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Weekend reflections

January 13th, 2006

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

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  1. Andrew Reynolds
    January 13th, 2006 at 19:23 | #1

    I note your silence on the Iran situation. Can you suggest a possible way out? Given their latest threat and the likelihood that China will veto any punitive action against one of their main oil suppliers, if it is referred to the UNSC and action is vetoed, what should happen?
    Would sanctions be enough?

  2. jquiggin
    January 13th, 2006 at 21:08 | #2

    As the Irish joke has it, I wouldn’t start from here. If inspections had proceeded in Iraq, ending up demonstrating the absence of WMDs, there might be some chance of keeping Iran inside the tent. As it is, Bush has handed the Iranians 150 000 hostages, which rules out any sort of military action, or sanctions backed up by force. And of course, since the Chinese own about $500 billion of US government debt, the option of facing them down seems pretty hopeless.

    As I mentioned a while back, if Britain and France were really serious about this, they’d abandon their own, totally superflous nuclear weapons. But they’d far rather that Iran should get the bomb than that they should give it up.

    In short, our leaders have made the bed, and now we all get to lie in it

  3. January 13th, 2006 at 21:17 | #3

    To be sure Paddy, I’d not be starrtin from t’ere either!

    JQ, are you actually suggesting (hopefully just for arguments sake) that there is a moral equivalence between Iran (on one hand) and UK & France on the other hand?

    Our leaders must do whatever it takes to prevent those lunatics in Iran getting their hands on nukes. Even the russkis are breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of Iran having such weaponry.

  4. January 13th, 2006 at 22:33 | #4

    It seems to me that the US so keen apparently to establish democracy in Iraq, made few, if any moves to support and boster the more moderate, more internationalist and more democratic voices in Iran. The hardline in Tehran response is, I suggest, a reaction to the policies and stategic interests of the US and the Europeans.

    On another subject, Robert Reich suggests that China’s economic development, despite its problems, illustrates the success of authoritarian capitalism. There are other examples that could be given such as Nazi Germany and Singapore to illustrate the idea that capitalism does not require democracy, whereas as Robert Reich suggests democracy requires capitalism.

    I am curious about what more knowledgeable people than I, think in relation to this proposition, which on reflection goes back at least to Teddy Roosevelt and the Anti-Trust laws. Nonetheless, the acceptance of the notion of authoritarian capitalism would challenge the position of the Centre for Independent Studies, as indeed it does my assumptions.

    Of course, it possible that issue has been fully discussed on a previous occasion, and I missed it.

  5. SJ
    January 13th, 2006 at 22:35 | #5

    “Even the russkis are breaking out in a cold sweat at the thought of Iran having such weaponry.”

    You think that the Russians are a bunch of easily manipulated, terrified, bed-wetting cowards just like the RWDBs? Interesting.

  6. January 13th, 2006 at 22:53 | #6

    Why would you think that the Iranians are distinctively insane? Compared to, say, a fundy led Pakistan or a fundy led India or even an Afrikaaner South Africa?

  7. January 14th, 2006 at 00:25 | #7

    There is nothing superfluous about the British and French nuclear weapons – unless you think that the US nuclear umbrella will always work out for them too. A lot of planners were a lot more cynical than that, and the thinking is “now, we don’t want to hurt each other, do we?” and “if we go, you go too”.

  8. Ian Gould
    January 14th, 2006 at 03:30 | #8

    To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby, Britain’s independent nuclear arsenl is there to defend agaisnt the French nuclear arsenal and vice versa.

  9. jquiggin
    January 14th, 2006 at 07:08 | #9

    SATP, unfortunately an international rule that says that “good guys” can do what they like while the “bad guys” cannot (broadly speaking the current position of the US and UK) is unlikely to work unless everyone agrees who the good guys are. If Britain has the bomb, why shouldn’t, say, Germany or Mexico. And if everyone except a few bad guys has the bomb, what chance is there of stopping the bad guys.

  10. conrad
    January 14th, 2006 at 08:03 | #10

    I think Iran has more right to have nuclear weapons that either the UK or France since a) Iran is in an especially dangerous part of the world, France and the UK are not; b) France and the UK have large amounts of extremely high quality conventional weapons, Iran does not; c) France and the UK have large amounts of money to buy conventional weapons, Iran does not; and d) if France and the UK got rid of their nuclear weapons, they would have the capacity to build them extremely quickly should the need arise.

