A modest proposal

Britain, France and Germany are busy trying to persuade Iran to abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons, so far with little success. Cajolery and bribery having tried and failed, how about a bit of leadership by example? Two of the three parties in this effort have nuclear weapons of their own, even though they don’t face any conceivable threat of invasion[1]. Perhaps if they agreed to disarm themselves, the Iranians would be impressed enough to follow suit.

OK, I’m joking about Chirac and France. There’s no way that France is ready to admit that it is no longer a Great Power, and certainly Chirac is not the man to start the process. But, why shouldn’t Blair do something like this? It’s a perfect example of the non-ideological willingness to embrace radical alternatives to established dogma that New Labour is supposed to symbolise.

Of course, nuclear disarmament was the subject of bitter dispute within Labour in the 1980s, and disarmaming now would seem to hand a retrospective win to the left. But, if you buy the standard rightwing line on this subject, the nuclear deterrent did its work the day the Soviet Union collapsed, unable to sustain the arms race. Why hang on to it now? The answer, as far as I can see, is the same as for France. With the bomb, Britain is still one of the Big Five. Without it, Britain stands in much the same position as Italy or (a more populous version of) Australia.

As long as France and Britain sustain, by example, the view that having nuclear weapons is critical to being a Great Power, governments everywhere will seek them, whether or not they actually provide any security.

fn1. Like everyone else, the British and French face the threat that some lunatic in Russia will start firing missiles, or that al Qaeda will get its hands on nuclear weapons. But the logic of deterrence doesn’t apply in these cases, so having nuclear weapons of your own is no safeguard against them.

44 thoughts on “A modest proposal

  1. Gary wrote:

    “Doesn’t Israels nukes offset it’s naybers numeric advantage. A kind of M.A.D. in its self and no wars since.”

    1. But Israel repeatedly defeated their neighbours before it acquired nukes.

    Egypt and jordan are both now at peace with Israel, the remaining are countries nominally at war with Israel are too militarily weak and/or too remote to present anything like the threat Egypt once did.

    2. It is inevitable that one or more of the states hostile to Israel will eventually acquire weapons of mass destruction – whether they be nuclear, radionic, chemical or biological. It may take 20, 50 or 100 years but eventually it will happen. At that point Israel’s nuclear deterrent becomes effectively useless.

  2. All the issues that Jack Strocchi mentioned above regarding the inability of the Soviets to compete militarily with the USA are well taken. Indeed, most of the Soviet Army, and even the rank and file of the KGB, withdrew its support from the Communist government in 1991. Their fiasco in Afghanistan was a stark reminder of the technical backwardness of Soviet arms.

    Jack should notice, however, that the point that he extracts from my earlier comment addresses a very narrow point. The Soviets persisted during the 1980s in attempting to achieve first-strike nuclear capability. Those resources, wasted in a game that no nation could win in the context of 100,000 warheads poised to destroy most life on earth, might have been allocated to conventional weaponry for the Soviet Army, or even unconventional weaponry for proxies forces encouraged to do mischief to US interests in places like Iraq or Nigeria.

    My simple point was that the Soviet Union played a very stupid game in relation to nuclear weaponry after the mid-1970s, and that those stupid choices wasted resources that may have been more productively allocated.

  3. “As it seems likely that the US, as will we, be heading out of Iraq in 2006, time to think about Iran as other than a totalitarian and terrorism sponsoring stand alone state, and what the US is doing in Central Asia.”


    Maybe the Bush clique should have thought about these issues before swaggering into Baghdad, guns a-blazing, loyal sidekick Howard astride his Shetland pony, striking a strikingly martial pose in his camo chaps.

    Because, as Juan Cole noted the other day, and as I have been suggesting for some time, the biggest winner in Iraq is Iran, politically united behind a hardliner and bouyed by powerful allies and a major extension of Iranian influence in all the holiest places of Shia Islam, which happen to be in Iraq.

  4. You’re quite right, Katz. In fact, US policy is already showing the strains, on the one hand painting Iran as part of the Axis of Evil and on the other hand delivering power in Iraq to the Badr brigades (armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq).

    Once the US decides to pull out of Iraq, they’ll need to be nice to Iran if the whole place is not to fall to bits.

