Monday, February 05, 2007

What to do about Iran

From National Interest online.

Fareed Zakaria

Formulating an effective response to Iran’s nuclear challenge requires our policymakers to provide answers to three interrelated questions.

First, is the goal of the Iranian nuclear program to achieve regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf and throughout the Middle East?

Second, is the possibility of that outcome sufficient cause for the United States to act, and to strike Iran militarily, if necessary?

And finally, should it be a guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy that countries inimical to our interests should be militarily neutered? . . .

U.S. policy needs to be much more deft and able to operate on a two-track approach, rather than defining different alternatives as “either/ors.” There is no reason why Iran should not be censured for continuing its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability—while at the same time holding out the possibility of Tehran’s rehabilitation as a full member of the international community. Conducting negotiations can occur even while sanctions are levied for past and current indiscretions.

Cliff Kupchan

Let’s start with defining what a “nuclear Iran” means. This would be a situation where Iran has mastered all relevant technology and has installed 1500-3000 working P-1 centrifuges underground at the Natanz enrichment facility, giving Iran the capability of being able to obtain a working nuclear bomb within a one-year window. . . .

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the vast majority of Iranian elites are committed to acquiring an indigenous nuclear capability. While Ahmadinejad, the most vocal proponent of an aggressive nuclear policy, was rebuked by the Iranian electorate in municipal council elections held on December 15, 2006—where his supporters received no more than 25 percent of seats in any major city—there is no sign of significant elite disagreement on the substance of nuclear policy.

The central challenge facing U.S. foreign policy is how to prevent Iran from going nuclear, or if that’s impossible, how to deal with a nuclear Iran. Neither the UN nor direct talks are likely to help in stopping Iran. Resolution 1737, passed on December 23, imposed mild sanctions on Iran that are unlikely to have much effect. Another resolution is possible, but Russian and Chinese opposition to harsh sanctions means the UN process is grinding to a halt. And while the United States should talk to the Iranians, let’s be realistic—Tehran and Washington are separated by major gulfs, exacerbated by President Bush’s announcement on January 10 that the United States will actively disrupt Iranian activities in Iraq. The United States would insist on a long-term suspension and would want an effective veto over Iran’s ability to resume enrichment; Iran would at best agree to a technical pause of several months and would want a major non-U.S. dominated forum to decide when it has regained the trust of the international community.

So the United States will try to isolate Iran economically. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned two Iranian banks allegedly involved in illicit activities, seeking to cut off the banks’ access to dollars and dollar-based trading, and adversely affect the interests of groups affiliated with them. Washington is successfully encouraging foreign banks to follow suit, and will probably sanction more Iranian banks. The United States is applying diplomatic pressure on foreign governments, banks and companies to curtail business with Iran, with some success. Washington has especially targeted Iran’s oil sector, which accounts for 80 percent of export earnings, and has succeeded in diminishing foreign oil companies’ activity in Iran and foreign lenders’ willingness to finance new projects. In extending these efforts, Washington will likely attempt to form multilateral coalitions of the willing with G7, EU, and allied Gulf nations to jointly sanction Iran.

These efforts, however, are unlikely to induce a fundamental change of course. The reach of U.S. sanctions and pressure is significant but limited; Iran can trade in other currencies and banks and oil companies from countries that don’t support Washington or have exposure in the United States could step in. Many nations are likely to oppose U.S.-led harsh sanctions; Russia and China have strong economic interests in Iran, many members of the Non-Aligned Movement support Iran’s position, Iran has leverage as a major exporter of oil, and even major EU nations such as Germany have reservations about sanctions outside the UN. Coalitions of the willing will probably be undersubscribed.

Another option is to intimidate Tehran militarily. A second carrier battle group will arrive in the region in February 2007, Patriot missiles will be deployed in allied nations and the US will disrupt Iranian activities in Iraq. This initiative is risky; it could lead to direct US-Iranian hostilities in Iraq, or contribute to a possible Iranian-Saudi proxy war between affiliated Shi‘a and Sunni factions, and is likely to strengthen the domestic position of Iranian hard-liners.

So the United States will probably end up facing a binary choice between deterring a nuclear Iran and taking military action.

