Tag Archives: atomic weapons

What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told.

Summary:  We’re driven to war like sheep herded by dogs, both sheep and us manipulated by fear.  Today we’re driven to war by fear of what a nuke-armed Iran will do, as described by our ever-hawkish geopolitical experts.  How reliable are their forecasts?  Ninth in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.


  1. Could Iran use nukes to increase its geopolitical influence?
  2. Iran could use nukes for defense
  3. The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran
  4. Is Iran weak or strong?
  5. Is Iran irrational and anti-American?
  6. Other posts in this series
  7. For more information: articles discussing our attempts to stop Iran’s progress towards nukes
  8. Other posts about Iran’s nuke program

(1)  Could Iran use nukes to increase its geopolitical influence?

Paul Pillar examines the ways Iran could use nukes:  “Iran’s Nuclear Oats“, Paul R. Pillar (former National Intelligence Officer), The National Interest, 29 September 2011 — Excerpt:

The alarmism about the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon is unmatched by any comparably intense attention to exactly why such a possibility is supposedly so dire. Among the voluminous opinion pieces, panel discussions, campaign rhetoric, and miscellaneous outcries on facets of this subject, one could search in vain for any detailed analysis of just what difference the advent of an Iranian nuke would make. Most of the discourse on the topic simply seems to take as a given, not needing any analysis, that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be so bad that to prevent it warrants considering even extreme measures

Recently Ash Jain of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy produced what appears to fill this gap. His monograph, titled “Nuclear Weapons and Iran’s Global Ambitions: Troubling Scenarios,” is, at least on the face of it, a serious effort to analyze the regional and global consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons. It is the most extensive consideration of this question I have seen from anyone who clearly believes that an Iranian nuke would be very bad. As such, Jain deserves credit for taking this stab at the subject. As a serious, extensive effort, his paper can be taken as demonstrating the limits of any case about the dangers of Iranian nuclear weapons.

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What happens when a nation gets nukes? Sixty years of history suggests an answer.

Summary:  The drive for war comes from hawks’ terrifying forecasts of what a nuke-armed Iran will do.  Similar warnings were made in the past about today’s nuclear powers.  What does history tell us?  Eight in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.

“The US is almost certain to be the first superpower to need to launch strategic weapons (particularly if not exclusively, in response to some galloping disaster in Europe).”
— Colin S. Gray (strategy expert, Hudson Institute), letter to the New York Times, 11 October 1977


  1. They’ll use nukes!  (“they” = our enemy due jour)
  2. The history of nukes — risky but so far a stabilizing force
  3. Examples:  India/Pakistan, North Korea
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For more information
  6. Other posts about Iran

(1)  They’ll use nukes!  (“they” = our enemy due jour)

A commonplace of the atomic era are warnings by hawks that our enemy due jour will attack first with nukes (ignoring that our behavior was often equally aggressive).  This simple if baseless technique kept hysteria high during the Cold War.  For an example of confident wild guessing of that period see “Why the Soviet Union thinks it could fight and win a nuclear war“, Richard Pipes (Prof Russian History at Harvard), Commentary, July 1977.

Similar warnings about Iran do the same today.  But the Soviet Union was a large power wielding terrifying weapons whose application nobody understood.  Now we repeat that history, but with a small and poor nations — whose conventional military power is inferior to Israel’s, and nothing compared to ours.

(2)  The history of nukes — risky, but so far a stabilizing force

(a)  Nuclear Weapons as a stabilizing element

Despite the hawks warnings, some geopolitical experts saw that nuclear weapons would limit war.  One of the first was Bernard Brodie in The Absolute Weapon (1946).  And so it has proven to be, as he explained in “The development of nuclear strategy“, International Strategy, Spring 1978:

The notion that in an extremely tense crisis, which may include an ongoing theater war, any useful purpose is likely to be served by firing off strategic nuclear weapons, however limited in number, seems vastly to underestimate both the risks to the nation and the burden upon the person who must make the decision.  Divorced from consideration of how human beings actually behave in a crisis, it fits Raymond Aron’s definition of “strategic fiction”, analogous to “science fiction.”