  5. Sigivald, the Tokugawa shogunate banned gunpowder for a long time.

    New Zealand is in the process of renouncing it’s military.

  6. “1. But Israel repeatedly defeated their neighbours before it acquired nukes.”

    At a vary unsustainable high cost to it’s military personnel. And it was possibility for M.A.D. between the US and USSR that forced them to put a lid on there proxies during the yum kippur war. This failsafe no longer exist.

    The peace between Egypt, jordan and Israel is a payed for (bribed) and can not go on for ever.

    2….”At that point Israel’s nuclear deterrent becomes effectively useless.”

    That was my point. People will feel good for the removal of nukes but don’t think of the consequences that it may just increase the chances of war.

  7. Oh yes. And maybe if the Queensland police disarmed, criminals would be so impressed that they would not commit any more crime.

    And maybe if Britain and France diarmed in 1938, Hitler would have been so impressed as to have dropped his dacks and bent over for Neville Chamberlain at Munich.

    When, in the history of all mankind, has this tactic worked?

    Quiggin, you and your utterly cretinous, ignoramus third-rate-hack mate, Gruen, are dangerous idiots.

  8. 1.

    Actually Israel casualties in its wars with the arabs have been remarkably low.

    For example: “Meanwhile, the IDF ground forces quickly overran the Egyptian army in Sinai and were about to reach Alexandria. About 15,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed, 4482 fell into captivity and 80% of the Egyptian tanks were destroyed. 338 Israeli were killed in Sinai and the Israel losses there were about 63 tanks.”


    2. Glad you agree that Israel’s nuclear deterrent is an ultimately futile and self-defeating exercise.

  9. I essentially agree with both Katz & Jack.
    Iran is getting Nuclear arms for the major reason all nations do defensive reasons.
    Once you have them no nation will attempt to invade or do battle with you.

    nuclear arms are only offensive arms if the other nations do not have them.

    Look at the US reaction to North Korea visavis Iraq.

    Iran will not disarm and the cost of military action is now too high for the US or surrogate like Israel to do anything.

  10. Ian, add casualties on all fronts, add the populations of the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordan ‘v’ the Israels (or only the military personnel if you like). Then the unsustainable attrition rate becomes more clear.

    “2. Glad you agree that Israel’s nuclear deterrent is an ultimately futile and self-defeating exercise.”

    Only if the balance gets tipped back in favor of the aggressor if nukes are removed or both sides have them.

  11. Iran’s desire to acquire a nuclear capability is entirely rational. This is why the hysterical right has so much trouble understanding it.

  12. Irans’ desire to acquire nuclear weapon capability has to be seen in the context of their often stated aim to wipe out Israel.

  13. The simple point of the matter is, Iran will get nukes soon, it seems perfectly inevitable. And there is nothing that anyone can do about it. Invasions are totally wishful thinking, “surgical strikes” merely piss the iranians off and guarantee their non-cooperation.

    Taiwan should get nukes next.

  14. Wilful: Absolutely correct, Taiwan’s comparitive defencelessness is yet to impress China into toning down the invasion threats, or disarming, or anything else.

    JQ: For a while there every second post in this thread read like the script from a western movie. Sorry for the saloon brawl analogy which started it. Never did belive in analogies (or reenactments).

  15. There are three requirements for the US to invade a country.
    1. It must be worth it. Iran’s got oil.
    2. The country to be invaded can be portrayed as the ultimate threat. easy with Iran and those “mad mullahs”.
    3. The country must be largely defenceless.
    Iran vs USA in conventional warfare = no contest
    Iran cannot do anything about points 1 and 2 but they certainly can do something about point 3 by acquiring nuclear weapons.
    Has anyone even considered how things have changed in Iran after it was labled an access of evil country? The democracy movement has been silenced, the hardliners are being backed into the corner, and their nuclear program has been stepped up.
    Just another superb example of Bush stupidity and the inevitable consequences of the “good” vs “evil” paradigm established by the neo-cons.

  16. Why, the most important reason and requirement for an invasion is that the country refuse to bow and kiss Uncle Sam’s ring and share the loot. Iranians could’ve done that, like the Saudis, Jordanians and Egyptians. But they just don’t know what’s good for them, stupid bastards.

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