decent fraction of the population would live through the war, but it's hard to imagine that the Iranian regime would survive. The surviving population would be very unhappy indeed with the government that had gotten so many of their countrymen killed in a war of aggression. Israel's dying counterattack would likely destroy enough of Iran's military and security apparatus that the government couldn't protect itself from the irate population, much less aggressive neighbors interested in picking up the pieces.

And that assumes that the USA would sit on the sidelines. It would be far more likely that we would flex our own muscles, either to crush what was left of Iran- and pick up their oil in the process- or help Israel's nuclear retaliation.

A far more likely explanation for Iran's interest in nuclear weapons is that they want to deter an American attack. We have, after all, invaded two of their neighbors and made endless threatening comments about attacking them in various ways. A nuke or two might not be enough to do serious military damage to the US, but they would very likely be enough to cause politically unacceptable casualties.

NV:

Plucky little Israel and its 300 modern warheads deployed in a completed triad could never hope to harm the insane and suicidal Iranian state, who can and will obliterate Israel as soon as it builds two or three weak, bulky nuclear bombs.

Actually, it's more like 400. But completed triad? We're talking about a whole bunch of Jericho I/II/IIIs (probably more than 100), but I don't know of any missile subs, and Israel's air force is notoriously short range. Even if they had long-range bombers, how do they keep them safe on the ground? It's a lot easier to mount a surprise attack (or a terrorist attack) when your enemy is an itty-bitty country.

As for 3 weak, bulky bombs: It's reasonable to assume that Iran will be able to produce four or five a year, and it's also reasonable to assume that miniaturization will proceed pretty quickly. It's not like the technology isn't pretty well understood, and it's reasonable to assume the Iran will be perfectly happy testing their designs (unlike Israel).

The problem is that there's just a whole lot more of Iran to nuke than there is of Israel.

------------------
Jacob:

...and what possible motivation would there be for this cartoonishly-evil Iranian government to want to trade the destruction of Tehran and a dozen other major cities for the complete destruction of Israel?

and Ugh:

And the rest of the world would do...what? Sit back and go "gosh, sucks for Israel."

Unlike the US/USSR deterrent strategy, where neither side could be certain of finishing the other guy off, Iran can, with an extremely small number of bombs, completely annihilate Israel. Israel can almost certainly not do the same to Iran.

So: Israel's a smoking ruin, Iran took a big but not fatal retaliatory hit, all the Arab states are sitting on their thumbs because they can't go to war in support of Israel, and the US is busy trying to figure out whether it's worth making an example out of Iran. If Iran rebuilds for 10 years and Israel isn't there any more, doesn't that put Iran in a position to get real hegemony over the region?

Not exactly odds that I'd want to bet on, but my political ideology isn't exactly consumed with the revolutionary spread of my religion. (I subscribe to the puppy-dog strategy of US soft power: We jump in your lap, we climb on your face, and then we just lick you to death...)

-------------
Eric--

Does refinery capacity enter into it? As well as the value of oil as an exportable good? Nuke power is actually cheaper in many ways.

As as SWAG, let's set the cost of one hardened U235 enrichment facility = 2 refineries. Refineries are pretty cheap when you don't have regulatory and NIMBY / BANANA problems. If they were worried about energy, they'd be building refineries, not centrifuge farms.

As for nuke power, it's especially cheap if you buy the reactors and fuel from people who know what they're doing. There simply isn't a plausible scenario for enrichment if you don't want a bomb.

A near-completed potential to be used as a deterrent. As for pointing to what seems rational, for a country that supposedly wants a nuke to shut down its weapons program is also odd to say the least. Yet Iran did.

Makes no sense. They get more vulnerable the closer they are to completion, because they (and everybody else) knows that Israel, at the very least, needs to preempt. As for the nuke-plant-for-weapons-program, that's only odd if you believe that the offer was sincere.

True, which makes it odd how spectacularly wrong Israel has been for the past 20+ years of "Iran is only a year or two away" type formulations.

Please remember that Israel has more to gain by stretching out the period between when real international pressure is applied and when they have to pull the preemption trigger. It's in their best interest to shout that the sky is falling long before it actually is.

Israel will wait until the last possible moment before going to war on this, because they know it will be an existential war for them. The more time that passes, the better for them.

They would have to be genocidally evil, suicidal and wildly irrational - having not shown that penchant over the past 30 years.

I hope you're right, and I hope that Israel agrees with you. Ultimately, this will come down to whether Israel believes that a stable deterrence can be established. It took an awfully long time for the US and USSR to develop one, and there were a few close calls along the way. This between two countries whose capitals were 5000 miles apart, not 1000, and who had kinda normal geopolitical disputes, not where one of the actors thought that the other was a racial abomination.

Me, I'm hoping that Iran folds like a cheap suit, real soon now. Otherwise, I think we're in for an interesting 2011, in the Chinese-curse meaning of "interesting."

Eric--

As for pointing to what seems rational, for a country that supposedly wants a nuke to shut down its weapons program is also odd to say the least. Yet Iran did.

Finally parsed this properly. Pay no attention to this portion of the previous response.

Look, you can't have shut down your nuke program when you're busy churning out LEU as fast as your little centrifuges can spin. (Note: HEU = LEU + further enrichment.) Making a bomb is quick and easy, once you have the fissile goodies. To believe that Iran shut down its bomb program, you have to believe that they have some other reason for wanting to create LEU. And there isn't one.

