April 09, 2006

Quotable

"The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels...Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it's going to be very difficult to do."

Ken Pollack, on the latest Washington scuttlebutt re: what might be required to take out Iran's underground nuke facilities. More from Sy Hersh:

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete...

...The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. “The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.”

Developing, as they say. For now, however, note I think this kind of talk about use of nuclear bunker-busters is more by way of psy-ops, meant to supplement so-called 'coercive diplomacy' style efforts to focus minds in Teheran. But let's steer clear of polemics in comments below, and analyze as soberly as possible, how far, really, people believe Iran is from wielding a nuclear weapon? To get debate going, see this excerpt from the Hersh story:

While almost no one disputes Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is intense debate over how soon it could get the bomb, and what to do about that. Robert Gallucci, a former government expert on nonproliferation who is now the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, told me, “Based on what I know, Iran could be eight to ten years away” from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon. Gallucci added, “If they had a covert nuclear program and we could prove it, and we could not stop it by negotiation, diplomacy, or the threat of sanctions, I’d be in favor of taking it out. But if you do it”—bomb Iran—“without being able to show there’s a secret program, you’re in trouble.”

Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, told the Knesset last December that “Iran is one to two years away, at the latest, from having enriched uranium. From that point, the completion of their nuclear weapon is simply a technical matter.” In a conversation with me, a senior Israeli intelligence official talked about what he said was Iran’s duplicity: “There are two parallel nuclear programs” inside Iran—the program declared to the I.A.E.A. and a separate operation, run by the military and the Revolutionary Guards. Israeli officials have repeatedly made this argument, but Israel has not produced public evidence to support it. Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term, told me, “I think Iran has a secret nuclear-weapons program—I believe it, but I don’t know it.”

In recent months, the Pakistani government has given the U.S. new access to A. Q. Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani atomic bomb. Khan, who is now living under house arrest in Islamabad, is accused of setting up a black market in nuclear materials; he made at least one clandestine visit to Tehran in the late nineteen-eighties. In the most recent interrogations, Khan has provided information on Iran’s weapons design and its time line for building a bomb. “The picture is of ‘unquestionable danger,’ ” the former senior intelligence official said. (The Pentagon adviser also confirmed that Khan has been “singing like a canary.”) The concern, the former senior official said, is that “Khan has credibility problems. He is suggestible, and he’s telling the neoconservatives what they want to hear”—or what might be useful to Pakistan’s President, Pervez Musharraf, who is under pressure to assist Washington in the war on terror....

...Cirincione called some of the Administration’s claims about Iran “questionable” or lacking in evidence. When I spoke to him, he asked, “What do we know? What is the threat? The question is: How urgent is all this?” The answer, he said, “is in the intelligence community and the I.A.E.A.” (In August, the Washington Post reported that the most recent comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate predicted that Iran was a decade away from being a nuclear power.)

So, the question on the table is, how far away is Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? Two months? One year? Three years? Half a decade? A decade? Longer? I'm more with Gallucci than Khan, by the way, and it appears our National Intelligence Assessment also is on the record estimating an approximately ten year time frame. I'm willing to be persuaded it's closer to five years, perhaps, but I certainly don't see an Iranian bomb by the end of Bush's term. So let's put the below excerpt from Hersh's piece in perspective, keeping in mind Sy Hersh, shall we say, has a tendency to be a tad hyperbolic:

Bush and others in the White House view him [Ahmadi-Nejad] as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”

Let's put aside, at least for now, whether what Hersh writes is true--that Bush views an attack on Iran as his ultimate legacy. Let's ask instead, if an Iranian bomb is at least 5 years away, and we don't even know who will be in power in Iran half a decade or a decade hence (it's hard to imagine Ahmadi-Nejad lasting that long, that is, unless we attack), why rush and risk another massive blunder planned by the very same team that, at least to date, has rendered Iraq something of a shambles? Frankly, I'd rather push the diplomatic track to the maximum through Bush's term and see, say, a McCain Administration better address this looming crisis, at least if we have the luxury of time, which I believe we do.

Why? Because I have no faith in the basic competence of the current Administration (particularly with the current leadership at the Pentagon still in place) to mount an operation this complex (keeping in mind the likely spill-over effects of major airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan), sadly. Maybe I'm being unfair. But my musings at least have the benefit of being sincere. Other reasons to wait several more years before taking serious military action? Airstrikes in my view will cause a massive nationalist backlash in Iran. If we mean to create conditions whereby a more moderate, rational government can emerge there, air strikes will have the opposite impact. It will become a matter of urgent national pride for the Iranians to develop a weapon, across the political spectrum, to include many reformists. Also, the gates of hell will open in southern Iraq too, where the Iranians will likely swoop into Basra in a major land-grab play. And with Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan still so unstable--I believe that the regional situation could truly implode in disasterous fashion if a military option were pursued in Iran too hastily (look for major Iranian trouble-making post-air strikes in Herat province too). By 2010 or 2011, say, Iraq might be on firmer footing, as well as Afghanistan (or not, but we can hope...). Diplomatic avenues will have been pursued to the absolute maximum. Iran might actually truly be on the cusp of having a bomb. A new President with more credibility will be in the Oval Office, not suffering as direct a credibility issue as Bush given the Iraq WMD fiasco. For all these reasons and more that I'll detail in coming days, it is of critical importance that the Iran situation be approached with utmost caution, coherence, and responsibility--not in a climate of ginned up hysteria about a new Hitler wielding a nuke within the year.


Posted by Gregory at April 9, 2006 04:44 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Jacqueline Shire, who has some background at the State Dept. in this area and is the present guest at BloggingHeads.tv, says that Iran has said that it intends to install and operate 3000 centrifuges within a year, and that 3000 centrifuges will produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb over the course of a year. That yields an estimate that Iran could have a nuclear bomb within two years, but (per Shire) it assumes that Iran would not run into any technical problems in installing and operating a system of centrifuges that is more than an order of magnitude larger than the number it operates today. I don't know if there are other technical issues that would have to be resolved before Iran could build a bomb; I don't think Shire addressed that. In any case, I believe the lower bound is two years, and (IIRC) the consensus estimate (per Shire) is somewhere around six years.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim at April 9, 2006 05:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"So, the question on the table is, how far away is Iran from getting a nuclear weapon? Two months? One year? Three years? Half a decade? A decade? Longer?"