  11. Majorajam
    January 14th, 2006 at 10:51 | #11

    To JQ’s comment RE the US and British position on the issue, you’re overlooking the non-trivial issue of the NPT. Of the “good guys” that are nuclear, none are subject to it while public enemy’s numbers 1&2- Iran and the DPRK- are. That, it would seem, would help keep the foreign relation discrimination above the good country bad country fray.

    Notwithstanding NYT opinion pieces or the NPT, the Iranians are in a position of strength vis a vis their aspirations to go nuclear. They are buying billions in weapons from the Russians whose security council vote is clearly for sale, selling energy to China- ditto- and irrespective can make developed countries cry uncle merely by reducing output a smidgeon. This is a done deal.

    Ramifications? I am not one of those who dutifully obeys the obligation to fear Iranians having nukes. This is a country I have far more confidence in than the likes of Pakistan that is probably the most likely Middle Eastern state to have a chance at a liberal democracy in the not-too-distant future. We’re up to our eyeballs in problems in this decade- this one has to fall far down the list.

  12. January 14th, 2006 at 12:55 | #12

    Is anyone else worried about the fact that the spearation of church and state in Australia is retreating! for eg in Western Australia police officers of Islamic and Sikh faiths, and we assume for other religions, will be fitted with religious appropriate uniforms. (see: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17815528-28097,00.html)

    One, how is this new policy in keeping with the important principle concerning the separation of church and state.

    Two, will fundamentalist Christians be able to fix crucifixes to their uniforms, and then what of Satanists? and other religious minorities?

    We touched on this issue at greater depth on our blog.

  13. Ian Gould
    January 14th, 2006 at 13:09 | #13

    Question: are police currently banned from wearign crucifixes while on duty?

    If not, should they be?

  14. January 14th, 2006 at 13:19 | #14

    Sikhs wearing turban as part of their uniform is nothing new. I don’t forsee any specific problem with that. The current police clobber should be suitable for christians.

    Can’t help wondering what will happen when a Nissan Skyline loaded with Lebanese muslim toughs is pulled over for traffic violations by a hijab wearing petite lady constable.

  15. January 14th, 2006 at 13:43 | #15

    SJ: Did you pass reading comprehension? I am suggesting the opposite of cowardly about the russkis. I know very little of Righteous Wet Dripping Bolsheviks, but can imagine that they are not only short of courage principle and work ethic, but also short on contact with soap. (The fellers who give out green left weekly I presume you mean? They are such mental sheep)

    David Tiley: Good point, of course the Iranians are total lunatics. Pakistan will hopefully remain relatively stable, for they have the certain knowledge that India will pounce on them if they show just one hint of craziness. The previous western influence and the sandhurst ethos prevalent within their armed forces is a stabilising factor.

    Iran engages in the hanging (vertical garrotting really) of homosexuals, “adulterous” women, and horrifyingly, girls who are victims of rape. ANY PERSON who suggests there is any sort of moral equivalence between such a sick and sadistic regime, and a western democracy, well they should be in a straightjacket. (Pakistan at least has the death sentence for the perpetrator of rape, rather than the victim, even if not always carried out. These two countries are worlds apart)

    Afrikaners ran South Africa for some 40-odd years. Despite the harsh and unfriendly doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Church, they did not pass laws making homosexuality or adultery capital offences. Nor were their leaders ever “misquoted” as saying that any other sovereign nation should be “wiped off the map”. Capital punishment under Afrikaner South Africa was judicial hanging (the long drop method), rather a contrast to the “necklacing” of a burning rubber tyre preferred by the ANC, and the leadership of Afrikaner South Africa never descended into declaring AIDS to be a bit of “western fakery”, (rather a primitive withdoctery unstable approach to science)

    Afrikaners are guilty of believing they have a divine right to look down on the rest of us, of oppressing minorities, or horrific and shameful injustice to any citizen not an Afrikaner, but they are most definitely NOT an unstable or lunatic political group.

    Iran is fringing on lunacy.

  16. January 14th, 2006 at 15:35 | #16

    The way you stay an official good guy like nuclear Britain and France is by having independent force. It’s a lot like “Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? If it doth, none dare call it treason”.

