Thursday, January 12, 2006

Nuclear Iran: a purely intellectual dilemma?

In a comment on this excellent post by Curious Hamster (as I've said before, he's on fire at the moment), I posted the following:

CH said: This would make it even less likely that the NPT commitment to global nuclear disarmament is ever going to be achieved.

Look, as long as countries are competing for power, global nuclear disarmament is never going to happen. Ever. You cannot uninvent things, especially since every GCSE physics student knows the principle of how to build a nuclear weapon. I can't believe that anyone these days could possibly think that global nuclear disarmament is ever going to happen. Heard from the CND recently? No, I've not either.

As for Iran and the NPT, there is a useful summary here.

CH said: (and please don't forget that this means that they are actually unlikely to use such weapons pre-emptively since they know that their own country, and power, would be destroyed in response).

As you know, I don't necessarily subscribe to this view. I think that the West, even Israel (under pressure from the US, as when Saddam launched 39 Scuds at them during GW1), would still be wary of using nuclear weapons. Conventional invasion? Yes. Nuclear weapons, with the vapourisation of millions of civilians? No.

The problem with Iran is that it doesn't recognise anyone in Israel (their most likely target) as a civilian (since Israelis have to do National Service, they are all soliders or potential soldiers).

Imagine the situation in which Iran has shown itself willing to use nuclear weapons [by attacking Israel], but the West (still possessing some scruples) is reluctant to use them in retaliation, can we even see a conventional invasion going ahead? It's a tricky one. Given this situation, what would you do? Try negotiations? Attempt an invasion and risk your forces getting nuked? It's an interesting moral and tactical dilemma, worth considering as an intellectual problem by itself.

And I wouldn't bet that the US tacticians haven't already considered it...

So here is the challenge: imagine that this situation has indeed come to pass. What would you do?

Answers in the comments, please.


chris said...

nuke 'em till their skins glow green then shoot them in the dark.

Anonymous said...

We've been through this before haven't we, or maybe I was commenting on someone else's blog... But I do question a number of your premises.

The action depends on the extent of the first-strike. I question whether Iran would nuke Israel at all, given that destruction of the State of Israel would entail the destruction of Jerusalem. Anything less than a full on flattening of Biblical Palestine, and the USA could indeed retaliate with 'conventional' war rather than nukes.

Anonymous said...

Robert, the extent of the first strike is a question, but I dont think the Iranians would use conventional weapon delivery systems - more likely to use arms length (and deniable) agents such as Hesbollah / Hamas. Tel Aviv is nuked at alow level and all respponsibility is denied.. leaving Ireal severly weakened and rip efor the taking .. sounds more plausible - anyway Any destruction of Jerusalem could always be blamed on the infidel west to create another grievance..

Andrew said...

Nuke em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

buzzimp said...

I don't think any country has some inherant right to nuclear weapons.

However, in a situation where the US, UK, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel to name but a few have nuclear weapons, I don't think that we can stop Iran from attempting to have them, if that is what they are actually doing.

Israel has created an arms race in the Middle East, not Iran, and it is only natural that Iran would want to respond in kind, by building nuclear weapons, to attempt to stop someone from attacking them.

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