Greg, I really don't mean this to be a flip question; but, when one is discussing the possible actions of the Bush Adminstration in relation to Iran, what difference does it make HOW long the Iranians are from nuclear-weapons capability?

As we saw with Iraq, this Adminstration has openly shown its willingness to disregard intelligence that doesn't fit its preceonceived rationales for "action": why on earth do you think the actual potential timetable for an Iranian Bomb would matter at all to the White House? If they are considering a military strike, why would the US election schedule not provide a better timetable (on the "better sooner than later" principle - AND they might get an electoral boost from it)?

Posted by: Jay C at April 9, 2006 05:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you're absolutely right that a military "solution" implemented by this crew is far more likely to be disaster than to be succesful. So can we count on you to vote for and provide maximum support to Democratic congressional candidates in the fall? Because, frankly, a Democratic congress is the only thing that might stop Bush if he is convinced he needs to go down the military path.

"Mr. President, I recommend against military action because you and your advisors are incompetent" isn't exactly going to work as an argument.

Posted by: weichi at April 9, 2006 06:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bin Laden is laughing his ass off.

Posted by: Uncle Sam at April 9, 2006 06:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Under Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guards have expanded their power base throughout the Iranian bureaucracy; by the end of January, they had replaced thousands of civil servants with their own members. One former senior United Nations official, who has extensive experience with Iran, depicted the turnover as “a white coup,” with ominous implications for the West. “Professionals in the Foreign Ministry are out; others are waiting to be kicked out,” he said. “We may be too late. These guys now believe that they are stronger than ever since the revolution.” He said that, particularly in consideration of China’s emergence as a superpower, Iran’s attitude was “To hell with the West. You can do as much as you like.”

What do people think about this paragraph? The dovish side of the aisle on the Iran question has often argued that Ahmadinejad actually has little power under Iran's political system. Hersh's UN source is saying that he is working hard - and successfully - to increase his power. How does this change the equation, assuming it is accurate?

Posted by: weichi at April 9, 2006 06:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's be responsible for a minute here.

Threatening tactical nukes is not "psy ops". This is not "coercive diplomacy". Do you honestly think Tehran is going to react positively and constructively to these developments?

Posted by: Chris at April 9, 2006 08:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I do agree with you on this: "Airstrikes in my view will cause a massive nationalist backlash in Iran."

Let's add that tactical nukes will basically send the Iranian street into a lunny tailspin.

Hersh seems to be pressing (or his sources through Hersh) for this option to be disavowed in the White House. That must be done.

Posted by: Chris at April 9, 2006 08:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In international terms, here are the arguments for attacking now:

1. The longer we wait, the deeper the iranians can dig. So the longer we wait the more certainly we'll need nukes for the attack.

2. The longer we wait, the worse off we'll be in iraq. The longer we wait the better organised the iranians will be to supply iraqi dissidents. So the longer we wait, the more certainly we can expect a disaster in iraq in response.

2'. If we wait until after we withdraw from iraq then we'll lose the iraqi airbases. The attack will be harder to do.

3. The longer we wait, the more preparation time russia and china have to arrange to profit from our attack. They can arrange mutual defense treaties with iran, they can prepare UN denunciations and so on, they can perhaps get iran to let them have military bases in iran, etc. They can make deals with every country that's afraid of the USA because of what we do to iran.

4. The longer we wait, the more our military will have degraded. With the war sucking up funding, maintenance budgets suffer, refurbishment is delayed, etc. And inflation is starting to reduce the effective budget too. This is likely to get worse in the next few years.

All put together, it's now or never. The cjhance of an adequate outcome, not a good chance now, will only get worse if we do it later.

Then there are the domestic concerns.

1. The longer we wait, the more the public will harden its attitude against the coming war.

2. The longer we wait, the more evidence will come out about what a stupid idea it is.

3. If we wait until after the congressional elections, Democrats are likely to make more trouble about it. But if it's done before the elections iran will declare war and we will truly be a wartime nation going into the elections. If done soon enough, we will get some sabotage incidents that will allow us to intern and disenfranchise a million iranian-american citizens before the elections, the large majority of whom would have voted Democrat.

4. The longer we wait, the more the arguments will clarify. Those arguments basicly are:

0: We can't let iran have nukes so we have to do whatever it takes to delay them.
I: Attacking iran at this point is insane and no good can come of it.

Better for Bush if those arguments stay unclear.

Some of these arguments are stronger than others. Possibly our military isn't getting weaker at all, my evidence that it is depends on personal conversations with a few military contractors. But many of them are strong. If we're going to attack iran at all, the sooner the better. Our ability to succeed -- never high -- goes down with time.

I remember the discussions before the first Gulf war. I said, "What if Saddam agrees to evacuate kuwait and make reparations, couldn't we avoid the war then?" And somebody who knew a lot about the military -- I forget now whether it was Tom Holsinger or who -- explained that saudi arabia was close to sinking from the weight of the bombs we had stored there, and no way were we going to go home until those bombs had been expended. At the time I thought that was a frivolous statement. Sort of tail wagging the dog. But after I thought it out, I saw that we'd put a year into planning the war and preparing the munitions etc. And if we didn't follow the plan we'd be caught flat-footed, without a plan. What to do with the munitions? Move them elsewhere? Leave them in arabia and guard them? Move them out and watch Saddam act up and we have to move them back in?

Once the plans are set we have to follow them. Like WWI. We can fine-tune the plans up until the war's over, but we can't just stop once they've been set into motion. And they've been set into motion now, we're already moving the munitions into place. Back in October 2005 we got rumors that the attack would be at the end of March. The reasoning was that the planning was advanced enough to start moving the supplies in late September, and it would take until the end of March to be ready. That was our very first chance, assuming things went right and the schedule didn't slip a few weeks.

But it didn't happen. The schedule has already slipped nearly 2 weeks.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 9, 2006 08:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels...

Let's add that tactical nukes will basically send the Iranian street into a lunny tailspin.

Hersh seems to be pressing (or his sources through Hersh) for this option to be disavowed in the White House. That must be done.