I don't know of any missile subs

Israel's marine nuclear forces

"Israel is operating five modern German-built Dolphin-class submarines... Various reports indicate that these submarines are equipped with cruise missiles that can deliver... nuclear warheads with extremely high accuracy."

Iran can, with an extremely small number of bombs, completely annihilate Israel

Quite aside from why anyone would ever want to do this, "annihilate" is a word with a very specific meaning. "Reduce to nothing". This is plainly not true. Israel's two largest cities are Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem has a population of about 750,000 spread over 125 sq. km. Tel Aviv has a population of about 400,000 spread over 40 sq. km. Now, the Hiroshima attack was on a city of about 350,000 and destroyed about 11 sq. km, killing maybe 80,000 people or about 1/4 of the total. So, four extremely-carefully-placed bombs (requiring very accurate terminal guidance on the delivery system) might destroy Tel Aviv; another dozen might be enough to destroy Jerusalem. That's two cities with less than 1/5th the population of Israel. Now you have another dozen or so cities with populations over 100,000 that each require one or more bombs. Then there's about 2,000 sq. km of irrigated land and a pretty substantial rural population, so "annihilate" really isn't on the cards. But even destroying all the major cities would require 30+ bombs and very accurate missile guidance.

But the whole conversation is inane. Iran is not run by completely insane suicidal psychopaths. It's run by people who are not very nice, a little nutty, but who are not absolutely insane. Who are the Iranian arm officials who would go along with such an unprovoked, overwhelming attack, knowing it meant that their families in Tehran and other cities would surely be killed in retaliation?

Ahmadinejad is not (and never will be) sitting with his finger over a big red button that launches a nuclear attack from automated missile silos without the intervention of other actual humans along the way.

I think @Roger hits the nail -- my opinion has always been that Iran's motivations are primarily defensive, and sees everyone else as a threat. Incidentally, this is the mirror image of hawks' view (assuming non-cynicism).

But these disparate perceptions can be dangerous things. There's a great book by Odd Arne Westad (I forget the title), noting at how both the USA and USSR saw each other as aggressors and themselves as defenders.

and the US is busy trying to figure out whether it's worth making an example out of Iran

I think that if Iran and Israel engaged in a nuclear exchange that somehow resulted in Iran "surviving" and Israel not, there wouldn't be much to figure out, other than whether to just nuke the rest of Iran or engage in an invasion, that I imagine the whole of the world would support (other than perhaps North Korea).

Iran wants the bomb to protect it from its enemies, real and perceived, not to go on some suicidal nuking of Israel.

In re JD's last point:

This is a very interesting discussion, so it's a little weird that my second post should be such a nitpick*, but:

Should we really be taking Hiroshima as the standard for estimating the affects of a potential nuclear attack? I would think that Iran, if they did develop a nuclear weapons program, would want theirs look more like a standard great powers program, at H-Bomb level.

If they did, one H-bomb (or something like it) could take out Jerusalem with one explosion, and Tel Aviv wouldn't fare much better. Plus, since Israel's borders are not far from these cities, just about the entire country would at the very least be exposed to high levels of radiation poisoning.

Am I wrong about this? If not, I would think "annihilate" is not too strong a word for the described threat...

*I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; maybe Clinton's Iran strategy can be another post, or something (I'm just having some trouble with the google on this)

Jerusalem has a population of about 750,000 spread over 125 sq. km.

Not to mention that it's considered one of the holiest cities in Islam. Leveling it is unlikely to win Iran any friends in the Muslim world. A massive attack on Israel would also cause serious collateral damage to Palestine, which would undermine Iranian claims to be working in the Palestinians' best interests.

I don't doubt that the Iranian government would love to run the Jews out of Israel. But they want to do it so that the (presumably grateful) Palestinians can move back in and Muslims have control over the holy sites there. They don't want it reduced to an unlivable, smoking waste pile.

A really crazy though occurred to me -- crazy, probably wrong, but somehow scary nonetheless:

Everything the Iranian regime has been doing shows that they have one overriding goal: to stay in power.

Now, they may well also think that Israel is an abomination, the greatest threat to the region, and that it's disappearance would make the world a better place. But, so long as attacking them outright would endanger their power, they'll be very disinclined to do so.

That's all well in good -- so long as their power is assured.

But what happens if they get a weapons program up and running, only to find themselves on the brink of seeing their regime collapse from within*? And what if they're convinced that these opponents are tools of western powers and traitors to their country?

Would they be tempted to annihilate the zionist threat once and for all, as a legacy to their true subjects? Might they rationalize the assured retaliation as most likely to affect mainly traitors and foreign agents anyway?

Like I said, this is just a crazy thought. It's at the very most highly unlikely, since the ongoing green revolution isn't likely to overlap with the current regime having a nuclear arsenal, in this fashion. So it's pretty much academic.

Still...

*Of course, this would only be if the regime believed it's own (likely) propaganda, which is far from assured...

But completed triad? We're talking about a whole bunch of Jericho I/II/IIIs (probably more than 100), but I don't know of any missile subs

...because the sucessful tests with modified Harpoons a decade ago were unconfirmed by Israel, don'cha'know, so obviously those Dolphins are sailing about w/o nuclear SLCMs. Obviously.

The problem is that there's just a whole lot more of Iran to nuke than there is of Israel. [...] So: Israel's a smoking ruin, Iran took a big but not fatal retaliatory hit, all the Arab states are sitting on their thumbs because they can't go to war in support of Israel, and the US is busy trying to figure out whether it's worth making an example out of Iran. If Iran rebuilds for 10 years and Israel isn't there any more, doesn't that put Iran in a position to get real hegemony over the region?

