June 27, 2008


Iran: The Threat (Thomas Powers, 7/17/08, NY Review of Books)

Nothing in the modern affairs of nations has been more exhaustively analyzed and debated than the utility and dangers of nuclear weapons, and yet the dangers posed by Iran with a bomb have been barely discussed. They are treated as a given. The core idea is that Iran cannot be trusted because the country is run by religious fanatics crazy enough to use a bomb if they had one. This is not the first time such arguments have been made. Some Americans, including Air Force generals, believed in the late 1940s that a preemptive war against the Soviet Union was justified by the peril of Moscow with a bomb. Twenty years later the Russians, in their turn, were so alarmed by the prospect of Beijing with a bomb that they quietly proposed to the Americans a joint effort to destroy the Chinese nuclear development effort with a preemptive attack.

The world's experience with nuclear weapons to date has shown that nuclear powers do not use them, and they seriously threaten to use them only to deter attack. Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all acquired nuclear weapons in spite of international opposition. None has behaved recklessly with its new power. What changes is that nuclear pow-ers have to be treated differently; in particular they cannot be casually threatened.

More recently the examples of Iraq and Libya have suggested that international sanctions work more effectively than military threats to persuade nations to give up bomb programs. As is now well known, American fears of Saddam Hussein with a bomb were unfounded. In early 2003, when the US was loudly insisting that only military invasion and regime change could keep Saddam from acquiring a bomb, the United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix said that whether the danger was real or imaginary could be determined by international weapons inspectors in a matter of months. In the event, the Americans themselves, after a year spent ransacking Iraq for evidence of nuclear weapons activity, announced that Saddam's bomb program had been completely shut down a dozen years previously, in 1991.

While we're rather dubious that Iran will develop nuclear weapons before its citizenry effects regime-change via the ballot box, there are two seemingly significant problems with this analysis: (1) Shi'ite clerics think Mahmoud is crazy, due to his assertion that the 12th Imam is guiding him; and, (2) the end of Iraq's nuclear program, coming as it did in '91, argues the efficacy of military action by the US, not sanctions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2008 4:27 PM

Being guided by the 12th Imam is a major belief of the Shiite faith, so how can the clerics think Mahmoud is crazy?

Posted by: Oddbark at June 27, 2008 7:24 PM

No, it isn't. He's still hidden.

Posted by: oj at June 27, 2008 7:49 PM

In early 2003 [...] United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix said that whether the danger was real or imaginary could be determined by international weapons inspectors in a matter of months.

Well, sure, except Saddam didn't allow the inspectors to do their work, as Powers surely recalls.

Two reasons why Iran with a bomb is different: 1) They have various terrorist allies like Hezbollah to handle nuclear delivery and use, allowing Iran to claim "Who, us?" 2) Ahmadinejad seems believe that since the 12th Imam is supposed to return in a time of war and chaos, maybe he should speed things along by starting some, and that the destruction of his own country would be a small price to pay.

Posted by: PapayaSF at June 27, 2008 11:49 PM

What's important is how it's the same--it doesn't exist.

Mahmoud believes He's here--that's why the clerics call him a heretic.

Posted by: oj at June 28, 2008 10:05 AM

Obama's the 12th Imam?

Posted by: erp at June 28, 2008 8:38 PM
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