What good is it to avoid an iranian lunny tailspin if they don't actually take out the nukes?

These guys may be completely insane but they aren't completely stupid. If the only way to make a successful strike is to use nukes, then they'll use nukes. They won't settle for a failed strike.


And consider how much easier iraq would be now if we'd taken out their WMD sites with nukes. There wouldn't be any proof they didn't have nukes, the evidence would all be vaporised.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 9, 2006 08:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, It is obvious that Iran wants and will eventually get an arsanel of nuclear weapons. With the Bush administration threatening war with Iran on a daily basis there is nothing that can stop them from developing a deterance to this aggression.

With the mess Bush has already gotten us into it is insane to even contemplate military action against Iran in a pre-emptive attempt to stop their nuclear program. And threatening to use nuclear weapons to stop them from developing nuclear weapons is not only stupid it is counterproductive, whose logic, when widely adopted, would eventually result in a pre-emptive strike against the United States.

It is time to start planning for a nuclear Iran. Mutual Assured Destruction worked before, it will work again.

We can thank the conservatives for this mess. God damn them all.

Posted by: ken at April 9, 2006 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Much to chew on here...

First, the time frame:

Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk has figured that the Iranian's are at least three and more realistically 5 years away. He bases this on the status of technical expertise the Iranians have with centrifuges and believes even in a crash program, it would take them 3 years to get enough of them working in tandem to deliver a usuable amount of HE U-235.

The "magic number" of centrifuges appears to be about 1500. Here's a timeline developed by two nuclear scientists regarding Iran's accelerated program:

*******

"So, the real question, however, is how quickly Iran could assemble and operate 1,500 centrifuges in a crash program to make enough HEU for one bomb (say 15-20 kg).

Albright and Hinderstein have created a notional timeline for such a program:

Assemble 1,300-1,600 centrifuges. Assuming Iran starts assembling centrifuges at a rate of 70-
100/month, Iran will have enough centrifuges in 6-9 months.

Combine centrifuges into cascades, install control equipment, building feed and withdrawal systems, and test the Fuel Enrichment Plant. 1 year

Enrich enough HEU for a nuclear weapon. 1 year

Weaponize the HEU. A “few” months.

Total time to the bomb—about three years."

*******

Shortcuts through the process include being able to purchase HE uranium from a third party (NoKo or Pakistan) and forgoing the construction of an implosion device in favor of the cruder but very effective gun design.

Clearly, the Irainians are not "months" away from having a workable bomb.

Regime Change:

Greg makes the point that regime change to a more "moderate" variety of theocracy might be helpful. I think that this is wishful thinking. Do not underestimate the powerful feelings engendered among ordinary Iranians about the prospect of getting the bomb. And let's not forget that the so-called moderate ex-President Khatami continued the nuke program started by that other famous moderate Rafsanjani - who started the nuclear program in the late 1980's. I don't think anything except a puppet American government in Iran would give up the nuclear program.

Tactical Nukes:

I'm 100% with Greg. This is pure bluff. The B61-11 (from my understanding) penetrates only 70 feet or so before detonating. Regarding fallout, they may as well detonate such a device on the surface. The acres of soil vaporized will cause a lot of particulates to become airborne and drift - depending on the wind - probably close to Russian territory. Any one want to guess what Putin would do if he was suddenly faced with a cloud of radioactive fallout drifting his way as a result of an American attack on Iran? He may do a little more than turn in his Official USA Fan Club card.

Greg is correct in our having some time. The question is what do we do with it? With regime change a pie in the sky and bombing a nightmare replete with all the fallout mentioned in this peice, it appears to me that the only rational course is accepting the inevitable and working to contain the threat.

Unsatisfactory to be sure. But that's life sometimes. No good choices means no good outcomes. Best deal with the situation as it presents itself and not as we would wish it to be.


Posted by: Rick Moran at April 9, 2006 10:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well frankly , the Ayyranians should be mighty satisfied and thankful already for el Chimpresidente nukular supreme de la White Casa knocked their archenemy for them and handed them (via their SCIRI cum Da’awa stooges) two thirds of Ayyraq on a silver plate!

Plus the Persians got all that for free: future generations of infidel American taxpayers will generously pick the estimated 2 trillion dollars tab- George W’s contribution to the Koranic jurisprudential concept of “Jiziyah”…

As a seasoned Sassanid sophist might have said: With foes like these, who needs friends?

Posted by: Dr Victorino de la Vega at April 9, 2006 11:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Attacking Iran will only strengthen the belief that Bush is waging a war against Muslims.

This will make things very difficult for Musharraf in Pakistan, who after an attack on Iran will probably be taken out by Islamists in his government.

Then bin Laden gets nukes.

Posted by: Jon H at April 9, 2006 11:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's all very well to explain why it is insensible to launch a nuclear attack on Iran, and point out the enmity and hatred that will breed against the US, and how it will harden the hearts of all the moderate leaders against the US, and how it will paint the US every more vividly as the world's most dangerous terrorist state, and how it may well lead to nuclear weapons being sold or stolen by terrorists.

But, what good does such talk of sensibility do, in the face of the current US administration?

The question is, what is the reality in which they keep Bush immersed, and is there any hope of bending it to prevent nuclear disaster?

What macho point of pride can be offered to Bush, do discourage him from such a disaster? And who could offer it?

Posted by: John Commentator at April 10, 2006 12:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I missed the day in Civics class when it was explained that the U.S. is the ultimate arbiter of who's allowed to have a Bomb, and that we reserve the right to unilaterally, preemptively attack any nation that tries to build a Bomb without our approval.

This is hubris, and it is going to get one or more of our cities vaporized by a terrorist nuke attack.

Right now, al-Qaeda & a few of its admirers are probably the only crazies who would actively pursue nuking a U.S. city.

After we attack Iran, they will have a lot of company.

Posted by: Anderson at April 10, 2006 12:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If we use a nuke to knock out a facility 75 feet underground, won't they just decide to build their next one 1000 feet down?

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 10, 2006 12:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On the timing issue, the NYRB (yes, I know) has this:

If Iran refuses to comply with such demands, as it has vowed to do, and continues the uranium enrichment program that it started in January, a senior British official expects it to have acquired "the technology to enable it to develop a nuclear weapon" by the end of this year.