Joel Rosenthal

Is the most effective way of dealing with Iran to simply let the clock run out on the regime? Last December's election for the municipal council and religious assembly saw reformers win heavy support. This has compounded the deep split within the Iranian body politic and increases the likelihood that Supreme Leader Khamenei and his entourage (including former President Rafsanjani) will further limit the freedom of action of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran is not an aspiring superpower. It has both political and economic liabilities. Politically, the standoff with the United States over Iraq and the nuclear issue and with Israel over Iran's support of Hezbollah during its war with Israel last summer continue to pose problems for Iran on the world stage. Economically, high unemployment and the reluctance of foreign investors to engage due to regional instability pose problems. Furthermore, high oil prices are causing massive problems for the non-oil economy while furnishing revenues for a government that may not be able to revitalize the economy but does possess the means to buy off much of the immediate discontent. If history is any guide, Iran will enter a major economic downturn in two to three years. . . .

Why shouldn't we be “buying time” to put the regime back on schedule for internal transformation through domestic pressures that would solve the problem without leading to war?

Gideon Rose

Iran’s attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons capability is deeply problematic. If successful, it will threaten the interests of the United States and its allies, lead to arms racing and crisis instability throughout the Middle East, and rip further holes in the already tattered global nonproliferation regime. Given the obvious risks involved, it is depressing to see how many are apparently able to take Iran’s actions in stride and in some cases even enable them. Every country concerned about terrorism, nonproliferation, and/or Middle Eastern security should be searching for ways to head off the danger.

If the problem is serious, however, it is not the world-historical crisis some alarmists claim. When the Iranian nuclear program will reach its goals is unclear, and much can happen in the interim. Tehran’s motivations appear to be at least as much defensive as they are offensive, so even if it gets the bomb the worst-case scenarios of an unprovoked Iranian nuclear strike are highly unlikely. There is little reason to think Iranian leaders are suicidal, so American and Israeli arsenals should be able to deter a nuclear exchange. And the risks of exposure and retaliation should reduce the likelihood of the regime handing off nukes to terrorists or other non-state actors.

Given all this, I think the least bad approach to the situation is containment—a coordinated effort to put pressure on Tehran and make clear that continuing down the current path means paying a steep price and risking becoming an international pariah.

Some will say that such a course runs unacceptable risks and that the only sure way to deal with the situation is to strike now before the cancer metastasizes. . . . Containment deserves more respect than it gets, since its track record has been quite good over the years in managing risks at acceptable costs. The danger Iran poses may be real, but it is far less than the dangers posed by, say, the Soviet Union or Mao’s China—and in both of those cases the United States managed to outwit, outlast, and outplay its rival. It did so by, among other things, keeping its head, rejecting suggestions to strike first against developing nuclear programs, and relying on time to reveal its own system’s strengths and its opponents’ weaknesses.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and host of the public-television show Foreign Exchange. Cliff Kupchan is Director, Europe and Eurasia at Eurasia Group. Joel Rosenthal is president of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Gideon Rose is managing editor of Foreign Affairs.

These excerpts are taken from the Gramercy Round which will appear in the forthcoming March/April 2007 issue of The National Interest.

The parameters of this discussion are all wrong: the issue is neither nuclear Iran, nor its regime as such. Moreover, all these commentators are ignoring the actual monetary costs to the United States in maintaining military hegemony in the Persian Gulf. These costs are bout to increase as US begin to switch from a land-based presence to a sea-based one.

The issue for the West is simple: what course of actions are required to induce the Iranian Government to take into account Western interests in the Levant, in the Persian Gulf, and in Central Asia?

So far, the only person that I am aware of who has publicly alluded to this has been General Odom.

As for going to war with Iran; even there is a binary choice: a short war and a long war.

A long war, I imagine, will be the most likely outcome since Iran will choose the time, place, and intensity & method of retaliation. Then US will retaliate - similar to Israel-Palestinian War except on perhaps global scale.

A short term war, the more unlikely one, has to have limited definable aims that are achievable.

In either type of war, the United States has to define what her goals are and what she hopes to achieve. She has not done so yet.

(I am not commenting on regime change as a goal since that is pipe-dream).

As far as hegemony is concerned - that is not in the cards for Iran and they know it. What is in the cards are the places that Iran has bought for herself on the negogiating table in the Levant, in the Persian Gulf, and in Central Asia.
The problem as I see it is many Americans want regime change but aren't even willing to pay the costs that deterrence would bring (security commitments, increased energy prices, and so on). So US politicians are trying to cater to voters here rather than map out good strategy.
It took six years in the 1930s for appeasement to be recognized to have failed, and it took about six years after 1945 for the Cold War to take its basic form. Yet we are now entering the sixth year after 9/11, and we seem no closer to resolving basic questions of security and world order that have been debated since the events of that day.