This is comical both in the power, accuracy, and ease of delivery it assumes for first-gen Iranian devices (setting aside the whole matter of you handwaving miniaturization issues away), and for the utter ineffectualness it assumes about Israeli second-strike capabilities. Let's assume Iran (who is... what, targeting population centers in their first strike, per your invocations of nuclear annihilation?), against all odds somehow manages to wipe out 75% of the Israeli arsenal AND the population centers. Let's assume that half of what remains is delivered on-target as a second-strike. So only 50 nukes hit Iran, presumably targeting population centers. Modern nukes, not crude 1st-gen ones like those you argue will "annihilate" Israel.

Iran does not "rebuild for 10 years" from that. The geopolitical entity we know as Iran is gone. Anything that's left is going to be living under foreign rule in the future, assuming there's no American third strike to avenge Israel (and I think that's a very, very, very difficult thing to assume, let alone bank on). Launching a nuclear first strike with no assurance of success, using the whole of your (feeble) nuclear arsenal, against a nuclear power with ample 2nd strike capability, who is a ridiculous close ally of the global hegemon who really, REALLY doesn't like you, in order to (maybe) wipe out a nation containing the third holiest site of Islam... right, that's a no-brainer. Why on earth would I ever doubt your warnings that this is not only a possible result of Iranian nukes, but the most probable - nay, inevitable - one?

DA:
Would they be tempted to annihilate the zionist threat once and for all, as a legacy to their true subjects? Might they rationalize the assured retaliation as most likely to affect mainly traitors and foreign agents anyway?

Unlikely, since it would mean nuking Jerusalem (thus assuring international popularity, both within and without the community of Muslim nations), and assuring that the main legacy they'd be leaving their domestic followers would be orphans and/or leukemia.

Iran ...would want theirs look more like a standard great powers program, at H-Bomb level.

Sure. But what they'd want and what they can actually do are two different things. Pakistan is probably a good guide to what Iran might be able to accomplish if they tried, and they seem to have gone for 20-30kt bombs with a few big 150kt bombs. Nobody except the big five have actually tested weapons with a yield over 100kt. The damage does not scale linearly with the yield, so more smaller weapons give you more bang for the buck (as it were). The really big Cold War weapons were intended to compensate for the inaccuracy of early ICBMs, and then became part of a self-perpetuating arms race.

A weapon that would destroy all of Jerusalem would have to have a yield significantly more than 12x Hiroshima, maybe 500kt, which is beyond the capability of any small nuclear power. Two-stage fusion bombs are really difficult to build (there are even accusations that India's small fusion test was a fizzle).

So Hiroshima & Nagasaki are probably the right comparison.

But yes, the other thing to mention is that not only are many cities in Israel holy sites in Islam, but Israel's population is 20% Arab and that's not even looking at the damage to Palestinian territory and surrounding countries - and then the fallout and damage from retaliation against Iran. Iran would face unified opposition from the world community and I can hardly think that even in those other states that are still hostile to Israel anyone is going to be cheering such a psychotic act.

The whole discussion is idiotic. Israel has a survivable second-strike capability. No possible gain from attacking Israel could suffice to compensate for the inevitable destruction of all of Iran's major cities that would follow. Israel understandably doesn't like the idea of moving from a unique deterrent in the Middle East to a situation of mutual deterrence, but predicting a threat of total destruction is silly. Israel is not a helpless victim about to be murdered by a lurking villain.

"Sure. But what they'd want and what they can actually do are two different things."

Point very well taken.

"Nobody except the big five have actually tested weapons with a yield over 100kt."

OK, I now know I'm nuts to nitpick a response to a nitpick, but doesn't India have nukes with theoretical yields of 200 kt?

"Unlikely, since it would mean nuking Jerusalem (thus assuring international popularity, both within and without the community of Muslim nations), and assuring that the main legacy they'd be leaving their domestic followers would be orphans and/or leukemia."

Hey, I hope your right.

Then again, Iran's seems to be heading in a more nationalistic direction, under the IRGC, at the expense of it's self-image as Islamic leader. And a lot of the regime's support, AIUI, are in rural areas less likely to be targeted in a nuclear strike.

All in all, I agree it's at worst unlikely; but somehow, despite everything, it's striking me at some level as a vivid* possibility...

*even if, by any reasonable standard, remote

"OK, I now know I'm nuts to nitpick a response to a nitpick, but doesn't India have nukes with theoretical yields of 200 kt?"

India and Pakistan have plutonium weapons that can deliver moderately high yields but uranium weapons have fundamental limits to size that fall far short of even 100kt.

And a lot of the regime's support, AIUI, are in rural areas less likely to be targeted in a nuclear strike.

No, that's where a lot of the regime's supporters are. The regime's support is things like: police headquarters, government offices, official records, army barracks, communications nexi such as telephone exchanges, MSR hubs, and broadcasting equipment. The things that actually allow you to do government stuff. The reins of power. (These things get seized first in a coup for a good reason, you know.) And those are emphatically not in rural areas.

I mean, a lot of the Republican Party's political supporters are in rural areas too. But I don't think they'd be able to go on as the US government if every major city in the US was destroyed.

To believe that Iran shut down its bomb program, you have to believe that they have some other reason for wanting to create LEU. And there isn't one.

Except to power their entirely legitimate and non-secret nuclear power station, of course. Good grief.