The official, who spoke anonymously to British newspapers following Iran's referral to the Security Council, was referring to Iran's impending mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle, a prerequisite both to generating electricity and building a bomb. But he acknowledged that even with this technology, it would still take several years for Iran to build a serviceable weapon.I like this because it sounds like a factual basis from which disparate reports ("one year!" "many years!") could have come.

Whole article is worth a look.

Posted by: Anderson at April 10, 2006 01:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hm, my text got garbled in my 1:18 comment; blockquote should end after "serviceable weapon."

Posted by: Anderson at April 10, 2006 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

old seymour is at it again. yellow journalism is his stock and trade. this time he brings out the real bogeyman—tactical nuclear bombs, as the crowds duck and cover. there’s his article and then there’s this

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/dshtw.htm

it is some version of that or a newer big brother that will be doing the heavy lifting if that day comes. seymour is no dummy. these weapons are so huge that they leave a mushroom cloud if detonated on the surface. his next story will be, screaming at the pentagon to prove that the mushroom clouds that everybody saw weren’t nuclear. of course iran will say they were and all the world’s double digit IQ’ers will believe them until years later when the truth comes out. the damage will have been done—seymour’s original intent!

Posted by: patrick neid at April 10, 2006 06:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Change your policy toward others and respect their culture and you have peace on this planet. In the mean time look up Bush, the guy is a born idiot!

Posted by: peter holz at April 10, 2006 07:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How much access does Iran have to Iraq's former nuclear scientists?

If there is considerable access, Iran may be far closer to having nukes than we currently believe....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 10, 2006 08:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P Lukasiak, why would you think iraqi nuclear scientists were ever ahead of iranian nuclear scientists?

Access to pakistani, south african, or taiwanese nuclear scientists would be more important. Somebody who actually got results.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 10, 2006 08:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Patrick Neid, I'm glad you agree that it would be insane for us to follow the plan Hersh laid out. The fewer crazy people discussing this the better.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 10, 2006 08:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would simply like to point out that there seems to be a common belief that a nuclear armed Iran would be a giant problem and that the principle point of difference in this discussion is when that is likely to occur. Those that favor intervention use the shorter term and those opposed argue for a longer term. The plain fact is that this is entirely guesswork. Whether the Iranians can effectively centerfuge uranium hexafloride and then reconvert the rough stuff into the metallic form, and then machine it to the right shape, and then create an effective detonation system, and then to get this to work on a delivery vehicle, is a wonderful subject of debate. However, the consequences of not being correct could be serious indeed.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at April 10, 2006 11:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I should have posted the following:

"Uranium hexafluoride, or UF6, is a compound used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It forms solid grey crystals at standard temperature and pressure (STP), is highly toxic, reacts violently with water and is corrosive to most metals. It reacts mildly with aluminum, forming a thin surface layer of AlF3 that resists further reaction.

Milled uranium ore — U3O8, or "yellowcake" — is dissolved in nitric acid, yielding a solution of uranyl nitrate UO2(NO3)2. Pure uranyl nitrate is obtained by solvent extraction, then treated with ammonia to produce ammonium diuranate (ADU). Reduction with hydrogen gives UO2, which is converted with hydrofluoric acid (HF) to UF4. Oxidation with fluorine finally yields UF6. It is used in both of the main uranium enrichment methods, gaseous diffusion and the gas centrifuge method, because it has a triple point at 64°C (147°F, 337 K) and slightly higher than normal atmospheric pressure. Additionally, fluorine has only a single stable naturally occurring isotope, so isotopes of UF6 differ in their molecular weight based solely on the uranium isotope present.

Gaseous diffusion requires ca. 60 times as much energy as the gas centrifuge process; even so, this is just 4% of the energy that can be produced by the resulting enriched uranium."

You have to be pretty good chemists to pull this off and then separate the U238 from the U235. The reagents are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. I wonder how many Iranian lab technicians will be injured or killed in the process. HF will eat up just about anything including glass, let alone human parts.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at April 10, 2006 11:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would simply like to point out that there seems to be a common belief that a nuclear armed Iran would be a giant problem and that the principle point of difference in this discussion is when that is likely to occur.

Well, no. There's a common belief that iran is heading toward a bomb. And the principle point of difference is whether Bush is crazy enough to do a nuclear strike on iran, or whether he's only crazy ejnough to do a conventional strike on iran.

Presumably the nuclear strike is a worse disaster, but given how bad we can get it from a conventional strike I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of difference.

Dead is dead, after all.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 02:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I think this kind of talk about use of nuclear bunker-busters is more by way of psy-ops..."

Part of the incentive structure surrounding nuclear (non-)proliferation is that the nuclear powers pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers. The idea is that developing nuclear weapons not only allows you to use nuclear weapons against other nations; it also allows other nations to use nuclear weapons against you. This means that there is a downside to developing nuclear weapons which, we hope, when combined with other incentives, will make it less likely for countries to decide to develop nuclear weapons.

Bush is changing this incentive structure by making the pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers less believeable. I agree that the talk of using nuclear weapons against Iran is probably a bluff, but the whole point of a bluff is that it has to be at least somewhat believeable, and this one is.


"I have no faith in the basic competence of the current Administration (particularly with the current leadership at the Pentagon still in place) to mount an operation this complex..."

I commend you for learning from experience.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist at April 11, 2006 03:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The idea that it will take Iran, or any other reasonably advanced country for that matter, 10 years to develop a bomb is ridiculous. In essence, if you have the special nuclear material, U235 or Pu239, in sufficiently pure form, you have the bomb. The rest is just a question of maximizing the yield. If you think getting a Hiroshima-sized yield out of a sufficient quantity of U235 is rocket science, you haven't been spending enough time Googling.

Don't kid yourself that the idea of a first strike with a nuclear bunker buster is not being taken seriously by our political or military authorities. The ones who want to use it are not very adept at weighing the political ramifications. They have convinced themselves that, at least in some cases, nukes may actually cause the least collateral damage. More importantly, they know from past experience that conventional weapons won't accomplish the mission. It is high time that we had a national debate on this issue. We really need to move it to "front burner." Otherwise the decision will be made, as Harry Truman put it, by some gallant lieutenant colonel.