Zakaria's questions are well-taken as far as they go but all depend on answers to larger ones. What are the larger purposes for which US power is exercised? Will they build a stronger community of like-minded nations or only manage our relative decline? What is the future viability of the international system as modern civilization changes the ground conditions on which it rests? In trying to manage situations like Iran, are we attempting to treat symptoms or causes?

The problem with Iran is not just that we will soon have to choose between war or acceptance of its nuclear status. It is that we do not have a framework in which to absorb the negative consequences of either option. We need some larger direction or purpose in the world that can survive local setbacks.
Many Americans believe the reckless calls and wild proclamations for socalled "regime change" are extreme examples of tyranny, imperialism, and fascism that NOT represent America, the majority of Americans, or promote America's best interests.

First, lets bring Sibel Edmonds and anyone who actually speaks Farsi back into the intelligence community, so there is some factbasedreality amd legitimatge credibl analysis introduced into the American intelligence product relating to Iran.

Second, if Americans are so somnabulant, foolish, and ignorant to be deceived yet again by yet another fascist Bush government conjured "Pearl Harbor like event" or "Reichstag Fire" provocation justifying yet another costly bloody noendisight war, occupation, and wayward reconstruction misadventure in the ME, - then America actually deserves whatever fiery pit and hell the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government hurl us into.

Third, Iran is a complex, historically significant, and sophisticated society and nation whose contribution to humanity extend far beyond oil and energy resources, which precludes any legitimae credible involement with the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government who are incapable of any deep thought, nuanced statecraft, historical construct, or longterm strategic thinking.

The fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government are exclusively and pathologically concerned with their own self preservation, and rabid engorging of the off sheet accounts or cronies, cabals, klans, coteries, and oligarchs in, or beholden to the fascit warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government.

Fourth, - and echoing the Joel Rosenthal speak - there is no legitimate reason, or justification for military action against Iran at the moment, given the current factbasedrealities, (as opposed to the fictions, myths, disinformation, and patent lies pimped by the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government), ergo - America and the world has the time to pursue all available altenate options (beyond warmaking) to deter, contain, or manage Irans nuclear ambitions, (whatever they may be)

Finally, - from my pedestrian perspective, it is understandble that Iran would seek to pursue at least the spectre of nuclear capabilities as a deterent against "regime change" or any other fascist imperialist, colonialist, machination of America, or any Occidental power.

Iran has the same right to exist as Israel, or America.

Though the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government are incapable of imagining this factbasedreality, - Americans should have the courage and wisdon to recognize that Iran, like Iraq was NOT involved with 9/11, and poses NO imminent threat to America's security.

The horrors and the mass murder of 9/11, and the real threat to America's security were and remain largely Saudi operations abundantly nurtured, funded, and supported by America's arch enemies, and Bush government 'good friends" in the House of Saud.

America must talk to Iran, and Iranians as fellow human beings, - not conjured demons and imagined enemies, and respect Iran's right to soveriegnty and existance.
The basic assumption made by the commentators in the National Interest symposium appears to be that it is perfectly natural for certain countries to maintain large nuclear arsenals, develop new nuclear weapons, and threaten the first-use of these weapons: while the thought of other nations acquiring such weapons is intolerable.

It is difficult to justify this double-standard without creating the impression that American (or indeed British) attitudes have not really significantly changed since Kipling wrote about ‘sullen peoples,/Half-devil and half-child. ’ Self-professed ‘realists’ commonly underestimate how far concern for self-esteem and status motivates peoples, and thus fail to realise that they are actually providing people with an incentive to acquire nuclear weapons, so as to repudiate the implied slur.

Of course, this does not refute the claim that ‘mature democracies’ are better able to handle such weapons responsibly. But this is a claim that has to be lived up to. And in the wake of an invasion of Iraq based upon falsification of intelligence, which has managed to reduce that country to a state far worse than it was under Saddam, the claim is not looking as good as it was. If one wants to see oneself as the ‘sheriff’ of the international community, one needs to avoid hanging people on trumped up charges supported by dodgy evidence.

