TCS Daily


Nuts with Nukes

By Lee Harris - February 3, 2006 12:00 AM

There is an important law about power that is too often overlooked by rational and peace-loving people. Any form of power, from the most primitive to the most mind-boggling, is always amplified enormously when it falls into the hands of those whose behavior is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. A gun being waved back and forth by a maniac is far more disturbing to us than the gun in the holster of the policeman, though both weapons are equally capable of shooting us dead. And what is true of guns is far more true in the case of nukes.

That is why nuclear weapons in an Iran dominated by a figure like its current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make us more nervous than nuclear weapons in the hands of the Swiss. Both could make big explosions; but the Iranian bomb would tend to keep us awake thinking in the night, while the Swiss atomic bomb would be as threatening as a cuckoo-clock This does not mean that Iran has to use the bomb; it doesn't. All Iran has to do to make people wonder if it might use it -- and many of us are already pondering that question, thanks to the disturbingly bellicose rhetoric of Ahmadinejad.

It is an immense form of power simply to make other people wonder if you might not do something bad and unpleasant to them. It can be done in the form of an explicit threat, as in "Israel should be wiped off the map," or it may be done by a strong personality, like Ahmadinejad, who gives off an aura of impulsiveness and self-willful independence: the kind of guy who lets nobody tell him what to do, and who is generally admired for this quality, especially by the poor and dispossessed who would love to be able to exercise that kind of self-assertion. That is the source of the populist appeal of such figures: they are living out the common man's fantasy of being able to defy the establishment. In Ahmadinejad's case, the establishment he is defying is America, Israel, and the West in general -- and the more vociferous his defiance, the greater becomes his populist base of appeal among those in the Muslim world who look upon us as their oppressors.

There are thinkers like Perry Anderson who have argued that all nations should possess nuclear weapons, as a kind of ace in the hole against being tyrannized by their stronger neighbors -- on this theory, just as guns were the great equalizers between individuals in a chaotic world, so nukes would be the great equalizer between nations, guiding them in the direction of peace out of a common recognition that wars with weaker countries would possibly result in their own nuclear destruction. Hence, in order to create the state of perpetual peace, it would only be necessary to provide each nation with enough nukes to wipe out any possible aggressor. This could be undertaken as a world project, with the technologically sophisticated nations building and then donating both nuclear weapons and systems of delivery to those who could not produce them on their own.

The fallacy in this theory is that even if all nations possessed nuclear weapons, those nations whose leaders were the most irrational and unpredictable would gain an enormous power leverage over those nations whose leaders were sane and sensible.

For example, what allowed Hitler to bluff both France and England so successfully during the period known as appeasement was not the might of the German Army, but the astonishing idea that Hitler might really want war -- and at a time everyone else in Europe, including Mussolini, shuddered at the very thought of another debacle like the Great War, whose memory was still all too vivid. In a world where everyone else is prepared to do anything to prevent a war, the man who makes other people believe he is willing to go to war automatically gains the advantage of being the party that must be appeased if war is to be avoided. In such a world, it is the erratic and the irrational whose power is amplified at the expense of the reasonable and the predictable.

Even in a world where every nation possessed the same nuclear arsenal, those nations with the most bellicose and unpredictable leaders would still have the power to blackmail other nations simply because they could convince the rest of the world that they were actually willing to do the unthinkable, and to risk nuclear war. The Swiss could not pull off such an act of blackmail, because no one would believe them capable of carrying out their threat; but the Iranians, under Ahmadinejad, could.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a populist demagogue of quite exceptional talent who has instinctively grasped the law of power that so many in the West have forgotten: Just as it is the squeaking wheel that gets the oil, it is the shrieking madman who gets his way.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.
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23 Comments

Is Iran a Terrorist State?
What makes the confrontation with Iran so dangerous is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad views the US, Israel and the West as the “madmen” and himself as the instrument of justice. The evidence suggests that Mahmoud is potentially a terrorist head of state. And worse, he is supported/encouraged by the ruling clergy in Iran. If it becomes evident that Iran is an irreconcilable terrorist regime, it must dealt with accordingly.

officials equivocate, Iran arms
Destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure NOW. By any means necessary. By force. The Iranian leadership is going for it. They don't care what anyone else says. Take out their nuclear infrastructure NOW. If a few dozen innocents die, sorry but that's tough. An Iranian nuke going off above Farragut Square or Central Park will kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. The singular imperative of the US Government is to protect the American people. Mr. President, take action NOW. The usual suspects will howl. Who cares? You have one choice: accommodate to a nuclear armed Iran. Or take them out NOW. Time is not on the West's side. Flame away.