(Why are the Iranians so keen to enrich their own rather than importing it? Because they don't like exposing a vital part of their economy to international sanctions at the whim of the US, maybe?)

What Ajay said re: LEU.

Would they be tempted to annihilate the zionist threat once and for all, as a legacy to their true subjects? Might they rationalize the assured retaliation as most likely to affect mainly traitors and foreign agents anyway?

First of all, the "regime" is not so monolithic, and unlikely to form a consensus around such an act - without any dissenters blowing whistles and setting off alarms. And if certain of the regime's nodes are becoming less religious and more secular and pragmatic, why commit such an act for quixotic legacy's sake?

(Aside from the holiness of Jerusalem and the proximity of the Palestinians, and Jordan, and Syria, and Lebanon, etc.)

Final nitpick, I swear:

"And if certain of the regime's nodes are becoming less religious and more secular and pragmatic, why commit such an act for quixotic legacy's sake?"

Does becoming more ultra-nationalist, and less theocratic, necessarily mean a power is becoming more pragmatic?

Does becoming more ultra-nationalist, and less theocratic, necessarily mean a power is becoming more pragmatic?

Not necessarily, but it trends that way.

OK, I've had some sleep, and I have to admit that the pelting I received is in large part warranted. Uncle. Iran can't annihilate Israel without Israel doing the same to Iran. I reserve the right to revisit my lame argument in twenty years, when Iran might have a decent counterforce capability, but the argument is stupid for the foreseeable future.

I also think that Roger and publius are probably right that a part of the Iranian strategy is to deter the US. It's kind of a silly strategy, since the US will be much more effective by simply containing the Iranians and nibbling around the edges than they would be attacking Iran outright, but this is probably the point at which we have to distinguish between rational and irrational actors.

So, after the appropriate grovelling, I'd still like to circle back to my initial point: This whole issue hangs on Israel's determination of whether a nuke-armed Iran represents an existential threat. To flip this around, is it possible for Israel, with or without US help, to develop and implement a stable deterrence strategy?

After my pelting, it doesn't look to me that any direct attack by Iran against Israel with nukes is a viable possibility, mod genuine Bad Craziness. (Hunter S. Thompson for Ayatollah!) That leaves an unattributed terrorist attack as a possibility.

This is hard to game out. In order for Israel to embark upon deterrence, it has be confident that the Iranians understand that any nuclear attack on Israeli soil results in massive retaliation against Iran, irrespective of the actual source of the attack. Israel has no such stated policy today, since they can't acknowledge their possession of nukes in the first place.

It occurs to me that this is an area where the US could be quite helpful with an official nuclear umbrella policy for the Middle East. But maybe this is thinking too small.

Attribution of nuclear attacks will be increasingly difficult. There are specific signatures to nuclear weapons, based on where the fissile material was processed, but you have to have pretty good data on the processing facilities to use those signatures. A rogue state is likely to leak a bomb to their favorite group of terrorist crazies and then deny any involvement.

So here's a modest proposal. Remember Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis declaration: "It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." I think that there's a reworking of this that could prove useful.

Suppose the US produced a list of rogue nuclear states. Since we're just back from Christmas, let's call it the Naughty List. Today, the Naughty List would consist of North Korea. When we were certain that Iran had nukes, it would go on the list as well. I could envision circumstances under which Pakistan might wind up on the Naughty List. Note that the Naughty List is not a list of countries that are not in compliance with the NPT; rather, it's a list of countries that the US deems to be unacceptable risks to US and/or international security interests due to their possession of nuclear weapons.

So, now we get to the reworking of Kennedy's policy. "It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack, anywhere in the world, as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the members of the Naughty List."

This would be, of course, mind-bogglingly arrogant on the part of the US. If we could get such a policy adopted by an international coalition, that'd be wonderful, but it's unlikely. But the beauty of this policy is that it provides an extremely strong incentive to get off of the Naughty List by renouncing your nukes and rolling over for the IAEA.

Remember, we're talking nuclear deterrence here, the same branch of strategery that brought you Mutual Assured Destruction, which arguably turned out to be the most successful peacekeeping policy in human history. Just because a policy is apparently appalling and borderline crazy doesn't mean that it won't be successful.

With that, I humbly submit myself for re-pelting.

Attribution of nuclear attacks will be increasingly difficult. There are specific signatures to nuclear weapons, based on where the fissile material was processed, but you have to have pretty good data on the processing facilities to use those signatures. A rogue state is likely to leak a bomb to their favorite group of terrorist crazies and then deny any involvement.

Well, I'll kick off the pelting with a big WTF? on this point. No, a rogue state is not "likely" to do anything of the kind.

Point one: no state has ever transferred a nuclear weapon to any other state. Not even the closest allies have done it (the US didn't give the UK nuclear weapons, and even the Trident programme shares launchers but not warheads). Not even the nuttiest nations have done it (Stalin's Russia, Mao's China.)

Point two: no state, even the nuttiest, has ever transferred a nuclear weapon to any non-state group, or even planned to do so, even under the most severe stress. In Cold War terms a Fourth Protocol attack would arguably have made strategic sense (employing, say, the INLA to plant a bomb near Faslane or Greenham Common, for example, to be detonated as a counterforce strike should the Balloon go Up in central Europe), but we've no evidence that I know of that either side ever considered this as an option. (As opposed to using SF to emplace such weapons behind enemy lines, which I know was planned by both sides.)