(b)  Fears that other nations (not us) will use nukes irrationally

The claims that Iran will irrationally use the bomb repeat similar fears concerning China, India, and Pakistan.  Martin van Creveld describes the actual history of nukes (so far) in the conclusion to Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict (1993):

Nevertheless there seems to be no factual basis for the claims that regional leaders do not understand the nature and implications of nuclear weapons; or that their attitudes to those weapons are governed by some peculiar cultural biases which make them incapable of rational thought; or that they are more adventurous and less responsible in handling them than anyone else.

… An even more critical reason why regional leaders tend to be at least as careful in handling nuclear weapons as those of the superpowers is the fact that many of these countries are quite small, adjacent to each other, and no separated by any clear natural borders; often they share the same local weather systems and draw their water fro the same river basin.

… Much of the literature on proliferation appears to be distorted, ethnocentric, and self-serving.  it operates on the principle of beati sunt possedentes (blessed are those who are in possession); like the treaties to which it has given rise, its real objective is to perpetuate the oligopoly of the “old” nuclear powers.  To this end regional powers and their leaders have been described as unstable, culturally biased, irresponsible, and what-not.  To this end weapons seen as stabilizing in the hands of the great powers were suddenly described as destabilizing when they spread to other countries.

In practice, the leaders of medium and small powers alike tend to be extremely cautious with regard to the nuclear weapons they possess — the proof being that, to date, in every region where these weapons have been introduced, large-scale interstate warfare has disappeared. … This has been true even when the weapons have been few in number; even when delivery vehicles and methods of command and control were comparatively primitive; even when very great asymmetries existed in the forces of both sides; and even when the entire process was covert rather than overt.

… the virtual disappearance of large-scale interstate warfare from the regions in question does not mean that they are going to be free of armed conflict … The rise in these regions of Low Intensity Conflict represents the sound tactician’s response to nuclear proliferation.  If one cannot bear one’s enemy in a straightforward contest, one can seek to undermine him.

(3)  Examples:  India/Pakistan, North Korea

(a)  Fears that India and Pakistan will nuke each other (14 years later no nukes used)

Nuclear Anxiety, the Rivalry: South Asian Arms Race: Reviving Dormant Fears of Nuclear War“, New York Times, 29 May 1998 — Excerpt:

In a matter of weeks, covert nuclear programs in India and Pakistan, rivals who have three times gone to war, have turned into an open nuclear arms race, raising alarms about what comes next — and where.  Diplomats and arms control experts see this arms race as particularly dangerous because Pakistan and India, unlike the United States and Russia during the cold war, have not held serious negotiations over outstanding problems for decades or concluded agreements that reduced the number of weapons aimed at each other.

These experts now fear that Pakistan and India could be drawn into a nuclear war over Kashmir, a territory that has been in dispute since the two countries gained independence in 1947.

… ”We are at perhaps the most dangerous period since the beginning of the nuclear age — with the exception of the Cuban missile crisis,” said Thomas Graham, a former negotiator for the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who is now president of the independent Lawyers’ Alliance for World Security.

(b)  North Korea

Iran and the Nuclear Paradox“, Robert Farley, World Politics Review, 16 November 2011 — Excerpt:

Existing nuclear powers fear that new entrants will act unpredictably, destabilize regions and throw existing diplomatic arrangements into flux. These predictions almost invariably turn out wrong; nuclear weapons consistently fail to undo the existing power relationships of the international system.

The North Korean example is instructive. In spite of the dire warnings about the dangers of a North Korean nuclear weapon, the region has weathered Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation in altogether sound fashion. Though some might argue that nukes have “enabled” North Korea to engage in a variety of bad behaviors, that was already the case prior to its nuclear test. The crucial deterrent to U.S. or South Korean action continues to be North Korea’s conventional capabilities, as well as the incalculable costs of governing North Korea after a war. Moreover, despite the usual dire predictions of nonproliferation professionals, the North Korean nuclear program has yet to inspire Tokyo or Seoul to follow suit.

The DPRK’s program represents a tremendous waste of resources and human capital for a poor state, and it may prove a problem if North Korea endures a messy collapse. Thus far, however, the effects of the arsenal have been minimal.