If it comes down to that, then of course we will
The general concensus is that Iran is still far enough away from anything meaningful, nuclear-weapons-wise, to allow diplomacy and the *shudder* UN to try to bring this to a peaceful conclusion.

I believe that it goes without saying that Iran will never posses viable nuclear weapons, regardless.

Either they will voluntarily give up the quest, they will acquiesce to international pressure and embargos/sanctions, or, if none of that works, we will take out their capabilities, as a last resort.

So the real question is: just how far away are they really?

By the same rationale of invading Iraq (We just don't know for sure, so we must act now, the risk is too great to wait), these issues had better be answered quickly, one way or the other.

Iran is not long for this world, in its preent configuration.

Interesting thing posibility
Interesting thing might be that if we left Iraq now a wider war might breakout between Sunnies and Shias and if Iran gets a bomb they might drop it on Saudi Arabia.

History Says Any Day Now
Just remember, the Soviet Union exploded its first H-bomb 5 years before western intelligence thought them capable.

Substitution
Try this little substitution:

That is why nuclear weapons in a USA dominated by a figure like its current President George W. Bush make us more nervous than nuclear weapons in the hands of the Swiss. Both could make big explosions; but the USA bomb would tend to keep us awake thinking in the night, while the Swiss atomic bomb would be as threatening as a cuckoo-clock This does not mean that the USA has to use the bomb; it doesn't. All the USA has to do to make people wonder if it might use it -- and many of us are already pondering that question, thanks to the disturbingly bellicose rhetoric of Bush.

Or this one:

Even in a world where every nation possessed the same nuclear arsenal, those nations with the most bellicose and unpredictable leaders would still have the power to blackmail other nations simply because they could convince the rest of the world that they were actually willing to do the unthinkable, and to risk nuclear war. The Swiss could not pull off such an act of blackmail, because no one would believe them capable of carrying out their threat; but the USA, under Bush, could.

Makes as much sense as the original.

Makes as much sense as the original.
"Makes as much sense as the original."

Sure it does, if you're a semi-literate monkey.

Understand one thing, pal.

The only reason you have the freedom you do to post the drivel you do is because of that same USA you clearly hate so much.

Ingrates are so annoying.



Really?!
The President cannot launch a nuke attack. The the worst case scenario (cold war and Russian SLBMs are just minutes from target) required first a warning from NORAD or other defense agency, confirmation and informing the JCS, Presidential verification of launch codes, orders down throught he chain and launch verification, then countdown and launch. In the best of cases this takes just around five minutes. Still, the fail-safes are in place to keep a lunatic from being qable to order a launch. Any system has weaknesses and can be overrode but this is about the best system there is.

The world know this and doesn't worry about a threat from the U.S. under all but the most extreme threats to America.

The problem is, some of the world's other nuke powers don't have the same system. I worry more about France and a lot more about Russia and China. India, Pakistan and N. Korea don't have the long range delivery systems, yet, but don't have the fail-safes in place either.

Iran with nuclear weapons, unthinkable. (as is N. Korea in my opinion.)

Locking the Barn Door...
So Iran's intention of building nukes are worth going to war, but North Korea's actual nukes we worth nothing more then leisurely diplomacy -- brilliant!

VOA News February 3, 2006

On North Korea, U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told the Senate committee that Pyongyang's claims that it has nuclear weapons is "probably true."

"Pyongyang sees nuclear weapons as the best way to deter superior United States and South Korean forces, to ensure regime security, as a lever for economic gain and as a source of prestige," he explained.

He said the United States sees no evidence of organized opposition among North Korea's political or military elite to the regime of Kim Jong Il.

http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200602/200602030037.html

fruitcakes on patrol
The substition only works if one thinks that Bush is a dangerous lunatic.

Since the only people who think so are the lunatic left, whose last connection with reality was disproven years ago, there's nothing to worry about.

Nuts w/Nukes
Nukes don't kill people, Nuts with Nukes kill people.


If you're not in condition orange when you know there's an armed member of so called law enforcement present, you're the nut.

Not impossible. In fact, I think it's probable.
"I believe that it goes without saying that Iran will never posses viable nuclear weapons, regardless."

I think the odds are greater than 50/50 that Iran will complete the development of nuclear weapons.