The other question that the commentators seem not to raise (at least in these excerpts) is the technical military question of whether the United States has a viable military option against Iran. Back in 2002, in the Millenium Challenge war game, Marine Lt.-Gen. Paul van Riper, playing the Iranian side, decided to take the initiative, think unconventional, and sank a significant portion of the U.S. fleet. Rather than face up to the questions raised, the Pentagon chose to refloat the fleet. In 2004, when the war games expert Colonel Sam Gardiner conducted an exercise for the Atlantic Monthly, he concluded there was no military option, and diplomacy had to be made to work.

But, in order to work, diplomacy requires the backup of military power. Attempting coercive diplomacy without an implementable military option is a very dangerous game, both because it invites miscalculation, and because of the risk that doing so ends up backing both the adversary and oneself into a corner. There is a very grave risk of ending up forcing the adversary to call what may be a bluff, and then finding oneself in a position where one has to gamble on a resort to force where the potential costs and risks are very great, or look like a paper tiger.

What is required in this really very dangerous situation is, I think, a much more radical rethinking of assumptions both about nuclear weapons and about American foreign policy, past and present. Among other things, this would involve getting away from the kind of simplistic vision of ‘containment’ as a strategy vindicated set out by Gideon Rose.

This would involve recognition that ‘containment’, as set out in NSC 68, was not a purely defensive strategy, but instead had strong elements of ‘regime change’ about it; and also noticing the peculiar fact that Kennan, the supposed architect of ‘containment’, has time and again insisted that Stalin would not have wanted communist parties to come to power in major states remote from his borders. An end to the kind of Orwellian 'crimestop' which prevents commentators reflecting upon facts which have been in the public domain for a long time might make it possible to get away from the familiar assumption that nuclear weapons had a stabilising role in the Cold War. And it is precisely this assumption that makes it so difficult to mount a rational argument as to why acquisition of nuclear weapons may not actually be in the self-interest of countries like Iran.
David Habakkuk:

Please go ahead and do make a "rational argument as to why acquisition of nuclear weapons may not actually be in the self-interest of countries like Iran".

Specifically please convince address their concerns that they were attacked by chemical weapons supplied by EU, that EU & Communist East European States were providing Iraq with the pieces needed for nuclear weaposn, that they are next to Pakistan that may one day be ruled by Sunni extremists.

In addition please note that forthe past 5 years we have been reading about going to war with Iran by US, Israel, a Coalition of the Willing, etc. Commentators, politicians, and analysts all had broached that topic and some had gone as far as target seletion.

I would submit to you that none of them would have dared to be so cavalier with a state that actually has nuclear weapons - Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel.

I would like to read the rational arguments that you could possibly make to the leaders of the Islamic Republic that would address the points I raised above.

I should have been clearer. Perhaps because I was trying to hammer away at a hobby-horse about the dubious readings of Cold War on which much Western thinking about nuclear weapons rests, I may have ended up sounding as though I was dismissive of Iranian security concerns. I can certainly see very powerful arguments for the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapons. My scepticism is over the notion that the kind of multipolar nuclear arms race which is highly liable to develop in the Middle East is likely to be stable. But this obviously has corollaries, among them that the pursuit of 'regime change' by the United States is the height of folly; that an Israeli nuclear capability is in the end a danger for Israel; and that the United States should fundamentally reconsider its own view of nuclear weapons.

My own preference would be for the course of action set out by William Polk, in the series of articles he produced last year on the American moves to war with Iran, available at

At their conclusion, he wrote that:

"we should urgently, intelligently and energetically push for a truly different Middle Eastern political and strategic order. This order has two components: the most dramatic and urgent is to work toward regional nuclear disarmament. Europe and America have much experience in this field and were making substantial progress until a decade ago. We need to go back and start again. That is in everyone’s interest: nuclear weapons anywhere are a danger to people everywhere. In its own interest, Israel should agree; so should America; and so, in the context of a move toward peace, should Iran. But again, what Israel, Europe and America are doing is precisely opposed to their interests. England, France and America – in violation of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – are increasing and upgrading their arsenals while Israel’s huge arsenal will provoke other Middle Eastern states, as it already has provoked Iran, to acquire them too. Probably sooner rather than later Saudi Arabia and Egypt will move to acquire them. Thus, instead of being a source of security, Israel’s policy on nuclear weapons will severely undermine Israeli security."