Point three: nations tend to be very careful about what weaponry they transfer to their favoured non-state groups. Look at how long it took for the US to approve Stinger transfers to the mujahedin. Or, for another point, consider the failure of Arab nations with chemical weapons to transfer any to Palestinian guerrillas. The political-diplomatic blowback from a Soviet discovery of US weaponry in muj hands would be miniscule compared to that of an Israeli discovery of an Iranian bomb in Hezbollah hands.

Point four: the idea that the Iranians could credibly deny involvement in this case is simply ridiculous. Every nuclear nation keeps tight hold of its nukes. None have ever been stolen, and few have ever been lost (most of them by the US). No one would believe an Iranian denial if such a 'leaked' weapon were either discovered or detonated.

India and Pakistan have plutonium weapons that can deliver moderately high yields but uranium weapons have fundamental limits to size that fall far short of even 100kt.

Not true. Those limits apply only to Uranium weapons that use gun-type assembly. For implosion-type bombs, Plutonium is actually more limiting than Uranium is because of problems with predetonation. According to the Nuclear Weapons Archive (probably the best source of unclassified information about this stuff) yields of over 1Mt are theoretically possible with a U235 device, and the US actually successfully tested a 500kt pure fission U235 bomb. If Iran can get enough tritium, they could make fusion boosted designs, which can also increase yield substantially.

requiring a full retaliatory response upon the members of the Naughty List

So, the US should declare that - without concrete evidence - it will commit to a genocidal nuclear attack on Pakistan, North Korea and hypothetically Iran should anyone anywhere set off an unattributed nuke?

A modest proposal, yes. Can't think of any way that could undermine the legitimacy of American power or cause any sort of blow-back.

To be fair I think it is a great unanswered question, that is, how to deal with a world where nuclear weapons technology is within the capabilities of any medium-sized nation. And I do think that the logic of deterrence relies on somewhat monstrous assumptions and statements - even simple retaliation against a Soviet attack would have killed millions of Russian civilians who were not personally involved in deciding to attack the US.

But the current approach, threatening war if Iran develops nuclear weapons, essentially divides the nations of the world into two classes of sovereignty: there are those countries who are allowed to possess nuclear weapons, and there are those that will be invaded and occupied if they try to build them.

Now, if nuclear weapons were an effective offensive weapon, there might conceivably be some preemption rationale that might justify that in practical terms if not moral ones. But they're not. They're fundamentally defensive, both because of their nature and because of the taboo on offensive use.

Israel, seeing a peer state developing fairly close-by, might see the costs of a military attack as worthwhile. But there's no reason for the US to agree with that - and the current phrasing of the argument sounds a lot like blackmail: "The US has to attack Iran because otherwise Israel will, and it will be worse if Israel does." Oh really? We do? They will? With friends like that...

But look, I don't want there to be any more nuclear weapons states, and I'd like a world without any nuclear weapons or any weapons. But I'm not convinced that it is the threat of US invasion and occupation that keeps most states from working on nuclear weapons. It's the pointlessness of the exercise that does it. Possession of a nuclear deterrent is pretty much useless to any country that isn't in danger of being, um, invaded and occupied, and it's extremely expensive. I'm not convinced that the path to a less-nuclear world involves the US rampaging around the globe invading other countries. Rather the reverse.

I'm not convinced that the path to a less-nuclear world involves the US rampaging around the globe invading other countries. Rather the reverse.

That's pure money.

I think a more pertinent point is this: Up until now, Isreal has been the only player in the region with nuclear capability. This gives it a, shall we say, superior bargaining position re: other regional powers. The result of failed negotiations regarding Palestinians, Syria, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon have always been, "We go back to doing as we damn well please, because no one can seriously consider pushing us militarily."

There's not been a serious, high intensity conflict attack on Isreal since The Yom Kippur War in '73. That isn't just because Assad couldn't always count on Sadat.

If Iran gets nuclear weapons, even a few, Isreal loses its ability to tell the region to sit on it and swivel while they found yet more illegal settlements. THAT might or might not induce Isreal to act unilaterally. I simply don't know.

If Iran gets nuclear weapons, even a few, Israel loses its ability to tell the region to sit on it and swivel while they found yet more illegal settlements.

Is that actually true? What, Iran is going to threaten to nuke Israel if they keep on with settlement activity? Seems unlikely.

Or is the idea is that a nuclear Iran would feel more comfortable with military actions against Israel if it didn't fear nuclear retaliation? I guess there might be something to that. But the experience of the Cold War seems to show an opposite effect: when you & your opponent have the ability to obliterate each other, you are going to avoid direct military confrontation because of the fear of escalation.

Proxy conflicts are another matter. Would a nuclear Iran feel less afraid to arm proxies? That would depend on the extent to which their arming of proxies now is limited by fear of Israeli retribution. I don't know enough to comment.

But while I think Israel's indifference to regional opinion is helped by their possession of nuclear weapons - it means that any conventional army would be inadequate to conquer them - I don't quite see how it's changed by Iran's having nukes too. The Israeli deterrent still exists.

Jacob--

They're fundamentally defensive, both because of their nature and because of the taboo on offensive use.

That's not quite right. They're excellent offensive weapons as long as:

1) Who you're using them on can't retaliate in kind and

2) Nobody else will punish you for using them by retaliating in kind.

Condition 2) is essential, because otherwise the obvious decision is for everybody to acquire nukes, and then we'll all be safe. There's clearly something wrong there.

So the world needs a guarantor of Bad Things That Will Happen if somebody uses a nuke offensively. There are really only two countries that can do that today: the US and Russia. Pick one.