Posted by: Helian at April 11, 2006 03:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess we should just shut up then and let tham have thebomb. I guess we'll all be safer with Bush gone and Iran with nuclear weapons and the port security the Dhimmicrats will put in place. Eh?

Let me know when you wake up.

Subsunk

Posted by: Subsunk at April 11, 2006 03:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Subsunk, the idea that we'll be safer with another war of aggression is plain insane.

I don't see what you have against port security. My main concern with it is that it's expensive. If we tack the price onto imports it will make imports more expensive and make american production more competitive -- here, but not for export. That's a tradeoff, we're poorer and we work harder but it's harder for terrorists etc to smuggle stuff in. What's your objection?

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 04:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Helian, the 10 year estimate is an informed one. They're using data I don't have access to, but I tend to believe that it's a good estimate given certain assumptions.

There's the problem that purifying enough uranium takes a whole lot of energy. For awhile there the USA was using 10% of all the electricity we made to separate uranium. Modern methods take less electricity but still quite a lot.

There are various ways they might speed things up. Plutonium is an end run around the problem if they have a sufficient source of neutrons. But without a secret military reactor they're stuck separating uranium; with sufficient uranium they can build the reactor.

They could make plutonium in civilian reactors. But the inspectors would notice. If they didn't care about the inspectors....

There's the problem that it takes a whole lot of precision equipment working together. They can expect problems and glitches and such. They might go faster with methods that are simpler and more robust, but more expensive and less efficient. Spend more, waste more, get faster results.

The guys who made the estimates might have very good info about which methods the iranians are using. Then they could make reasonable estimates about how long it would take for those methods to get results. There's the problem that somehow there was a stupid mistake that lost us our entire spy network in iran, so we don't have recent info....

I was surprised at the 10-year estimate. I figured 5 years was about right if you already have the trained technicians and the material. We did it quicker than that the first time. But different nations run into different constraints. The estimate was probably a very good one assuming the iraqis don't change plans. But with our spies caught now we won't know if they change plans.

More importantly, they know from past experience that conventional weapons won't accomplish the mission. It is high time that we had a national debate on this issue.

If conventional weapons won't work, then the choice is between using nukes with everything that implies, or calling off the attack.

We can't have a national debate on this. On the one side, making the attack is insane. On the other side, admitting that nonproliferation is dead and we can't afford to stop iran from getting nukes is politically infeasible.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 04:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Without in any way engaging in name calling, I think Mr. Thomas is being too glib. You can't have a national debate on anything when you characterize one side as insane and the other side as unfeasible. There is a very good discussion of the dangers here at
http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_2_iran.html. Mr. Styne is, of course, not a liberal commentator, but he is a very intelligent and well informed individual and his perspective must be considered.
He makes two very important points: 1. Iran has a long and clear history of extraterritorial projection of its objectives and 2. the irrational projections of its leadership do not engender a comfortable sense of responsible stewardship of the bomb. If Denmark developed a bomb I don't think we would be much worried that it would be used in negotiations with the neighbors. Can we expect the same from Iran? You tell me.

This is a very serious problem which cannot be resolved by depending upon uninformed guesses about the state of Iran's nuclear development, and which cannot be thoughtfully considered if the premise is that Iran with a bomb is not much different than the Netherlands with a bomb.

I think a bit more depth is in order.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at April 11, 2006 07:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Helian, the 10 year estimate is an informed one. They're using data I don't have access to, but I tend to believe that it's a good estimate given certain assumptions."

The 10 year estimate is neither informed nor accurate. I suggest you talk to someone who really does have some expertise at one of the national weapons laboratories. They'll set you straight. It's frustrating to constantly read these "informed" estimates from people who have no clue what they're talking about. There's not a remote chance it would take the Iranians 10 years if they decided to make a serious effort. They can take the U235 route described above by others, or simply build a natural uranium reactor at an underground facility and extract the plutonium. Building a Canadian CANDU style reactor is hardly beyond the capabilities of the Iranians, and once they set it up, they could produce enough plutonium to make several bombs a year. Implosion weapons aren't as falling-off-a-log simple as gun devices, but it's unlikely the Iranians wouldn't be able to come up with a workable design.

What we should do about this is a tough call. However, if nuclear weapons continue to proliferate, it's virtually certain they will eventually be used. Perhaps it's been too long since Hiroshima. People don't really understand what would happen if a 10 kiloton device went off in a major city. Perhaps, given the stakes we're playing for, we should issue a general ultimatum to the effect that any non-nuclear state that detonates a nuclear device will be at war with the U.S. The situation is really that serious. It seems to me that it's absolutely essential to de-legitimize any first use of nuclear weapons, period. Any nation that does use them first should expect to find itself at war with the rest of the world. If we use a weapon as a bunker buster, to "minimize" civilian casualties, we will simply legitimize the use of nukes against us by terrorists who may be supplied with special nuclear material (SNM, U235 or Pu239) by a rogue state, or manage to steal some.

Terrorists who procure SNM will have no trouble getting over the imaginary technological "hurdle" required to make a bomb. If you simply drop one subcritical piece of SNM on top of another in a major city, I guarantee you it will produce enough of a radioactive mess to cause major economic damage. Going up from there, you can propel the two masses together with a strong spring, or a crude explosive charge. At some point you will get a significant yield. Exactly how much is unpredictable in such crude devices, and will depend on when a neutron happens along. The non-radioactive parts for such a weapon could easily be smuggled to the center of a large city and assembled in place. The 25 kg of U235 or 4 kg of Pu needed to complete the device could then be smuggled in on foot, ATV, boat, personal submarine, or whatever. The big, expensive radiation detection portals we are installing at nodes in the stream of commerce would be completely useless in stopping such an attack. Their only value, if they have any at all, is as a possible deterrent to really stupid terrorists. The SNM could be pre-fabricated, and the device assembled in minutes. That's the future we are facing. It's not pretty, but we need to be realistic about it. We also need to plan how we will react when it does happen.