Of course, Polk's prescription sounds impossible utopian. However, it seems to me that if one thinks through the likely implications of the directions in which we are headed, the future looks very grim indeed. So if people faced up to the risks of the path down which we are headed, it is just possible that radical rethinking might take place. But such a radical rethinking would be greatly helped if people look more closely at some of the evidence about the Cold War that has appeared in recent years. For this evidence strongly suggests that, rather than stabilising the Cold War confrontation, nuclear weapons destabilised it.
David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your response and for candidly stating that there really is not and will not be forthcoming any time soon any formal acknowledgement of the Iranian security concerns by US, EU, Russia and others.

"We do not care because we don't think you matter." seems to be the attitude.

I assume that there will be an attack on Iran by US using 1500 sorties killing about 20,000 Iranians and causing $ 200 Billion (a thousand Million) worth of damage.

This has to be contrasted with the casualties in another war (of attrition like with Iraq) or a nuclear attack on Iran in which hundreds of thousands will be killed.

So, it seems to me that nuclearization of Iran is their best choice for security.

Am I missing something?
My pedestrian dread concerns are born of two glaring facts.

First, there is no one anywhere on earth who can convince me that our (US, British, Israeli) intelligence is accurate or has any solid read on what is going on anywhere in the ME, politically, socially, or militarily and specifically in Iran in the context of this thread.

I base this belief and conviction on factbasedrealities involving the intelligence community failures to unearth the Pakistani nuclear programs, the matastizing of jihadist islam and terrorist organization globally, the catastrophic failures of 9/11, the costly, bloody, woeful failures in adequately assessing or communicating an accurate apraisal of Iraq weapons programs prior to the horrorshow in Iraq, the criminally negligent failure to imagine that Iraqi's would not greet an occupying force with sweets and flowers, or that a ferocious insurgent conflict would not erupt in the land of the two rivers with three seperate, diverse, and often conflicting sectarian forces vying for control of Iraq's oil resources and the emerging government, the fact that Hezbollah cracked Israeli communications codes, and spanked Israeli armor and infantry with well orchestrated tactical responses to Israeli attacks, the fact the Hezbollah succussfully rained thousands of missiles including heretofore unknown arsenals, and UAV in response to Israeli attacks, the fact the Moktadr Sadr and the Mahdi Army suddenly erupted one day with thousands of well trained and well armed militia that stood and fought America's hypersuperior military in Faluja, the fact the most of the Arab street supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Quaida and loathes America, the fact the NK blasted an actual nuke, failed or not, - and I could go on for pages, - but the point is our intelligence is woefully lacking.

Part of the problem is rooted in the competitive cultures of the intelligence community vying for money and publicity.

Part of this failure is a direct result of the "policy contamination" of the intelligence product by extragovernment fascist cabals (OSP/OSI/WHIG) in the Bush government.

Another part is the pathetic lack of respect, or understanding, or the ability to communicate with Arab and Persian societies and contacts.

The second issue involves the imperialist and fascist ideologies and policies rooted in supremist positions.

Our supremist fascist leaders conjure the idea and imagine that our christian jewish god is better than their muslin god, so our god sanctions our conjured right invade and occupy their inferior lands, slaughter their inferior people, conduct preemptive unilateral regime changes on their inferior government, and maraud the resources in your lands to feed our superior societies.

That said, I do recognize that Iran poses very serious threats to American and Israeli security, (mining the Gulf of Hurmoz for example) or unleashing millions of raging muslims in response to unprovoked attacks by precieved crusader nations, - but the most productive and leastly costly bloody approaches to remedy these concerns are diplomatic, - not military.

Our leaders should replace their chickhawk ideologies with real statecraft, and exchange thier swords for books and true diplomacy.

We can always nuke or spread magic dust, or some chem on any nation in the ME if necessary, but why pursue this unholy ends i alternate solutions exist?

I seem to have hit the wrong button and ended up posting anonymously.

I think it is extremely difficult to gauge what is the least worst option from the Iranian point of view at the moment.

My point is simply to caution Iranians and others against swallowing the snake oil of Western 'deterrence' theorists.

I had an exchange not long ago on the blog run by Colonel W. Patrick Lang with a very well-informed and always interesting poster called Babak Makkinejad.

He quoted Mrs Thatcher arguing that nuclear weapons kept the peace in Europe during the Cold War, and asked why this should not be so in West Asia. I attempted to suggest some reasons why Mrs Thatcher's view is dubious about Europe, and therefore a dubious basis for policymakers elsewhere.

