Monday, March 28, 2005

The Atomic Cocktail

Well, via Drezner, I see that the purpose of blogging is not just “to circulate ideas that are new, or at least new to us…. But every now and then there is something to be said for sheer repetition of the important.”

With that in mind, I’d like to direct your attention to Jimmy Carter’s pretty standard “nuclear proliferation is a major problem and Bush is not doing enough to prevent it” op-ed in the Post today. The column doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It could have been written a year ago, probably even two or three years ago. But it does provide a fairly decent summary of the anti-proliferation movement’s arguments -- if any readers are unfamiliar with the subject. Of course, once Carter moves from general critiques to specific policy prescriptions, his suggestions are pretty unhelpful. For instance, with regard to Iran, Carter declares that “Iran must be called to account and held to its promises under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.

On a similar topic, but much more interesting, are Greg Djerejian’s comments on some remarks by Fred Ickle’s at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ickle had this to say about 60 years of non-use of nuclear weapons:

You probably recall that right after Hiroshima and Nagasaki in '45, military historians asserted that every new powerful weapon has eventually been used in war and so they predicted the atomic bomb would also be used. Now instead we can look back on 60 years of the most extraordinary, most unique revolution in military affairs that I think you'll find anywhere in military history. Namely the uninterrupted non-use of nuclear weapons, the most powerful weapons now in the arsenals of eight countries. At first blush perhaps you'll find this point time-worn and trite. Please reconsider. It's not trite. What happened is that we all became habituated to nuclear non-use among nations. We almost assume it's the law of nature. We do not realize that we are walking on thin ice and the ice is getting thinner because of proliferation.

I'm alluding here not primarily to the often-mentioned threat of nuclear terrorism, but rather to the more pervasive instability of the international system. What I have in mind is illustrated by the agonizing choice that statesmen have to face frequently in deciding between appeasement and escalation. Rolf already referred to that. Presidents, Prime Ministers, often have to agonize, fearing they may be called another Neville Chamberlain, another Munich agreement, or fearing, conversely, that they be condemned by history for dragging the nation into another Vietnam, another quagmire. Now imagine that a serious nuclear use has suddenly occurred, say between India and Pakistan, or between Iran and Iraq, or Iran and Israel, or between North Korea and South Korea, or North Korea and Japan. If that happened,the whole global security system would be transformed within a split second, leaving no time for long consultations, whether or how to counter-attack, whether to appease or to escalate. And it would leave no solution, akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis solution, where it was possible, essentially, to restore the status quo. Once the era of non-nuclear use should end, all the strategic expectations and military plans will radically change.

In these post-9/11 years our anti-proliferation efforts have tended, for good reason, to focus on the threat of nuclear terrorism by al-Qaeda-type, transnational actors. But as Greg notes:

…there remains plenty of instability in the state system itself…that could lead to state actors employing nuclear weaponry…. [M]ore thought at places like the CSIS and Brookings of the world should be given to what the world would look like, say, the day after North Korea lobbed a nuclear warhead at Osaka. It seems improbable perhaps in the extreme, but so were the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground. History is never neat and we still cannot be sure the 21st Century will be less bloody than the 20th. The specter of nuclear terrorism or state use of nuclear weaponry is one of the biggest reasons why. Above and beyond the critical attention that needs to be paid to non-proliferation regimes and efforts.
I agree. There needs to be more focus not just on strengthening non-proliferation regimes, but on how to respond/cope if those regimes fail. What would we do if there were a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India? At the moment, I don’t think anyone has a clear answer...

22 Comments:

Blogger Jack Michaels said...

Of course, one result of nuclear states using nukes aginst each other (i.e. India and Pakistan) might very well be the end of those particular states.

Localized mutual assured destruction. Or "unintentional non-proliferation caused by intentional proliferation".

After all, should those two states nuke each other to the stone age, that would, conceivably, be two less nuclear capable states, although at an incredibly tragic cost.

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