Posted by: Helian at April 11, 2006 12:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I remember when Bush was spinning his invasion of Iraq as being not only because Saddam had nuclear weapons, but also because Bush had to prove to Saddam that you cannot ignore the UN, even if Bush had to ignore the UN to prove that. I never understood that latter argument (ignoring the UN to prove you cannot ignore the UN).

Now, I read here and elsewhere, people argue that Bush must nuke Iran to prove that using nukes is illegitimate -- and this argument (nuke Iran because countries cannot be allowed to use nukes) is another I do not understand.

Posted by: Franco at April 11, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. Iran has a long and clear history of extraterritorial projection of its objectives

By a funny coincidence, so do we.

and 2. the irrational projections of its leadership do not engender a comfortable sense of responsible stewardship of the bomb.

Another funny coincidence!

If Denmark developed a bomb I don't think we would be much worried that it would be used in negotiations with the neighbors. Can we expect the same from Iran? You tell me.

How about that! We use nukes in negotiations ourselves!

Oh well. We can attack them now, or we can hope they settle down. China settled down. They were making all sorts of irresponsible statements for awhile before and after they got their nukes. The russians asked us what our reaction would be to a surgical strike and we said it looked like al very bad idea.

Dealing with a nuclear iran looks unpleasant. But attacking iran this year is insane. It isn't something that a rational strategist would consider.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 03:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Helian, thank you for presenting a rational discussion of some of the details of this mess.

The 10 year estimate is neither informed nor accurate. I suggest you talk to someone who really does have some expertise at one of the national weapons laboratories.

This estimate is from the latest National Intelligence Estimate. If they got it wrong to the point that random guys at any of the national weapons labs know better, then something has gone very very wrong with the US government. We need to get the government straightened out before we start another war of choice.

But only parts of the document were revealed, not including how they reached that conclusion. A 2001 NIE estimated that iran might have nukes by the end of the decade, although one estimate put it off to more like 2015. How did the outlier become the norm in 4 years? I dunno, I don't know any of the details. I agree that we don't particularly know how long it will take.

But this gives Bush an opportunity. If he bombs iran now and it takes 5 years for them to get a bomb, he can say "See! They were almost ready, and my action delayed them 5 years!" If it takes them 10 years he can say he delayed them 10 years. If it takes them 3 years he can at least say he delayed them that long. And if they nuke somebody right after he attacks then that proves he had to attack. So it doesn't really matter at all whether the attack succeeds in its official objectives. No matter what happens Bush can claim he did the right thing and got the best possible results. His base will support him again.

I agree that if the iranians follow the best possible path they can make nukes quickly. And if they devote their efforts to making lots of nuclear material they can make a lot fairly quickly. If that's their purpose they can increase their plutonium at an exponential rate. The NIE is supposed to deal with what they're actually doing. And I hope it was accurate up to the time our agents in iran got rolled up.

What we should do about this is a tough call.

Agreed.

However, if nuclear weapons continue to proliferate, it's virtually certain they will eventually be used.

Agreed. That would suggest that we work for nonproliferation and nuclerar disarmament. That we stop trying to use nukes in our own negotiations. Reduce our own nuclear arsenal from 10,000 down to something more reasonable, like 500. Persuade the world that bad thinigs happen to nations that try to use nukes for more than deterrence.

Alternatively, we can take a stance opposed to that and be a graphic example to the world that bad things happen to nations that try to use nukes for more than deterrence.

Perhaps, given the stakes we're playing for, we should issue a general ultimatum to the effect that any non-nuclear state that detonates a nuclear device will be at war with the U.S. The situation is really that serious. It seems to me that it's absolutely essential to de-legitimize any first use of nuclear weapons, period.

I could go along with that. We'd of course also proclaim that we won't do first-use ourselves. It would crimp our negotiating style but we could live with it. To show we meant it we might put it in as an amendment to the Constitution, perhaps with a capital punishment clause for any president who broke it.

But what about smuggled bombs? If terrorists can smuggle them, so can governments. Would we analyse the fallout and say we knew who did it and declare war based on mass spec tests? Might we perhaps sometimes falsify those results to declare war on a convenient enemy instead of an inconvenient friend?

Things were so much easier when it was just extremely expensive easily-tracked hi-tech ICBMs.

The 25 kg of U235 or 4 kg of Pu needed to complete the device could then be smuggled in on foot, ATV, boat, personal submarine, or whatever.

Unfortunately, yes. We'd detect them coming into any major bay. But that last bit could be done by sea kayak or rubber boat and land anywhere there's a beach. Or backpack. Or possibly like the cliche goes, smuggled in a bale of marijuana. It looks hard.

That's the future we are facing. It's not pretty, but we need to be realistic about it. We also need to plan how we will react when it does happen.

Well, if we don't attack iran now, we could attack iran then. Regardless who actually bombed somebody. It would make us feel better, like attacking iraq made us feel better after 9/11. Come to think of it, we could do that even if we attack them now. Attack them again!

Apart from the problem of terrorists stealing SNM, if we can't keep foreign governments from smuggling nukes into our cities maybe we'd better try not to make so many enemies. If we were to, say, mind our own business we'd be less likely to get nuked.

Alternatively, we could smuggle nukes into a couple of squabbling nations and set them off, and show the world a horrible example without getting nuked ourselves. As you said, "Perhaps it's been too long since Hiroshima.". It might take only one horrible example to persuade the world that everybody is better off without nukes. Who knows, maybe it would persuade enough americans for us to get rid of our own nukes.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 04:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches."

--Israeli leader Ariel Sharon

http://www.carolmoore.net/nuclearwar/israelithreats.html

Posted by: rs at April 11, 2006 04:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In April 2002 Jewish academic David Perlmutter in the Los Angeles Times inferred Israel under some circumstances would launch revenge attacks against targets worldwide: "Israel has been building nuclear weapons for 30 years. The Jews understand what passive and powerless acceptance of doom has meant for them in the past, and they have ensured against it. Masada was not an example to follow--it hurt the Romans not a whit, but Sampson in Gaza? With an H-bomb? What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a Nuclear Winter. Or invite all those tut-tutting European statesmen and peace activists to join us in the ovens?

"For the first time in history, a people facing extermination while the world either cackles or looks away--unlike the Armenians, Tibetans, World War II European Jews or Rwandans--have the power to destroy the world. The ultimate justice?"