Does being the guarantor confer great power on the guarantor? You damn betcha it does. But this is by far the lesser of two evils. Without it, you will eventually get the nuclear equivalent of the start of WWI, where lots of little piddly alliances cause nuclear exchanges to ripple through an entire region, until eventually the Big Boys get involved.

I'm with you on less rampaging, but the consequence of less rampaging is credible deterrence, and the consequence of credible deterrence is always some ghastly calculus.

A couple of nits: I don't think Pakistan is a rogue nuclear state right now, but I'd put them on the naughty list if, for example, the Taliban were to seize control of Pakistan.

You mentioned a "genocidal nuclear attack". I don't think that's necessary. However, an attack sufficient to remove a government probably is necessary. I'd be happy to delete the word "full" from my policy statement. Also, please note that the word "nuclear" is intentionally not a requirement of the retaliation. I'm not trying to minimize how horrible this would be, but the aftermath of any nuclear attack is unlikely to be hearts and flowers.

Finally, Ajay:

Your point is that no state has ever transferred a nuke to a non-state actor, to say nothing (obviously) of staging a nuclear attack under the auspices a non-state actor. But I hope that you can agree that the two states most likely to do so would be NK and Iran. This is the whole purpose of singling out rogue nuclear states and restraining their actions via a well-specified threat. All they have to do to have the threat removed is to renounce their nukes.

On what might actually lead to a less-nuclear world, I think that the most important thing is to reduce the threat of international conflict - no matter who the participants are, or how we feel about their form of government. America's role should be that of roughly guaranteeing the preservation of sovereignty around the world, while encouraging the development of civil society and democratic government through its peaceful levers.

When I talk about American military hegemony being a force for peace, that's what I'm talking about: it's the knowledge that no matter how much you spend on weaponry, you will still lose pitifully in a conflict with forces backed by the US - and most of the fun things you could do with a larger military (pretty much limited to "invade your neighbors" or "commit genocide") will result in multilateral intervention backed by the US in which that expensive military will be totally destroyed.

In that world - which I think we already live in to some extent - there is very little point in having a huge military. And if your neighbors don't have huge militaries, and the US is providing some kind of guarantee against invasion, there isn't much point in having nuclear weapons either. (A guarantee from the US is a hell of a lot cheaper than a nuclear program.)

The problem in Iran is that they have the opposite of a guarantee of sovereignty. They have the US publicly speculating about invading them and overthrowing their government, a completely credible threat since we just did exactly that in the country next door. It's a totally counterproductive strategy.

completely credible threat since we just did exactly that in the country next door

Two countries.

the world needs a guarantor of Bad Things That Will Happen if somebody uses a nuke offensively

Right... but we already have that. You were talking about something quite different - a guarantor that Bad Things will happen to Iran or NK if they develop nuclear weapons and someone else uses one, regardless of whether it can be traced to them.

I think there is already a strong implicit guarantee that if you use nuclear weapons offensively, the international community with the US at the head is going to come down on you like a ton of bricks.

I'm not sure that it is clear from the public record whether it's possible to reliably identify the source of a nuclear explosion. But I seriously doubt that any nation is going to risk it by giving nuclear weapons to a non-state group. "Well, we're guessing they won't be able to trace it back to us, so sure, feel free to take this nuke and use it. I mean it probably won't result in overwhelming retaliation with millions of lives lost here, right?"

Even if forensic methods could not reliably identify the source, the immediate aftermath of a nuclear explosion by a non-state group would be a demand from the US (and every other major nuclear power) that every minor nuclear state open their records on the production and whereabouts of every warhead, and produce those warheads to be counted. Think Pakistan or even NK would risk retaliation by failing to produce those records? If you hadn't given away a warhead you'd have nothing to hide and everything to lose. It wouldn't be a request to surrender them, just an audit.

I guess by some extraordinary accounting fraud you could produce a set of records so that a warhead could "slip out the back door" - but you'd be risking your own country's sovereignty and millions of lives on the assumption that you have hidden this fact from an audit. You'd have to procure extra uranium and bomb parts, you'd have to have extra enrichment capacity hidden away, and you'd have to keep it secret from all the workers on the nuclear project, and from anyone else who might conceivably blow the whistle - after all, it is one thing to produce weapons for national defense and pride, but quite another to hand them to terrorists to use for mass murder. And what's in it for you, for all this effort? Nothing but the risk of nuclear obliteration.

an attack sufficient to remove a government probably is necessary.

What exactly do you mean by that? How is this supposed to work without the loss of innocent civilian lives (a loss that could be of massive proportions if we just think of the US removing the government of Iraq)? And what gives us the moral right to kill these people, what have they ever done?

I think an 'audit' would be more complicated. To my knowledge there is only guesswork about the actual amount of fissile material available in NK, and if a country has more than just a handful of warheads it should be easy enough to 'shave off' enough Pu for one or two rogue ones. And the strategy of survival of NK's regime has been for some time the credible* threat of taking a few million South Koreans with it in case of an attack**.
I think the main danger of a nuclear Iran would be the incentive for all the neighbours to go nuclear too. The risk of a nuke falling into the wrong hands (or a country using it) can imo only go up with the number of states possessing them.

*even without nukes
**and only a few [enter very pejorative term] would ignore that. Admittedly there were such in the Chain-Eye/Bush administration that openly stated the willingness to sacrifice all of SK, if only they could get rid of NK.