(4)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(5)  For more information

  1. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Better“, Kenneth Waltz, Adelphi Papers #171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981) — Events of the past 30 years have impressively validated his theory!
  2. Evaluating the Nuclear Peace Hypothesis – A Quantitative Approach“, Robert Rauchhaus (Prof of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara), Journal of Conflict Resolution, April 2009
  3. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons and International Conflict – Does Experience Matter?“, Michael Horowitz (Prof of Political Science, U Penn), Journal of Conflict Resolution, April 2009
  4. Recommended:  Debunking Myths About Nuclear Weapons and Terrorism“, Stratfor, 29 May 2009
  5. How do states act after they get nuclear weapons?“, James (Prof Political Science, Berkeley), The Monkey Cage, 29 January 2012

(6)  Other posts about Iran

For the full list see the FM Reference Page Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?

  1. Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq , 4 March 2008
  2. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” , 18 March 2008
  3. A militant America, ready for war with Iran , 6 May 2008
  4. ISIS: “Can Military Strikes Destroy Iran’s Gas Centrifuge Program? Probably Not.”, 8 August 2008
  5. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)? Part 1, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran.
  6. Update on the prospects of war with Iran, from Stratfor, 6 September 2008
  7. “Iraq Endgame” by George Friedman, 22 August 2009
  8. Stratfor: “Two Leaks and the Deepening Iran Crisis”, 7 October 2009
  9. This is how a nation thoughtlessly slides into stupid wars, 25 July 2010
  10. America takes another step towards war with Iran, towards the dark side, 3 September 2010

What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program? Enough to start a war?

Summary:  What do we know about Iran’s program to build atomic weapons?  For decades Americans have been subjected to saturation bombing by misinformation and outright lies about Iran.  However the information from our intelligence agencies has painted a more accurate picture, if we choose to see it.  Seventh in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.  Chapters one and two examined the history of warnings about Iran’s nukes (coming really soon), going back to 1984.

Some words to consider before the shooting starts:

“Are they {Iran} trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.”
— SecDef Leon Panetta interviewed on “Face the Nation“, CBS, 8 January 2012

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:32


Let’s not repeat the same mistake we made in Iraq. Before we go to war on the basis of the IAEA’s conclusions, we should know what they said — and see the analysis of outside experts.  The IAEA report is broadly similar to the conclusions of US intelligence (discussed in the previous post).

  1. News articles poking holes in the IAEA’s conclusions
  2. Skeptical analysis of the IAEA report
  3. Excerpts from the latest IAEA report
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. Articles by Stratfor about Iran’s nuclear program
  6. Other posts about Iran

(I)  News articles poking holes in the IAEA’s conclusions

The evidence is strong that the new IAEA report has little new information, does not make the incendiary allegations attributed to it, and  is weakly sourced.

(a)  Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, IAEA, 8 November 2011

(b)  Leaks about one of the two major sources of outside data the IAEA used:

Excerpt from the second article:

When the Cold War abruptly ended in 1991, Vyacheslav Danilenko was a Soviet weapons scientist in need of a new line of work. At 57, he had three decades of experience inside a top-secret nuclear facility and one marketable skill: the ability to make objects blow up with nanosecond precision. Danilenko struggled to become a businessman, traveling through Europe and even to the United States to promote an idea for using explosives to create synthetic diamonds. Finally, he turned to Iran, a country that could fully appreciate the bombmaker’s special mix of experience and talents.

(c)  The IAEA’s narrative starts to crumble
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What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Summary:  What do we know about Iran’s program to build atomic weapons?  For decades Americans have been subjected to saturation bombing by misinformation and outright lies about Iran.  The information from our intelligence agencies has painted a more accurate picture, if we choose to see it.  Sixth in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.


The situation is clear, if we would only make the effort to see what our national eyes tells us.

  1. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran
  2. The new National Intelligence Estimate about Iran
  3. Another perspective on the new NIE
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. Other articles and resources about Iran’s nuclear program
  6. Other posts about Iran and US intelligence resources

(1)  The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran

National Intelligence Estimate Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007  — Despite the hysterical criticism following its release, so far its conclusions have proven correct.

Key Judgements

(A)  We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

(B)  We continue to assess with low confidence that Iran probably has imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material, but still judge with moderate-to-high confidence it has not obtained enough for a nuclear weapon. We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad — or will acquire in the future — a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon. Barring such acquisitions, if Iran wants to have nuclear weapons it would need to produce sufficient amounts of fissile material indigenously — which we judge with high confidence it has not yet done.

