Friday, December 07, 2007

The enduringly useless "liberal hawks"

Oh God, it never ends. Now alleged liberals are jumping all over the NIE for not being sufficiently alarmist about Iran's lack of a nuclear weapons program. According to them, the mere fact of uranium enrichment is, de facto, proof of Iran's malign intent.

What the NIE makes clear is that Iran is building a threshold nuclear capability -- not a weapons program, but all the parts of a weapons program, so that if the go order is given, Iran could have a weapon in months, instead of decades. This, as I've said for years now, is exactly the kind of program that Japan holds in its back pocket in case China or North Korea ever get too uppity. There's a few other countries who are alleged to have similar intents, many of them US allies. So if this kind of program is, on it's own, an indicator of evil, we need to start spreading the net a bit wider.

Problematically, it is also explicitly legal to have such a capability under relevant international law. Indeed, the other part of the IAEA's job (when it's not inspecting Iranian or North Korean reactors) is to make such technology available. It's the inherent contradiction in modern nuclear technology: ever since Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative, the main nuclear weapons-holding powers have tried to launder their weapons of mass destruction by making "civilian" technologies available to other countries. The problem is that the same civilian technologies that allow nuclear power generation (i.e., uranium enrichment and waste reprocessing) can also be turned to weapons production.

Nuclear power and nuclear bombs: at the end of the day, you're not going to have one without the other. A serious "liberal" strategy for dealing with nuclear proliferation will, at the end of the day, have to deal with controlling civilian nuclear power -- i.e., very heavily restricting nuclear technology, or banning it outright. This is where endeavours like Kyoto and other climate change measures come in -- there needs to be a strong, clear alternative to both carbon on the one hand, and uranium on the other. Choosing either doesn't get the planet out of danger, it just changes the risks.

There's another question worth asking here: what, exactly, is Iran waiting for? They've decided for now that a threshold capability is sufficient for their purposes, and that the costs of proceeding further outweight the possible benefits. That is, they are probably presuming that should they resume a weapons program, they'd be detected and under attack. Reasonable assumptions, really.

But: the Iranian regime is already under threat of attack because the US government isn't exactly run by reasonable people -- and if you don't believe that, you've got to at least suspect the Iranians do by now. So despite the US occupying countries on two borders, US client states surrounding them, and Israel looming over the horizon with an arsenal capable of reducing all of Iran to glowing waste, the Iranians have still decided that, as far as weapons go, not so much for now.

This adds extra credence, I think, to Gwynne Dyer's theory that what really concerns Iran is not the opportunity to destroy either the Great Satan or the hated Zionists, but the possibility of a collapse in Pakistan. Pakistan has a long history of anti-Iranian activities, not the least of which was backing the Taliban, and is already a nuclear power. If things in Islamabad were to go from worse to horrible, Iran wants the capability to quickly get strapped with a deterrent.

This leads to an odd image -- that the first nuclear exchange between two hostile powers may not be between Muslim and Hindu, or Muslim and Jew, but between Fundamentalist Shia Muslim and Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim.

1 comment:

Catelli said...

This leads to an odd image -- that the first nuclear exchange between two hostile powers may not be between Muslim and Hindu, or Muslim and Jew, but between Fundamentalist Shia Muslim and Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim

Odd in that it goes against prevailing wisdom.

Don't Sunnis and Shias see each other as the bigger sinners as they pervert the truth? Hindus and Jews are misguided but convertable. Right? The old Protestants vs Catholics meme.