Some of the reasons I have restated in comments on this and the previous posting by Nicholas Gvosdev. A further element is that it is now clear, from the work of the former Minuteman launch control officer Bruce Blair and others, that the U.S. force posture during the Cold War was not the assured second strike retaliation posture beloved of the civilian theorists, but launch on warning. As this was also true of the Soviet posture, the confrontation was much closer to being on a hair trigger than was generally realised. In the light of this, it is clear that the risks of inadvertent nuclear war were much greater than most of us (myself included) thought at the time.

This outcome was largely to do with problems relating to the vulnerability of command and control systems which the civilian theorists never faced. Precisely the same problems are liable to recur in the Middle East and elsewhere, because they arise in substantial measure from the inherent intractability of the problems you get into when you attempt to incorporate nuclear weapons into military planning.

Short and pithy versions of Blair's critiques of U.S. nuclear policy past and present are available at They should among other things dispose once and for all of the notion that 'mature democracies' have the wisdom required to handle these terrible weapons prudently.

On this point, at least, I think George Kennan was absolutely right.
David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your response.

I would like to pose the question as to what is the US military doctrine in case of the usage of tactical nuclear weapons against troop concentrations?

Specifically, in the hypothetical situation in which Warsaw Pact states had invaded Western Europe - was NATO authorized to use nuclear artillery against troop concentrations? What was to be the Warsaw Pact response?

In a similar, hypothetical vein, if Saddam Hussein had tactical nuclear weapons in 1991 and had used them against troop concentrations, what would have the US response been?

I am not entirely clear as to the thrust of your question. I am also clearer about the details of the evolution of Soviet planning than American.

American contingency planning for war came to rely on the all-out use of nuclear weapons at the start of a conflict to compensate for conventional weakness when the United States had a monopolyof these weapons. There were successive attempts to get away from this, either by seeking limited nuclear options or by developing capabilities for a purely conventional response. This was central to NSC 68 in April 1950, the introduction of 'flexible response' under the Kennedy Administration, and the efforts of Senator Sam Nunn and others in the Eighties.

What is involved throughout is a certain tension of objectives, between concerns to make threats 'credible' and concerns to produce a strategy that would make sense if war broke out.

So 'flexible response' involves delaying nuclear use until a time when the Warsaw Pact forces are in headlong advance through Germany. In military terms, I think it is far to say, this makes rather poor sense -- less sense than using such weapons preemptively against command and control, force concentrations etc.

As to the Soviet side. At the end of the Fifties, the Soviets concluded that a general war with NATO would inevitably escalate to an all-out intercontinental exchange. Accordingly, there was no prospect of avoiding the nuclear devastation of the Soviet Union. The best strategy was intercontinental nuclear preemption, so there were no inhibitions about using nuclear weapons at any level.

In the wake of the Western introduction of 'flexible response', the possibility opened up of fighting a war in a manner which avoided the nuclear devastation of the Soviet Union. A corollary of this is that the NATO nuclear forces in Europe which provide the first rung on the ladder of escalation have to be knocked out at the outset of war. At the same time, Warsaw Pact forces will seek rapidly to eliminate the bridgeheads on which American potential power can be deployed in Eurasia, again by conventional means.

In relation to Western nuclear capabilities, the Soviets would have resorted to nuclear weapons on unambiguous evidence that NATO was going to use its nukes: their conception of launch-on-warning. However, they would have attempted to limit the process of escalation.

This was obscured because of the information warfare element. As it was a key goal of the Soviets to prevent NATO nuclear use, they did not want to say anything that would encourage the Americans to think they could safely risk using nuclear weapons in Europe without this provoking all-out nuclear war.

Partly because of this, much opinion in the United States continued to believe that Soviet strategy focused around plans to fight and win an all-out nuclear war. Among the leading dissenters from this view were Raymond Garthoff, who pioneered the academic study of Soviet military strategy at RAND in the Fifties, and Michael MccGwire, who before turning academic had a long career as a Royal Navy intelligence analyst and NATO war planner. The difference in interpretation led quite different evaluations of the so-called Gorbachev 'new thinking'.