    Since I’m in a quoting mood, here’s one from Bart Simpson: “Is it St. Swithin’s Day already, Aunt Helga?”. Well, anyway, it’s my birthday and I’m going to eat Chinese (take that how you will).

  17. Will De Vere
    January 14th, 2006 at 17:17 | #17

    According to last night’s news, Iran is still about 50,000 gas centrifugues away from having a decent stream of U-235. Now that we’re all alert to their intentions, how will they easily develop them?

    These centrifugues are ridiculously delicate and temperamental (like many of our fellow interlocutors on Professor Quiggins’ Blog), so there’s endless potential for sabotage and mischief. If the Japanese had been able to infiltrate Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 1943 (OK, I know it would have been a tall order), they could have brought the whole gaseous diffusion system down very easily with a few kilos of whatsit.

    PM Lawrence has said:“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? If it doth, none dare call it treason�.

    One of my favourite quotations, by Sir John Harrington, but I’ve no clue about the original poem or context. I know that it was used in a best-selling Sci Fiction novel.

  18. Harry Clarke
    January 15th, 2006 at 00:49 | #18

    Of course allowing Iran to continue with its nuclear program may accelerate a general trend towards acquiring nuclear weapons in the Middle East. What a nightmare!

    That Iran’s leader has stated that Israel should be wiped-off the face of the map is also particularly significant. I assume the Israelis will intervene militarily before Iran does acquire weapons building capacity so the main issue is whether things should be stopped before this happens. It is obviously better for all non-military options to be exhausted before Israel’s hand is forced.

    I think it is unrealistic to see some sort of equivalence between the right of Iran to have nuclear weapons and the rights of the United States or of Israel. Also the latter have them but Iran currently does not.

    Iran should be and will be stopped from acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. The risk of a catastrophic outcome is intolerably high. Its just a question of when and how.

  19. Steve Munn
    January 15th, 2006 at 00:57 | #19

    Harry Clarke talks perfect sense. Thank Gaia for the ideologically unencumbered.

  20. James Farrell
    January 15th, 2006 at 01:15 | #20


    One could accept all your points and still argue as John does that Britain and France should give up their nuclear bombs. On a Hobbesian argument, you might want the US to keep their bombs; but Russia, China, India and Pakistan will only abandon theirs through a process of multilateral diplomacy in which Britain and France take the lead.


    As it often does your argument has gone over my head. But happy birthday anyway.

  21. Steve Munn
    January 15th, 2006 at 01:53 | #21

    PM Lawrence, we share little in common in terms of political philosophy but 14 January is my birthday also. Congratulations on another year!! I do not agree with much of what you say but I respect your integrity and decency. Regards and best wishes.

  22. Ian Gould
    January 15th, 2006 at 10:04 | #22

    Iran already has an extremely large conventional military.

    It has possessed chemical weapons and ballistic missiles since at least the late 1980’s (when they used both in their war with Iraq).

    Iran almost definitely already has the capacity to build a radiological weapon (dirty bomb). These weapons have limited military use but would be highly effective as terror weapons against a civilian population, forcing the evacuation of areas fro years or decades.

    There are currently no treaty restrictions on Iran developing fuel-air weapons which can have destructive yields equivalent to small nuclear weapons. Developing fuel-air weapons is problems less difficult than developing nuclear weapons.

    The prospect that 5 or 10 years from now Iran might have nuclear weapons is worrying but it represents an escalation in an existing problem not a whole new problem.

    The prospect of massive nuclear retaliation deterred Stalin and Mao from using nuclear weapons. The same threat is currently deterring Kim jong-Il.

    Arguably, the threat of retaliation in kind deterred Hitler from the use of chemical weapons during world War II (although his personal experience of chemical warfare during WWI probably also contributed to that.)

    Before we conclude that a military intervention against Iran is justified, we need to decide just how serious the threat from a nuclear-armed Iran would be.

    I tend to disregard a lot of Ahmenijad’s comments since a.) he’s unlikely to still be in power in 5-10 years time and b.) his power is limited compared to the Expediency Council and Khamenei.

    We also need to consider the likely results in Iraq of a military attack on Iran. We saw in 2004, in the fighting between the US military and Al Sadr’s Mehdi Army that a conflict between the US military and the shia majority would be far bloodier than the current primarily-sunni insurgency. The strongly pro-Iranian SCIRI party and their associated BADR Organisation military are far more powerful than the Mehdi Army.