I think the *only* country that might stop them is Israel. I don't think the U.S. will.

(And any idea that the U.N. will stop them obviously doesn't even pass the laugh test.)

Yes.
"So Iran's intention of building nukes are worth going to war, but North Korea's actual nukes we worth nothing more then leisurely diplomacy -- brilliant!"

Are you saying that North Korea's actual nukes ARE worth going to war with them?

If so, don't you think SOUTH Korea should be making that call? Or do you think the U.S. should simply ignore the consequences to South Korea?

the Keyser Soze principle
"...the real power lies in the willingness to do what the other guy won't"

A metric by which the dimensions of one's deterrent capacity can be assessed:

1.)What can you imagine doing?

2.)Have you the stomach to carry it out?

Once those two parameters have been established, the rest is all details of implementation.

Nukes are all the same
That's not an intelligent argument.

If nuclear defense is left to those neighbors -- such as South Korea -- directly threatened by "madmen" like North Korea's Kim Jong Il, then Iran must be the responsibility of it's neighbors; Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, et al. Furthermore, such a policy would imply that Saddam's Iraq should have been handled by Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

Clearly this President believes the United States MUST act anywhere, anytime, to defend itself -- except for North Korea.

Why don't you answer the simple question?
"That's not an intelligent argument."

Oh, brother. Look who's talking. Your response to my simple question is a completely illogical and off-topic rant.

"If nuclear defense is left to those neighbors..."

I didn't write that at all. What I wrote was that South Korea (which without doubt has the most to lose if North Korea is attacked) ought to have some say...particularly because they are an ally of the U.S.

Do you agree with me that South Korea should have a say in whether North Korea is attacked, or don't you? And if you disagree, WHY do you disagree?

I think it's #3
My answer has no bearing on policy, but the President Bush's answer does. And he firmly believes that our security will not be limited by any other nation, whether it be South Korea or the U.N.

You do know this to be true, yes?

Which means that President Bush 1) does not believe that the North Korean leader is a madman, 2) does not believe that North Korea possess nuclear weapons, or 3) does not really believe in the simplistic foreign policy he boasts of in public speaches.

As for my personal opinion, If I *truly* felt that madmen possessing nuclear weapons, such as Kim Jong Il, constituted a grave national threat, then I sure as hell wouldn't be stopped by South Korea's protests.

Texas Holdem
"but the USA, under Bush, could."

And what is wrong with that?

The Europeans were crapping thier pants when Reagan stared down the Soviets.
A deterrant weapon has no value if the enemy believe it will not be used.
The US is reluctant to use nukes for offense because of the collateral damage.
The USA is now developing a kinectic energy weapon, essentially a long metal rod, that is dropped on target from a ballistic missile. Lots of energy on target with no radiation.
Sadaam did not beleive the US would interfere in his conquest of Kuwait.
Iran and NK need to believe the West will respond to nuclear aggression.

Defense against NK
Japan and the USA are developing and fielding a ballistic missile defense systems to counter NK nukes.
A more proactive approach than giving them money and nuclear reactors like the previous admin.

Long live the cold war?
Missile defense is pre 9/11 thinking of the worst sort.

Anyone, with a sufficient determination and money, can use commercial jets or container ships to deliver a nuclear attack -- it's cheap, reliable, and extremely hard to detect.

Ridiculous?
Of course, that was thanks to the Rosenbergs and other spys who were pawns of the Soviets. We let our guard down. Let's not do that again.

-Bob

Your Barn Door is Open....
The point you miss, R, is that any attack on North Korea would likely obliterate Seoul, and kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans(N. Korea has both nukes and thousands of shells pointed at the city, which is only miles from the DMZ). Thus, such an attack is likely not possible without massive death. You can thank Clinton for not STOPPING N. Korea from getting nukes in the first place.

This is why Iran must be PREVENTED from getting the weapon at all costs, so that they CANNOT get such an advantage.

-Bob

Cold is right...
Missle defense is critical. You ignore the fact that any other mode of transport other than missles can be currently dealt with. Nuclear material on ships, trucks, etc., can be detected, and stopped, long before it gets to the U.S. (radiation can be detected remotely). Jets can be inspected, and if necessary, shot out of the air (do you really think that we are going to let N. Korea fly its jets into our air space??). But there is currently no way to stop a missle from reaching our shores.

Without anti-missle defenses, we are at the mercy of any rogue state with a rocket and nukes with NO DEFENSE AT ALL.

Use your brain for once, R.

-Bob

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