When Garthoff wrote his 1990 study of Deterrence and the Revolution in Soviet Military Doctrine, he had the benefit of access to a full file of the confidential Soviet General General Staff journal Military Thought from the Fifties on. He commented 'there is no strategic doctrine of waging intercontinental war in the available military strategic literature, open or closed.' This did not mean that the Soviets did not have plans for such a war. But the whole emphasis of strategic thought which trying to avoid the situation in which you would have no alternative to implementing such plans, which the Soviets were quite clear from the Seventies on could not produce victory in any meaningful sense. It was American planning which continues to a very substantial extent to focus around the contingency of all-out nuclear war.

The neocons, intellectual descendants of Garthoff's old antagonist Albert Wohlstetter, got that wrong, as well as almost everything else. The catastrophic nature of American Middle Eastern policy is largely due to the ability of the neocons to treat the retreat and collapse of Soviet power as a vindication of their vision of the Cold War. And for that, of course, those who have allowed themselves to accept the neocon narrative are to blame, almost as much as the neocons themselves.

As to the question of what would have happened had Saddam Hussein had tactical nukes and used them in 1991. Would have he have used them, given that the United States 1. had the ability to escalate, and 2. had limited objectives, and was not putting his back against the wall by seeking 'regime change'? If he had used them, the U.S. would have faced all the massive dilemmas which arise when one actually starts thinking about implementation as distinct from sabre-rattling. Do you respond in kind, which against dispersed forces may simply creative radioactive desert? Or do you for example strike at the centre of the regime, thus inflicting inordinate and indiscriminate destruction on ordinary Iraqis? These problems, characteristically, have no good solutions.
David Habakkuk:

The thrust of my argument is this:

There is actual military utility to the posession of tactical nuclear weapons.

There may be in some circumstances. Do you think there would be for Iran?

It is also necessary with nuclear weapons to consider the moral effects -- intangible but hardly unimportant.

For instance, the leaks about possible American use of nuclear weapons against Iran have actually been in many ways counterproductive. They contribute to a widespread sense even among people unsympathetic to Iran that this administration is so callous, irresponsible and stupid that practically anything is better than to see it resort to military action.

In the contest between Ahmadinejad and Bush as to who can score the largest number of propaganda 'own goals', it constitutes a rather large one.
David Habakkuk:

Australia does not have the population to stop a large (naval) invasion force fielded by her mcuh much more near and far neighbours. A few well-placed tactical nuclear weapons will destroy such an invasion force. Even the mere posession of the fuel-cycle will be a message to her neighbours that she cannot be attacked with impunity.

Yes, I know - currently Australia is protected by US - but in the future that may no longer obtain.

A similar argument may be made regarding Israel's nuclear arms - if they be tactical weapons aimed to protect that state from a very large Arab invasion force from one or more of her more populous neighbours.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is clearly the winner among Muslims - he is supporting the equivalent of WWII partisans in Palestine.

Reliance upon nuclear weapons to counter difficulties in maintaining military manpower was precisely the strategy adopted by the United States after 1945. The Soviet Union countered with its own nuclear weapons much more rapidly than most expected -- and thereafter, in military terms at least, NATO strategy was a nonsense.

If other countries are prepared to face the costs and risks of an invasion of Australia -- and it is not at the moment clear to me why this should be so -- would one not expect them to regard an Australian nuclear capability as something to be countered, just as the Soviets did in relation to the United States?

As to Israel, I am deeply sceptical about the notion that it can indefinitely maintain a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. If it seeks to do this by some version of the Oded Yinon plan, relying on destabilizing existing states, that in turn is likely to backfire. Non-state actors are liable in the end to be far more dangerous to Israel than state actors.

Belief in nuclear weapons as a security panacea, sedulously encouraged by Western strategic theorists, can only promise very widespread nuclear proliferation. This is liable to mean multipolar arms races. As in the Cold War, fear of command and control decapitation will produce forces postured on a launch-on-warning, hair trigger basis. Sooner or later, the weapons will be used.