The same month Senator John McCain's brother Joe wrote a piece called NEVER AGAIN which began with the statement: There is a lot of worry popping up in the media just now -- "Can Israel Survive?" Don't worry about it. It relates to something that Palestinians, the Arabs, and perhaps most Americans don't realize -- the Jews are never going quietly again. Never. And if the world doesn't come to understand that, then millions of Arabs are going to die. It's as simple as that.

------------------------------------------------------

And the Mullahs are supposed to the crazy ones?

Posted by: rs at April 11, 2006 04:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Frankly, I'd rather push the diplomatic track to the maximum through Bush's term and see, say, a McCain Administration better address this looming crisis, at least if we have the luxury of time, which I believe we do. "


If the can gets kicked down the road, that makes a McCain admin imperative, as he'd be one of the few with the courage to deal with this IF say, the Intel people come to beleive that Iran IS a few months from building a bomb, in say, summer of 2009. A Dem who's sympathetic to the antiwar people, or a "realist" Republican, become real problematic then.

Posted by: liberalhawk at April 11, 2006 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"This estimate is from the latest National Intelligence Estimate"

has that been officially released?

Posted by: liberalhawk at April 11, 2006 07:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I sure hope military action against Iran's nuclear weapons program can be put off till a new administration take office in three more years. However given Iran's announcement today that it has successfully enriched Uranium for the first time, I am afraid we may not have that luxery.

Two things to consider:
1). When figuring how long it will take Iran to get a nuclear weapon, you have to error on side of caution. it should be remembered that Saddam was a lot closer to having nukes at the time of the first US-Iraq War then was believed beforehand. Another year or so, he would have had his first nuclear bomb. Generally estimates of how many years it would take hostile, nations such as the Soviet Union & China to have nukes have been too long. Better Safe then Sorry applies here.

2). Ahamadinejad may be trying to panic the US & Israel into attacking Iran's nuclear facilities so as to rally the Iranian People around him and give him the patriotic support, he needs to consolidate his regime. This would be similar as to the support the then new Mullah regime got after Saddam attacked Iran in 1980.

Posted by: David All at April 11, 2006 10:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

@Thomas J.

"Agreed. That would suggest that we work for nonproliferation and nuclerar disarmament. That we stop trying to use nukes in our own negotiations. Reduce our own nuclear arsenal from 10,000 down to something more reasonable, like 500. Persuade the world that bad thinigs happen to nations that try to use nukes for more than deterrence."

The thinking of the military guys at the moment goes something like this: The current weapons in our arsenal are ineffective, because potential bad actors will consider it unlikely that we would risk the massive civilian casualties that weapons with such high yields would surely cause. Therefore, we need mini-nukes, to restore the deterrent value of our arsenal. One way to get them would be to develop an entirely new weapon. This would probably mean a resumption of at least limited testing. Another, much simpler way would be to simply remove the secondary from existing weapons. In a word, we already have mini-nukes, and, IMHO, the current Administration would be quite willing to approve their first use if the military guys considered it handy in a given situation. Indeed, some argue it would be immoral not to use them in some cases. For example, suppose an enemy had a buried cache of biological agent. If it were hit with a conventional bunker buster, it might just spread the agent, resulting in massive civilian casualties. A mini-nuke would destroy the cache and "cauterize the wound" at the same time, destroying the agent and rendering it harmless. It seems to me this kind of thinking completely fails to take long-term consequences into account, ignores the risk of removing the taboo on the first use of nuclear weapons, and is, in general, extremely dangerous and foolhardy. We need to bring this debate into the open. We can't simply let the Executive and the military present us with a fait accompli. A number of members of Congress, to their credit, have at least tried to address the issue. It certainly couldn't hurt for as many bloggers as possible, whether pro or con, to shine the light of day on this issue. There is much at stake.

"But what about smuggled bombs? If terrorists can smuggle them, so can governments. Would we analyse the fallout and say we knew who did it and declare war based on mass spec tests? Might we perhaps sometimes falsify those results to declare war on a convenient enemy instead of an inconvenient friend?"

If terrorists hit us with a nuke, all these points may be moot. The devastation and death will be unimaginable. We live in a democracy, and the people will demand revenge, if not on the actual attacker, than on some country, such as Iran, that has threatened us or our allies. Twenty or thirty million innocent Iranians or North Koreans may have to atone for the foolhardy rhetoric of their leaders.

It is now more than 60 years since the mushroom clouds rose over Japan. We have all distanced ourselves intellectually from the consequences of nuclear war. We refuse to face the near certainty that it will happen, in spite of the fact that tons of SNM exist in many countries, and if only a small amount of it goes missing, it means potential death for millions. We are in denial. We need to wake up and start acting. To begin, we need to insure that the US will never be a first user of nuclear weapons for any reason. We cannot afford to leave this decision to people like Bush and Rumsfeld. We also need to prepare to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist nuclear attack - a mobilization plan for doctors and other key personnel, training in the treatment of radiation poisoning, credible advice to our citizens on what to do to protect themselves from fallout, etc.

The future does seem a bit grim to me. I hope I'm wrong. At least we can take some comfort in the fact that mother nature made fusion a lot harder than fission.

Posted by: Helian at April 12, 2006 01:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think we all need to read our posts before we post them. The thought of a nuclear exchange is abhorrent to every one of us and it ought to be, and yet, I believe that it is not a question of if, but of when somewhere in the world, a bomb is exploded in a population center. I believe that Ahamadinejad's announcement that he has enriched U is a bluff, coming as it does on the heels of the Hirsh article. They don't even have the centrifuges operative yet and what does "enriched" mean in this context. A few centiliters of gas perhaps. Probably less that an average flatulence However, I for one, am not willing to foreswear first use especially with the kinds of nutcakes that we are going to have to deal with over the next decades, including this gem. Let us say that Iran actually successfully tests a bomb and starts threatening its neighbors and Europe in the blackmail format. Let us also say that a consensus develops that Iran is willing to back up the threats with an attack. And let us further say that there is legitimacy to the fear that Iran is willing to give the right kind of terrorist one of its beauties. I think that taking the first strike and the assured retaliatory strike off the table would be less than prudent. We need to keep up the discussion, but we need to wait, and watch carefully what actually develops. When Iran or for that matter, Korea successfully tests a bomb, I dare say a consensus will develop very fast among the threatened countries and that something is going to be done. Short of that, we need to watch very, very carefully.