(C)  We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them.

(D)  Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications — some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

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What will the world’s tyrants learn from the Libyan War? Get nukes.

Summary:  Events in Iraq and Libya show the two-tier nature of the 21st century geopolitical system.  First tier nations are those with nuclear weapons, or are so large or powerful as to be almost immune from conventional attack.  Everybody else must ally with a great power, or avoid angering them.  As the march of technology makes nukes (and other WMDs) ever easier to use, we can look forward to the next Axis of Evil being far more dangerous.  They’ll devote whatever resources necessary to retain their sovereignty.

From Libya’s Lessons for North Korea, Jeffrey Lewis (Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Monterey Institute of International Studies; bio here), Arms Control Wonk, 21 March 2011:

Hey, remember when Bush Administration officials tried to convince Kim Jong Il that he could get the same denuclearization deal Bush gave Qadhafi? Yeah, the last couple of days might explain why Kim didn’t think it was such a great idea.

From the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK, 22 March 2011:

A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Tuesday as regards the U.S. military attack on Libya:

… The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson. It was fully exposed before the world that “Libya′s nuclear dismantlement” much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one′s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world. The DPRK was quite just when it took the path of Songun and the military capacity for self-defence built up in this course serves as a very valuable deterrent for averting a war and defending peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

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This is how a nation thoughtlessly slides into stupid wars

Summary:  Week after week.  Month after month.  Year after year our national security hawks warn that Iran will have the bomb soon.  advocate war with Iran.   Eventually real experts tire of rebuttals, and the public becomes acclimated to the pending war.  Then, without debate or rational thought, we start a war. This was how Europe slid into WWI.  This was how we slid into Vietnam.  Perhaps this is how we’ll slide into war with Iran.

Today’s soothing warnings that we’ll attack Iran.  How odd that America has found it necessary to attack so many nations during the past century or so.

From the transcript of CNN’s State of the Union, 25 July 2010:

CANDY CROWLEY: Joining me now is Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general in the United States Air Force, former director of the CIA and currently a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security firm in Washington, D.C. … When you left the CIA about two years ago, you said the two biggest problems facing your successor would be the Iranian nuke program and the drug smuggling and the violence from Mexico. Would you change either one of those?

HAYDEN: No, no. To be accurate, counterterrorism was job one. Beyond counterterrorism, I would put counterproliferation as job two. And within counterproliferation, it is inarguably Iran. …

CROWLEY: Do you think, though, there is any answer? Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it? We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

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Conservatives oppose the new START treaty, as they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan

Summary:  About conservatives opposition to arms control treaties, including those that ended radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere and won the Cold War.

Mitt Romeny (“Obama’s worst foreign-policy mistake“, op-ed in the Washington Post) and the Heritage Foundation (“Stop START Now“)  have joined the conservative chorus denouncing the new START treaty.  It’s all lies and misrepresentations, as befits a political movement making the big lie its primary tactic — and implacable opposition to Obama (irrespective of the national interest) its only objective.

So experts must do the yeoman’s work of line-by-line refutations, as Fred Kagan does to Romeny’s rant in “Mitt Romney’s dumb critique of Obama’s New START nuke treaty“, Slate.  (Disclosure:  I voted for Romney in the 2008 Presidential primary)  And Gary Schaub Jr and James Forsyth Jr do more generally in “An Arsenal We Can All Live With“, op-ed in the New York Times.  But a quick look at history puts the conservatives’ complaints in a clearer context.

They opposed the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, stopping open-air nuclear testing — which was rapidly polluting the biosphere.  Even after a full-court press by Kennedy, 19 Senators voted against it.   To get an idea of the results if the conservatives had won, read the National Institute of Health’s pages about exposure to radioactive Iodine-131 from fallout.  However that’s long ago.  Let’s look at the arms control efforts of the Right’s hero, Ronald Reagan.

On 8 December 1987, at Reagan’s third summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, they signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Wikipedia).  This marked the beginning of the end to the cold war, a major step to lifting the threat of global annihilation that had existed for 3 decades.   How did conservatives react to this bold step by their leader?  To cite two of the tsunami of criticism:

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