Finally, Ajay: Your point is that no state has ever transferred a nuke to a non-state actor, to say nothing (obviously) of staging a nuclear attack under the auspices a non-state actor. But I hope that you can agree that the two states most likely to do so would be NK and Iran.

Well, yes. In the sense that no Nobel Prize-winning economist has ever donned an armoured battle suit and flown into space to fight Galactus, Eater of Worlds, but I hope we can all agree that the most likely ones to do so are Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. (IE it's still extremely unlikely.) As for the possibility of the Taliban taking over Pakistan - I think we're more or less back into Krugman v. Galactus territory here. Not going to happen.

When I talk about American military hegemony being a force for peace, that's what I'm talking about: it's the knowledge that no matter how much you spend on weaponry, you will still lose pitifully in a conflict with forces backed by the US

Recent history shows this to be false.

Jacob--

... but we already have that. You were talking about something quite different - a guarantor that Bad Things will happen to Iran or NK if they develop nuclear weapons and someone else uses one, regardless of whether it can be traced to them.

OK, how 'bout if we modify this so that the guys on the naughty list get attacked if an unattributable nuke attack occurs, i.e., one where the state performing or sponsoring the attack isn't immediately obvious. In other words, if we can't discover who's guilty, we'll assume that all of the rogue states are guilty together.

In reality, I suspect that the American electorate would be howling for exactly this in the wake of an attack, anyway. The advantage to a stated policy is that it can put a huge amount of pressure on regimes that are close to either side of the nuclear threshold. This is an area where the international community in general and the US in particular are currently pretty toothless.

Another way to look at this: For states that are either monkeying with the IAEA or actively pursuing weapons, we have a fairly continuous response of ratcheting up the pressure, starting with mild sanctions and slowly moving to more and more crippling ones. For states that actually attempt to use a weapon, we kill them. ("We" here might technically be the international community, but in reality is the US.) But in between, for states that are merely designing and/or building bombs as fast as they can, there is effectively no additional pressure that can be brought to bear. If you have a policy where the naughty list gets blamed for anything unattributable that happens, it introduces another level of uncertainty in the calculation not only to pursue, but also to build out, a nuclear arsenal.

But I seriously doubt that any nation is going to risk it by giving nuclear weapons to a non-state group.

Don't get hung up on the "non-state" portion of this. If a Quds unit (Revolutionary Guards special ops) smuggles a bomb into Tel Aviv, you get exactly the same result as if they gave the bomb to Hezbollah to do the same thing. Weak nuclear states will make the geopolitical calculation to wage nuclear asymmetrical warfare the same way they make it to wage non-nuclear asymmetrical warfare. In both cases, there's some threshold where your enemies will throw up their hands and attack you directly, but using, or pretending to use, proxies muddies the waters enough that you're much more likely to mitigate the retaliation, if not get away with it completely.

You're effectively arguing that the direct attack threshold will always be reached if a rogue state nukes somebody. I don't think so. At the very least, because of the attribution uncertainty, a non-nuclear retaliation is much more likely than a nuclear one. That reduces (only somewhat) the uncertainty of deciding to attack with nukes. We want that uncertainty increased, and the naughty list policy does that.

Ultimately, your argument boils down to an assumption that nobody would be crazy enough to use nukes first. If that were true, then we wouldn't worry about proliferation and peace would break out spontaneously. That might actually be true, but nobody seems to be willing to risk it, for good reason. Instead, we try to institutionalize policies that make the risks associated with owning nukes much higher than the rewards. The naughty list is merely a tool for increasing those risks.

----------

novakant--

How is this supposed to work without the loss of innocent civilian lives (a loss that could be of massive proportions if we just think of the US removing the government of Iraq)? And what gives us the moral right to kill these people, what have they ever done?

This policy doesn't result in the loss of any civilian lives. It is, in effect, a threat.

Moral rights are tricky things. Let's consider the Cold War: The US and USSR both had policies that allowed them to retaliate in the event of an attack. Those retaliation policies explicitly reserved the right to retaliate out of proportion to the attack. The reason for this was, once again, to increase the risks of first use. It was a simply ghastly policy, so horrifying that merely contemplating its ramifications made one sick at heart.

And that, of course, was the whole idea. You threaten to do horrible things in the hope that the threat reduces or eliminates the need ever to do the horrible things you threaten.

If a Quds unit (Revolutionary Guards special ops) smuggles a bomb into Tel Aviv

And why on earth would they want to do that? What could they possibly gain from it? Do you think that any Iranian at any level thinks that the unprovoked murder of half a million Israelis likely followed by the nuclear devastation of Iran and the death of many millions of Iranians would be a good idea?

States sometimes do very bad things, but there is always some motivation for it. What is the motivation here?

Weak nuclear states will make the geopolitical calculation to wage nuclear asymmetrical warfare the same way they make it to wage non-nuclear asymmetrical warfare. In both cases, there's some threshold where your enemies will throw up their hands and attack you directly, but using, or pretending to use, proxies muddies the waters enough that you're much more likely to mitigate the retaliation, if not get away with it completely.

Except all available evidence points to the contrary: weak nuclear states still treat nuclear weapons differently, even when engaged in assymetrical warfare.

