TCS Daily

Madmen or M.A.D. Logic?

By Steven L. Taylor - April 18, 2006 12:00 AM

There are two fundamental questions that are of consequence as we seek to deal with Iran's drive for nuclear weapons.

The first is generic:

Is it possible, short of significant military action, to stop a sufficiently economically advanced country from obtaining a nuclear weapon if they are determined to do so?

I would argue that the answer to that question is: no. Any country with sufficient technological and/or economic prowess (the latter being more significant) can obtain a nuclear weapon.

As such, I have no confidence that sanctions or any other diplomatic route will stop Iran from acquiring the weapons in question. I don't even think that regime change will necessarily ultimately result in a nuclear-free Iran. The security conditions in that region of the world dictate that even a liberal democracy would likely want a nuke (though, in such a case the US view might turn out to be that a nuclear Iran is tolerable -- at least in the same way that a nuclear India is tolerable.)

The motivations for such an acquisition are clear. The addition of nuclear weapons to a nation's arsenal enhances its international prestige and changes power calculations vis-à-vis other states. If one has a nuclear weapon, then the odds that a non-nuclear power will attack is diminished. Attacks from nuclear powers are diminished as well, given the inherent danger of escalation in such a case.

Indeed, much of international relations (IR) theory (at least that found in the realist school) predicts that such states will seek to acquire said weapons. If the realists are right (and I am right about the level of Iran's economic sophistication), Iran's acquisition of nukes is inevitable.

The second is specific:

What is more dangerous, a nuclear Iran or an Iran responding to a massive military strike?

This is the $64,000 question. And it's no easy question to answer either, because, as James Joyner notes, if you get it wrong the consequences will be huge.

Of course, secondary questions emerge as to whether Iran wants the bomb in order actually to use it. To date, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by states post-WWII has been merely to acquire them and not deploy them. The fear of proliferation has always been that we would eventually find ourselves with a case in which the goal of a state would be to deploy the weapon, rather than to obtain it for the prestige/deterrence purposes that have marked the nuclear era after Hiroshima-Nagasaki.

One response to the question of intent-to-use goes simply as follows: should we take the rantings of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously? When he speaks of wanting to "wipe Israel off the map", is his aim to accomplish that feat via his country's military might? Or, should such statements be filed away with all the rest of the anti-Israeli rhetoric that has flowed from the mouths of radical Islamic leaders before him?

Further, how much power does Ahmadinejad actually have in Iran? The press tends to cast him as a dictator in charge of Iran's state. But is this actually the case? Iran-experts say the Guardian Council has much more power over their figurehead than most Americans realize. If this is true, then question becomes: what are the goals of Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei and the Mullahs on the Guardian Council?

It seems likely that the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad is designed to stoke the fires of nationalism in Iran, and to distract the populace from issues of regime change (or, at least, regime liberalization). Ahmadinejad's words may also be honest declarations of dangerous proportions. But clearly we need to figure out what exactly we're dealing with before launching a massive military strike on Iran -- especially if such attacks included bunker-busting nuclear weapons.

Further, what would be the ramifications of such an attack? How would the rest of the Muslim world react? How would Iran react? Given that we know Iran to be a state-sponsor of terrorism; would there be a concerted effort to use suicide bombing and the like against the United States and its allies? It seems likely.

Now, if the Iranians are indeed seeking nuclear weapons for the purpose of actually using them against Israel, then we may have no choice but to attack now. However, it is not clear that this is the case. Are we certain that the MAD (mutual assured destruction) logics of nuclear deterrence will cease to apply to Tehran, should they have nuclear capabilities? Given that a nuclear strike by Iran on Israel would be suicide for Iran -- as retaliation from Israel, and likely the US, would be devastating -- we should hesitate to characterize the Iranians as crazy and hell bent.

There is also the real concern that the ability of a nuclear-capable Iran would produce the dreaded suitcase nukes that we have long feared. And, as such, the use of such a weapon by terrorists might not be traceable to Iran, meaning the deterrence factor may be greatly reduced. Then again, direct linkage to a specific terrorist attack on the US does not preclude US military action against a given country. Just ask Saddam Hussein.

Regardless, since it's clear that the only way to actually stop the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons is a serious military strike, we need to think long and hard about what we believe will happen if a) they do acquire them and b) how they would respond if we engage in a military strike. Neither is a comforting scenario. One thing is certain, however: any military option will have grave consequences -- far greater, perhaps, than the invasion of Iraq.

Steven L. Taylor, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Troy University. He writes daily on politics at



A nuclear Iran
The article asks:

"What is more dangerous, a nuclear Iran or an Iran responding to a massive military strike?"

But the article also says that a nuclear Iran is inevitable, because there is no way to stop any country that wants nuclear weapons from obtaining them.

Isn't there a contradiction here? If the article is right, then the choice would seem to be between a nuclear Iran responding to a massive military strike and a nuclear Iran not responding to such a strike.

Today, Iran purportedly could not respond with nuclear weapons. Tomorrow, the equation could change.

However, if the world waits until Israel is "nuked" by Iran, the response to the attack would be against a nuclear Iran.

