Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lessons from the Smiling Buddha

Smiling Buddha was the code name for India's 1974 test explosion of its first nuclear "device." India was the sixth nation to develop nuclear weapons, the first five being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In response to the Smiling Buddha test, an editorial in the June 1974 edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) observed:

[India's] acquisition of nuclear weapons... is an ominous portent. Israel has probably acquired such weapons, Egypt may do it, and Pakistan probably will try... America, Britain, Russia, China and, not least of all, France have shown the weaker countries the way: national pride requires muscle, which means nuclear muscle... The arms race has its own mad logic and India has done little more than follow it.

Going backward, we can see the same mad logic at work when China became the fifth nuclear nation. Shortly after the Chinese test, Dr. Bernard T. Feld (who worked on the Manhattan project) wrote in the December 1964 BAS,
The fundamental problem is that the nuclear supoerpowers continue to rely on nuclear weapons as a major ingredient of their military forces... With each addition to the nuclear club, it will become more difficult to hold the line. Thus, today, it may still be possible to convince India, for example, that Chinese nuclear weapons need not be matched by an Indian nuclear force. But will it be possible to convince Israel not to match Egypt, or vice versa...?

Going further back, to the year before France would become the fourth nuclear power, David Inglis warned of the dangers of the forthcoming test in his January 1959 BAS article titled, "The Fourth-Country Problem: Let's Stop at Three." Wrote Dr. Inglis,
If France does carry through and become number four, as widely anticipated, there will probably be no stopping Communist China, perhaps as the fifth country.

We should take away three lessons from the Smiling Buddha and all the tests that have come before and since. First, nuclear weapons are so obviously vital to the national security of a state that feels threatened that even a Gandhi will build them. Second, deterrence apparently can be made to work in a multilateral context across the developed and developing worlds: apocalyptic pronouncements are unwarranted. Third, we can learn to cooperate with our nuclear neighbors. Bush's 2006 nuclear agreement with India shows how far we have come in the past thirty-three years.

It is time our leaders acknowledge the simple truth that the mad logic driving Iran's nuclear program is the same logic that has driven nuclear proliferation for sixty years. Iran will follow the path blazed by Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea (and probably also Israel) and no threats or hand-wringing over the "Nth Country" will stop them. By declaring a nuclear Iran to be "unacceptable" and hinting at military action we merely compound the mad logic with urgency. We should instead begin preparing a new world order that includes a place at the table for a nuclear Iran.


The Law Talking Guy said...

I agree that threatening military action is exactly the wrong way to prevent proliferation of nuc-u-lar weapons. Where the USA in particular demonstrates the will and ability to overthrow governments in a stroke without any regard for international security regimes (Iraq, Afghanistan), other countries will feel that only a nuclear trump card can provide safety. This is particularly acute for Iran, which is between Iraq and Afghanistan. If Iran felt reasonably secure without a nuclear weapon, it would be a lot less likely to spend the money to get one. On the other hand, a demonstrated commitment to multilateralism and international institutions in the use of force (e.g., Gulf War I, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo) reduces the impetus to proliferation. It's a slow process, of course, similar to the way decreases in crime (and decreases in reports of crime) can slowly persuade suburbanites not to bother with gun ownership.

It may be too late to prevent a nuclear Iran, because too much water is under the bridge. We have little hope of enough time passing for the Iranians to gradually come to the belief that nuclear weapons are a waste of money. But it is not too late to contain the further spread of nuclear weapons elsewhere. That will require, however, a sincere change in US policy. (This is, btw, also why I view with some trepidation Obama's threats to Pakistan).

The India deal is also a huge problem. In addition to the security mentioned above, nonproliferation does have a "stick" - the threat of international isolation. For already-isolated Iran and N. Korea, this isn't much of a threat. For India and Pakistan, it is much more of a threat. Our obvious unwillingness to follow through now with Israel and India is "proof" to those in countries contemplating nuclear weapons that there is no real downside.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes, LTG is right to point out that this is about Iran's governments recognizing that they face a major conventional threat (US) that they cannot hope to counter without nukes.

India's nuke test came at a time when militarized conflict with China was a real issue. Nukes were needed.

This is far more concrete than anthropomorphized "pride" and such. The good news is that because there are real, tangible reasons for proliferation, there is something we can do about...or at least there was. Now that we're stuck in Iraq, there is no way for us to back off in such a way to make Iranian leaders feel safer without making them think they chased out with their nuke program.

Whether Iranian nukes are acceptable or not is not the point. We're going to HAVE to accept them and we send the "Thank you" card to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The Law Talking Guy said...

If the world's only superpower declared my little country to be part of an Axis of Evil, I would be desperate for the nuclear trump card too. In the context RBR describes created by Bush and Cheney - the threat of the application of overwhelming US conventional force - there is nothing we can do to dissuade Iran from its course of action. Targeted airstrikes become gradually more reasonable as the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice force us down this path to war. World War I owes much of its genesis to conventional military postures that gradually made pre-emptive war (by Germany) seem preferable to peace. I mention this because I had THOUGHT we had learned this stuff already!

Under the NPT regime, acquisition of nuclear weapons are, or should be, costly: they are monstrously expensive to produce and will cause your country to be economically and politically isolated. To make the cost-benefit analysis favor nondevelopment, the conventional threat must be reduced.
I also fear Russia's efforts tor try to defuse the situation in its crude way. Russia is posturing towards an alliance with Iran. If Iran has Russia's "protection," it may not need the bomb on its own. Fine, but that's the cold war all over again. Well, that's better than a rogue Iran with nuclear weapons.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yep. A nuke program is costly. I wonder where Iran is getting their money? Oh, that's right...record high oil prices! Another "thank you" card for George and Dick.

Both of our biggest pains in the but (Russia and Iran) are only a pain at all because of record high oil prices. Imagine a world where we can dramatically reduce demand for oil (by transforming our transportation systems over to electric motors and hybrids). In such a world, we would be far less vulnerable to all the nonsense in the Middle East and our likely enemies would be weaker. Win-win!

But no. We have a GOP that slavishly caters to the minority in our country that benefit from high oil prices. It's no coincedence that both our President and VP are oil men at a time when every policy we take seems designed to increase demand for oil and decrease the reliability of its supply. No wonder Bush liked Putin at first, they had the same strategic goal!

Dr. Strangelove said...

I was wondering if the record high oil prices might simply be a result of the record weak dollar, rather than an underlying instability in the markets. Does that make sense to anyone else?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Not sure. US Dollars are the standard currency of the crude oil market.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Yes, I know that. My concern is that the weak dollar could fuel (forgive the pun) a move to the Euro or some other currency.

Raised By Republicans said...

One crude way to find out is to ask our friends in countries that have relatively strong currencies against the dollar if they think gas prices are unusually high.

I know I've heard economists (actually a former central banker at a conference on the Euro), say that gas prices in Europe may be high but would be even higher if the Euro weren't so strong against the US Dollar.

That said, I have heard a number of economic commentators remark that oil prices are genuinely high and that these high prices are driving a surge of prosperity in Russian cities - especially Moscow and Petersburg.