    Any attack on Iran, even a limited airstrike runs the risk of precipitating a major uprising in Iraq far worse than anything seen there to date.

    A full-scale land invasion of Iran would be a far bigger task than the invasion of Iraq – it’s a much larger and more populous country, its military is in much better shape and there’s no Iranian equivalent of the Afghani Northern Alliance or the Kurdish Peshmurga.

    Given the impact of the Iraqi mission on US (and British) capabilities you’d probably need not just the moral support of France, Germany and other western countries but actual troops from those countries. You might also need troops from other major powers such as Russia and China.

    A decapitation airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities (like the Israeli strike on the Osiraq reactor) is a tempting option – but the Iranians have apaprently spent the nearly twenty years sicne that strike burying their facilities deep underground to guard against such an attack.

    It may be that sanctions (backed with the threat of massive nuclear retaliation) is the best realistic option.

  23. Ugly Dave
    January 15th, 2006 at 11:56 | #23

    Pakistan will hopefully remain relatively stable – that is if we can restrain the Seppos from bombing and killing Pakistan civilians.

    I can understand why the Iranians might want nukes being as they are Shi’a Muslims surrounded by nuclear equipped Sunnis and US occupied Afghanistan to the East, US occupied Iraq to the West, the no doubt nuclear armed US Navy bobbing around in the gulf and an unstable nuclear armed Israel making noises off.

    I don’t approve but I see why they are feeling paranoid.

  24. January 15th, 2006 at 13:56 | #24

    If anybody is interested Israel, Zionism and the future for Middle East peace, may I offer the following:


  25. Ian Gould
    January 15th, 2006 at 14:26 | #25

    The US is reportedly trying to convince arab states to send peacekeepers to Iraq:


    No specific countries are mentioned but supposedly the topic will be raised during an upcoming trip by Dick Cheney to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

    There are some obvious problems with this idea – most obviously convincing the arab leaders to take part and convincing Iraq to accept them after the previous interim government ruled out such aid.

    But if this can be done, it could permit a gradual reduction in US forces before the Iraqi military are ready to handle the insurgents on their own.

    This could prove to be the best news from the middle east for some time.

    (although a contrarian might ask whether creating a unified multinational arab military force for any purpose is necessarily in the long-term interests of the west.)

  26. Simonjm
    January 15th, 2006 at 14:28 | #26

    Ian how about a shoulder launched fuel-air weapons
    Check out their other neat toys! How inventive we humans are at finding better ways to kill ourselves! Who needs AGW.

    Talking about insane, considering how close we went with the Cuban Missle Criss to the real deal and how about the soviet scinetist that wanted to build a super tanker sized nuclear bomb to wipe out all life on Earth if the Soviets lost.

    Don’t forget the numbers in the US that believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, humans walked with dinosaurs and are waiting for the Rapture.

    Now who is insane?

  27. January 15th, 2006 at 19:04 | #27

    JF, I was getting at the way that the informal good guys club was very careful to count anyone who already had nuclear weapons as being entitled to them, when they set it up. And they have allowed a few others in on a de facto basis like India and Israel (though they still disapprove of Pakistan). Anyway, once you’re in you’re in, because they wouldn’t want anyone outside the tent – and the rest of that quotation, which I’m sure JQ would censor, so I won’t complete it.

  28. James Farrell
    January 15th, 2006 at 20:11 | #28

    I see, Peter. Once a country has nuclear weapons the others can’t do much about it, so they’re forced to rewrite the membership criteria. I thought maybe Britain’s having the bomb somehow made you feel more secure, but evidently that isn’t what you meant to convey.

  29. Andrew Reynolds
    January 17th, 2006 at 11:23 | #29

    You may as well regret that Muslim / Western Christianity relations got off to a bad start with the crusades as say we should not be here. Apart from the unrealistic options and blaming the status quo, do you have any real suggestions for what we should do now?
    Thanks for your input, Ian. I would tend to agree with you, the only problem being the Chinese, as they are unlikely to join in the sanctions. Short of a naval blockade, it is difficult to see what could be done.

  30. Will De Vere
    January 19th, 2006 at 06:42 | #30

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has an article (1994) about how Iran began its centrifuge program.


  31. Will De Vere
    January 19th, 2006 at 06:47 | #31

    And more recently and ominously, an article about attacking Iran’s facilities:


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