The same was true, at one point in the past, with regard to North Korea.

Good Article - But it contains one superfluous question
You asked ". . . how much power does Ahmadinejad actually have in Iran?"

If he is the ultimate leader of Iran his words need to be taken at face value. If he is not the ultimate leader of Iran then the silence of whoever putatively holds his leash needs to be taken as agreement.

This is without going into the matter of how dangerous it is in the longer term to teach a potential opponent that he can bluster and bluff on existential matters with no consequences.

Just plain Mad!
It is difficult to get a firm grip, unless you live in Jerusalem and know, Hebrew and Arabic. The Jews feel their extinction, only 13 million left on the this planet, 6 million in Israel, drop a nuke on Jerusalem, maybe 7-8 million Jews left, the wall is the symbol of fear, fear of extinction. The culture that gave humanity, One God, the influence of this culture in everyone's history is inmeasurable, and yet Iran says time is short for Israel, Hamas echoeing Iran. The Jewish nation is thinking never again, and the haunting thought, that waiting to be gased, they honestly beleive the world would rescue them. Israel can't afford to wait, because the world will only watch, as in Bosnia, Rawanda etc. There is a different sensation when your the target.

nuclear weapons effects are terrible but don't go overboard
Iran is at best (worst) going to build crude, clumsy, heavy 10 to 20 kiloton weapons for many years. And it is going to be delivering them in oxcarts or trucks or ships for more years after that.

The Hiroshima bomb killed perhaps 200,000 people when air detonated at ideal altitude over a larger city than Jerusalem. Some people survived in crude air raid shelters within a few hundred yards of ground zero.

Within a few hours of such a detonation in or near Jerusalem or Tel Aviv the Israelis are going to turn every identifiable launch and weapons construction site in Iran into a smoldering wasteland with much, much more powerful weapons precisely fused to maximize damage in order to prevent further attacks.

I'm not arguing for Israel to hold back and wait for a first strike and I don't think it will hold back because a catastrophe to several hundred thousand people would be wrong for any government to countenance; but the notion that Iran is going to destroy Israel or even kill a substantial portion of the Israeli population within the next dozen years does not feel credible.

Just Plain Mad
Should Israel react in any way, the leftists of the world, and I include most of Europe and the American democratic party, will condemn her as the aggressor. Israel has become the Left's pariah. I am convinced that the animosity expressed toward Israel is simply an undated version of good ol'fashioned Jew-Baiting. Since the democratic party has been taken over by anti-semites, the only mystery for me is why so many American Jews continue to identify themselves with the democratic party.

M.A.D. Assumes Rational Players
This article assumes that as the leader of a nation of 24 million, the current ruler of Iran would certainly not risk the survival of his people by deploying nuclear weapons against his nation's enemies. But because of Iran's continued financing of suicide bombers, and it's religious leadership's condoning of them, this assumption needs to be questioned.

Why adhere to the rules of M.A.D. when the reward for driving a nuclear dagger into the heart of the enemy is an entire nation achieving glorify as martyrs of the pan-Islamic revolution?

I've posted this opinion before: Unles we stop arrogantly condescending to these folks and think the way they think, we will always lose the initiative. These folks do not operate by our logic. We should not engage with them as though they do.

Who do you believe?
Hitler said he was going to take over Europe and get rid of the Jews.
Now the President of Iran says he is going to get nuclear weapons and wipe Israel of the face of the earth.
Who do you believe? The liberals like Neville Chamberlain or the mad men?

thebigger picture.
Iran is obviously run by the Islamic fundimentalists, religion the emphasis. Koran, says that daily decisions is done by men of politics, major decisions,refers to the Koran and it's Mullas. They have never separated Church from State, religion from government. Also there is no consciousness of individual rights, such as freedom of speech. Everything is monitored by the past. Take away the historical religion, and you can see the similarity with communism, no individual rights. The neatherlands, Spinoza (Jew), promoted the idea, that human individual rights, freedom of speech, is more sacred than anyone's personal belief in God. 1667, Don't forget George Washington, Dutch Puritan, that's why the Dutch cartoons were historically correct, 400 years of free thinkers. The Americans scooped up Einstein in Holand, freedom of speech. The Muslim, world -wide, is Sunni, 16th centure also, height of the Ottaman Empire, Islama on top of the world, beleived all knowledge is already known, no new is necessary, spiritualy speaking, and that shari law was divine none could be greater. They stopped their progress, no more walking into the unknow, compltely opposite to Western European, United States, Austalia, Canada, India, anywhere they speak English, seems English and Democracy hand in hand. The great divide, is becoming the size of the grand canyon, and everyone isarming themselves. Listen to Israeli radio,live, they are scared of being nuked. We can have all the discussions, to no avail, When you see your neighbor arming and openly threatening, religious dancing with stainless tubes in hand, praying for weapons of mass destruction, Arab radio said, 10,000 suicide bombers have graduated and are ready. Scare tatics yes, easy to say, when your not the target, dangerous events to come.

look at this from the eyes of a camp survivor
To show and have compassion, many of the Jews in Israel are or come from parents that witnessed the furnaces, heard the screams, barking of the dogs, smell of death, burning death. It is hard to openly be threatened, and not expect to respond, just out of reflex. Jews identifying with the democrates, LIBERMAN, out of habit the older Jew. The young Jew, loves the fight, the burning Bush speaks, that the best defense is a good offence, premption is prevention, and all options are on the table, Bush respecting George Washington's historical relationship with Hyam Saloman who financed George's revolution, look to George's persidential seal, on the One Dollar Bill, above the Eagle, the 13 stars representing the first 13 states, in the configuration of The Star of David, appointed the first Secretary of Treasure, Alexander Hamilton, anothetr Jew. Years of History forgotten and yet daily influence. History.