Of course Ahmadinejad is the winner among Muslims. But he is also, like Bush (and Tony Blair) a dangerous demagogue. There is a perfectly good argument that if Christian or post-Christian nations wanted to make amends for their appalling treatment of Jews they should have borne the sacrifices themselves. Questioning the existence of the Holocaust, rather than the uses to which what has become something close to a Holocaust cult is put by elements in Israel and the West, is just silly and nasty. Should not good Muslims regard truth-telling as a fundamental value, just as good Christians should? Furthermore, his questioning of the Holocaust makes it easy for Ahmadinejad's statements on Jerusalem to be mistranslated, in ways that play into the hands of alarmists who want to suggest that an Iran with nuclear weapons would either attempt the nuclear annihilation of Israel or give these weapons to terrorists who would attempt this.
David Habakkuk:

We will have to agree to disagree - I believe that I have made a persuasive case that at least tactical nuclear weapons can be great equalizers for smaller states. The thrust of your argument is that the eventual spread of the (tactical) weapons to many state actors will render them not as useful. What you point to is a definite possibility but it lies in the future - it is not a certainty. So a military or political leadership may say that let's build the capacity to build nuclear weapons now and protect ourselves here and now.

About Australia - a few years back she expressed concern regarding India's effort at building a "Blue Water" navy. To that now must be added the Chinese Navy as well. I just do not see why Australia should not be prepared to build and fields nuclear weapons when and if US abandons her - just like when UK abandoned her in WWII.

The arguments you have made - in case of Iran - have to be made to men whose country was attacked with impunity with chemical weapons in an un-provoked war supported by the Arab states, US, EU, and USSR. You will have to explain to them why a (potential) deterrence capability is not going to increase their security. And you will have to do that in the light of UK and France's own nuclear weapons (built, tested, deployed). I really would like to be there in that room when you or someone with a similar viewpoint makes these arguments to the Iranians.

You stated that "...ways that play into the hands of alarmists who want to suggest that an Iran with nuclear weapons would either attempt the nuclear annihilation of Israel or give these weapons to terrorists who would attempt this." Don't you see? Mr. Ahmadinejad does not care what Western governments think since he and many in Iran have expected a US attack since 2003. He has nothing to gain by playing the nice-guy; in the meantime, he articulates views that hundreds of millions of Muslims think (including %70 of their government leaders).
Anonymous 6:46

I certainly agree with you that, in the event of Iran coming to successfully develop, manufacture, and deploy nuclear weapons, they would indeed come to obtain a deterrence value.

However, two qualifications:

#1. The deterrence value is much minimized when your delivery means are uncertain. Lacking a roughly equivalent, or at least second-strike survivable, guaranteed delivery system to the U.S., Iran warheads alone provide no guarantee of deterring the U.S.
The infrastructure necessary to implement that level of capability may be beyond Iran's ability to obtain, even in fifty years.

#2: In corollary with #1, the primary reason why possessing nuclear weapons does not grant one enhanced regime survivability, is the high likelihood of being destroyed in the attempt - at least under conditions similar to Iran's current conditions.

Threats to Iran from Pakistan, Israel, and elsewhere may not be ridiculous, but they can certainly be mitigated without nuclear weapons. The same structural constraints that limit U.S. ability to conquer Iran inhibit Pakistani and/or Israeli ability equally, or more so.

The current strategy of Iran's regime increases, not decreases, the overall level of threat to their survival. They would be wise, for purely pragmatic reasons, to stage a dramatic surrender on the world stage. They won't, but it's because of their need to bolster the internal stability of their regime by provoking hostility from the U.S.

(By the way, this does not indicate that I approve of a U.S. strike on Iran - it's a genuine lose-lose scenario.)

Jordan W. '02
Jordan W.

Thank you for your comments.

Pakistan does not have to conquer Iran; it can drop (or threaten to drop) a few nuclear bombs on larger Iranian cities; just like Saddam Hussein threatened to do so during the Iran-Iraq War with chemical weapons on his missiles.

Why are you discounting this possibility? US, EU, and others supported the rape of the Chemical Weapons Treaty by Iraq – why would they not countenance the use of nuclear weapons against Iran next time that they felt like Iran needs chastising? I suppose I am missing something since I am an armchair strategist, but what?

And if nuclear weapons are only enhancing one's vulnerabilities why does UK insists on keeping them? Or France? North Korea? And is Brazil and Australia also under the same illusion as Iran is?

I seriously doubt that Iran is planning on building and deploying nuclear weapons, she has made too many promises to Russia, NAM, and a few others to renege on that.

About the need to provoke hostility from US for regime survival - I do not know if your explanation is correct. One could have tested that by having USG adopt some or all of Perkovich’s suggestions which he made during his testimony in May of 2005.

At any rate, What would you do if you were threatened by a rogue super power?

On less rhetorical grounds, I would like to point out that Libya surrendered and - according to the Libyans - got much less than she expected.
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