From a Daniel Larison post:

Pakistan is a useful counter-example that disproves the hawks’ fantasies. Pakistan is a state that has used terrorist and militia proxies against it enemies for decades. Pakistan is at a significant disadvantage against India in conventional warfare, which is why it has relied on terrorism and proxy warfare since the loss of Bangladesh. It has actually possessed a sizeable nuclear arsenal for over a decade. If ever there were a candidate for a nuclear-armed state giving nukes to terrorists to achieve its political goals, Pakistan is it, and Pakistan has not done this and is not likely to do this...[T]he Pakistani military ha[s] complete control over its arsenal and it [i]s not about to hand off one of its weapons to Lashkar-e-Taiba or one of its other proxies. Not only would this deprive Pakistan of control over how and when the weapon would be used, but it would still make Pakistan responsible for the weapon’s use, the weapon would be traced back to Pakistan, and this would lead to serious Indian retaliation against Pakistan. When nuclear weapons are involved, deterrence seems to prevail every time.

Also from that Larison post:

The Iranian government is relatively opaque, but like any modern regime it is made up of a large number of people and institutions that have their own interests in self-preservation. Even if Iran one day had a nuclear weapon (which it doesn’t have right now!), and even if Ahmadinejad were in a position to give away, sell or use such a weapon, you have to assume that there would be a near-unanimous consensus inside the upper echelons of the Iranian government that this is a desirable thing to do...Even if Ahmadinejad were “crazy,” as Pletka assumes without any real evidence*, that doesn’t mean that all of the people in the military, the IRGC and the clerical establishment are suicidal.

You threaten to do horrible things in the hope that the threat reduces or eliminates the need ever to do the horrible things you threaten.

Either the threat is empty and thus ineffectual or you are actually prepared to do these horrible things. Since you speak of a potential need, I take it you are ok with killing thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands - and the US has shown in the past (Vietnam, Iraq) that it has little problem with doing just that.

Eric and Jacob--

You're both saying the same thing: We don't need to worry about nuclear proliferation, because any current or potential proliferator will be utterly constrained by deterrence to abide by no first use. Or, put another way, the last 40 years of Non-Proliferation Treaty management and enforcement were not only silly, but arguably might have contributed to a less peaceful world. Is this what you guys really believe?

Hell, let's make it easy: The US can just dole out 2 W50 dial-a-yields to any state that wants a nuke and is willing to abide by weapon security protocols. Peace in our time! Yipppeee!

Madness. Not MADness, just the ordinary kind.

You're both saying the same thing: We don't need to worry about nuclear proliferation, because any current or potential proliferator will be utterly constrained by deterrence to abide by no first use.

You're eliding the very important difference between "no first use" and "no unprovoked nuclear strike".

It goes without saying, by the way, that the "naughty list" policy is abhorrent and insane even by the standards of deterrence. It guarantees that the US will commit war crimes on an unprecedented scale in the event of a nuclear attack - by definition, most of the countries on the list will be uninvolved in any single attack.

OK, how 'bout if we modify this so that the guys on the naughty list get attacked if an unattributable nuke attack occurs, i.e., one where the state performing or sponsoring the attack isn't immediately obvious. In other words, if we can't discover who's guilty, we'll assume that all of the rogue states are guilty together.

Okay, let's put this plan to a hypothetical test. 2020. Your naughty list exists, and all states refusing to abide IAEA monitoring and/or opting out of the NPT are on it. Out of the blue, a mushroom cloud goes up over Tehran. Or Havana. So does this mean the US nukes North Korea (and/or Iran, if it wasn't Iran but some other unbeloved state that got hit)? Or do you think the US would collectively say that they're shocked, just shocked, but, erm, there's nothing they can do?

Bonus question: As above, but we're not hypocritical about who goes on the "naughty list". Tehran gets nuked. So do we obliterate Pyongyang and Tel Aviv?

Or, put another way, the last 40 years of Non-Proliferation Treaty management and enforcement were not only silly, but arguably might have contributed to a less peaceful world. Is this what you guys really believe?

Not necessarily. There has to be a middle ground between "non-prolif=silly and counterproductive" and "we must bomb Iran before they even get close to making a nuke because they will likely use it as other states have in the past. Except other states haven't in the past. But Iran will."

I'm in the middle ground.

We don't need to worry about nuclear proliferation, because any current or potential proliferator will be utterly constrained by deterrence to abide by no first use.

First, that is a non-sequitur. The first clause is not dependent on the second: worrying about proliferation is not predicated on the idea that any new nuclear power will be likely to use those weapons. You can worry that new situations will arise where deterrence will no longer apply. You can worry that with more nuclear weapons states there is more chance that internal disturbances might lead to warheads escaping. You can worry that new ways to use weapons for blackmail will be thought up. You can worry that nuclear deterrence is not perfectly stable, and that increasing the number of states with weapons increases the amount of the world that would be devastated in the event of a nuclear war. Those are all pretty good arguments for non-proliferation efforts that have nothing to do with whether any given country is likely to make a first use of weapons.

Secondly, you don't have to think that a state will be "utterly" constrained to think that they will be very nearly constrained and that therefore preemptive action is unjustified. My neighbor buys a gun. I may well prefer that he not own a gun, I may even be concerned that unlikely but not impossible future circumstances may arise in which he goes nuts and uses that gun to shoot me. But I can't assume that just because he bought a gun he's imminently going to kill me, and that therefore I'm justified in blowing up his house.

Will Israel get rid of its nuclear weapons if Iran stops developing one. Usual USA guarantees for israel.
Seriously ,why can USA (aggressive invader and only nation that used them) and Israel (most aggressive place in the ME) have nuclear bombs while Iran cannot. It has not invaded anyone in 500 years.

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Whatnot


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