Plain facts
I hate to be such a pain in the neck. You can't separate Jews from Israel, or Israel from the Jews. If it wasn't for Einstein throwing Hiesenberg a curve ball in the physics, in the race for atom bomb, you too might be speaking German, and the European Jew would be no more. You expect the worst, hope for the best, and show courage in the face of death. Iran is more serious, because it has religious permission, not play stations, real bombs. Listen to the and listen to the target speak.

The Iran Question
They have already held Americans hostage for over a year. They openly sponsor Hezbolla and aid Taliban refugees/terrorists. They are actively supplying the insurgency in Iraq with manpower and weapons. Their actions already speak for themselves. They have comitted acts of war against us and other countries by killing our citizens with sponsorship of terrorist attacks.
A nuke in their possesion is unacceptable. Their delivery system may be in the form of a dirty bomb in a terrorists hands thru an unsecure border. Our big fear should not be from a conventional nuke strike but from the unconventional methods that terrorists use.
We could join with Israel and bring a Bosnia type air strike war until they say uncle just like the Serbs did. No need for troops on the ground. Weaken the central government until an acceptable opposition force takes over. No fear from waves of suicide bombers when their logistics and money supply is weakend.

Our situation needs defense and plain speaking rather than preemption
We (the U.S.) should not attack Iran preemptively because Iran is not a credible existential threat to us in the short or even mid term if we will just spend some serious money on securing our borders and rigorously identifying and tracking folks who come into the country. That done we should plainly announce that we will hold to unlimited account all of the technological facilities and the entire population of any country which is the source of a nuclear attack on the U.S.

Israel is in a different situation. Iran may actually present a potential existential threat to Israel in the short run. In that situation the clear statements by the leader of Iran that he intends to destroy Israel is more than sufficient moral basis for as violent an attack as the Israelis feel is necessary to assure their safety.

Most wars start because the populations of the involved countries don't have clear understanding of the stakes involved. The coming nuclear wars will involve the entire populations of the countries involved and they should clearly hear that.

Iran,syria, palestine
Sad but true, all military destoyed, in the three are tied together on this, all three need to know that freedom of individual rights in all areas of life, especially for the women, they have beenstepped on by the Arab philosophy long enough. The house of Saud, needs religiuos reform, all Arabs look to the Saudi's as supreme example of Koran rule. Take out the dangerous, Iran, Syria, Palestine, and thjen change the Saudi's. If you do a good job on thr first three, the rest will behave themselves. We have to set the example for Free Humanity, more cartoons.

The country of Israel is so snall, one decent size nuke, its over, 1/3 from initial impact, another 1/3 from the energy burst and thick smoke, 1/3, fallout radiation,chemistry no air. So how to prevent, how to handle the threats, of 10,000 suicide bombers recently graduated, waiting for their mission, Radar bubble, rocket proof sky. what you do. Small rocket fire in Israel from palestine, every day, how to stop without a state of overkill. Iran is looking for a blood nose, And the everyday people, on both sides do most of the suffering, what to do? Israel will have to make a stand, the wall is no protection from rockets, the world will watch, and do nothing, just as always. The Jew, will once more have to become, aggressive and stand their ground, and remember,never again, sad scene, Iran is dangerous!

A nuclear Iran should not be allowed
Or even contemplated. To me this is an easy question; erase their facilities and do it soon.

I can go along with that
Be it resolved that the United States will stay out of issues that do not pose an existential threat to itself. Thus if Iran and Israel get into a tangle, we will maintain a hands off policy until the cloud disperses. And in the event there is a winner, we will award them with full diplomatic recognition.

3 to 1
It could possible a 3 prong attack, Palestinians and Syrians and Iranians, Nukes and troops, Chemical, dirty, bombs, troops to storm the wall. Israel is in for a series of battles. There is fear also on Arabs side, because they still feel the defeat in 1967, and before that when Israel was at its birth the second the United Nations vote for an Israel State, Egypt attacked by air and land, Jordon, lebenon syria, and were defeated by a new Israel State. So once more the Jews will defend Jerusalem, the holy land. Biblical proportions, the under dog, rises from it's roots, to know God. History repeats once again. It drains my heart to see them fighting for over 5000 years,over the same poperty. Mankind at his worst, an example of extreme ignorance.

No Subject
"Since the democratic party has been taken over by anti-semites, the only mystery for me is why so many American Jews continue to identify themselves with the democratic party."

Such is the nature of those in society who provide the role of the Eloi.

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