Michael

Posted by: Michael Pecherer at April 12, 2006 04:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For example, suppose an enemy had a buried cache of biological agent. If it were hit with a conventional bunker buster, it might just spread the agent, resulting in massive civilian casualties. A mini-nuke would destroy the cache and "cauterize the wound" at the same time, destroying the agent and rendering it harmless.

This also has the advantage that the evidence is completely gone. If only we'd nuked Saddam's suspected WMD sites, there would be no way to inpect them later and see there were no WMDs there. Far fewer embarrassing questions.

We can't simply let the Executive and the military present us with a fait accompli.

How can we stop them?

Perhaps we could do an impeachment afterward.

If terrorists hit us with a nuke, all these points may be moot. The devastation and death will be unimaginable. We live in a democracy, and the people will demand revenge, if not on the actual attacker, than on some country, such as Iran, that has threatened us or our allies.

We'd have time for some study. We have isotope ratios from the different countries' tests, etc. Would they try to disguise that? Frame some other nation? So far I tend to believe that smuggled nukes are more plausible for nations than for terrorists. I have various reasons for that which I can explain if anyone is interested. Basicly, nuclear nations have more opportunity, more material and technology, and more motive.

To begin, we need to insure that the US will never be a first user of nuclear weapons for any reason. We cannot afford to leave this decision to people like Bush and Rumsfeld.

Constitutional amendment?

We also need to prepare to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist nuclear attack - a mobilization plan for doctors and other key personnel, training in the treatment of radiation poisoning, credible advice to our citizens on what to do to protect themselves from fallout, etc.

Yes, that's useful. And not just here. We could give out the information plus preposition supplies of antioxidants etc near places we think might get nuked. Make it seem more immediate.

If we don't give up first strikes, we could do that for places we're about to nuke ourselves, displaying our intent in a particularly overt way.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 12, 2006 04:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I for one, am not willing to foreswear first use especially with the kinds of nutcakes that we are going to have to deal with over the next decades, including this gem.

If you're willing to do a first strike, and you're willing to threaten a first strike, the difference between you and these nutcakes is ... ... ...

...

... your intentions are good?

I'm always happy when somebody planning to nuke somebody has good intentions. It gives me a warm glow inside.

So anyway, we've probably spent a few trillion dollars over the years making sure we have a second strike. Let's think about what kind of people won't be deterred by a second strike.

They'll be people who don't care whether they live or die, provided they get to kill you. Anybody else can be deterred.

Now, if we happen to face an enemy who can't be deterred by a second strike, what does he need a first strike for himself? Build a doomsday device. It takes more material than a few nukes, but not a whole lot more. Simpler to construct. (There's some question whether the simple plans would work, given that none has been tested, but....) No delivery system needed, none at all. Set it off in the securest part of your own country and you kill your enemies. And if we think they have one and we want to disarm them, we have to capture or destroy it without setting it off.

If that's who we're fighting, what good is a first strike? What we have to accept is that anybody who has the resources who wants to kill everybody, can. Most of the others can be deterred by a second strike. We gain very little by keeping a first strike ourselves, and it puts us firmly among the crazies. It isn't worth it.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 12, 2006 05:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What we need is a world without dictators, where every legitimate national gov't accepts free speech criticism of the gov't, and freedom to practice religion.

China won't ever be attacked by the US, even without allowing any freedom. Non-nuclear nations, like Sudan, should be subject to military based regime change.

Invasion -- but not country re-construction.

It would be best if the US creates an effective democracy based World Cop military force; I suugest a Human Rights Enforcement Group based on NATO.

First strike with nukes is far less morally justified than invasion; if conventional bombing and massive bombing isn't enough, then it will be invasion next.

"Promising no first nuclear strike" -- are you willing to accept 10 000 more US casualties for this? How many more US soldiers are you willing to have killed, to enforce the political decision that Iran will NOT be allowed to have nukes?

Helion, some nice analysis -- don't be an intellectual coward here. If American agreement on no first use of nukes means more US soldiers die, how many do you accept?

Such an attack can't happen until Iraq's "democracy" is more stable; prolly won't, anyway.

I hope they try lots of other stuff, first -- including oil blockade and taking out Iranian military installations.

And do none of these things without a better explained public information campaign on what is known, what is not known, and what some of the unknown unknowns might be; but I'm not sure Campaign 2006 is the best format.


J. Thomas noted earlier how expensive invasion is. Sudan is showing how expensive, in genocide unstopped, non-invasion is. He seems completely willing to accept Iran getting a nuke, and mushrooming Tel Aviv. "Perhaps we could do an impeachment, afterward" -- later, the usual Leftist idea, like on Rwanda, "apologize afterward". And NO US Soldiers killed, idn't great? (Of course, he wanted impeachment after pre-emptive strike).


Hmm, maybe Campaign 2006 is going to be simple: If you believe in letting Iran get a nuke, vote Dems -- otherwise vote Rep.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 12, 2006 01:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom Grey, you're a piker.

A first strike against a nuclear opponent could easily save us 20 million civilian casualties.

If they're about to attack us and we attack first, and their missiles never make it into the air -- it could possibly save us 200 million casualties.

And after our attack most of the evidence about whether they were actually about to attack us will be gone. Take it on faith, our sneak attack was *necessary*. And we'll do the same to anybody else who threatens us.

That's what we give up when we give up first strikes. Not 10,000 soldiers getting killed in an unnecessary invasion. 200,000,000, maybe 300,000,000 civilians.

Except that we aren't actually safer after we make a first strike. We aren't safer after we show the world we're the sort of people who do that. We're in some danger after we show the world we'll nuke a nation that doesn't have nukes. (But then, maybe iran does have some, and we know it, and we're waiting for them to test one....)

J. Thomas noted earlier how expensive invasion is. Sudan is showing how expensive, in genocide unstopped, non-invasion is.

I tell you what. Figure out how much it would cost to invade sudan in a way that will end genocide there. And then guess what would happen if we just dropped that much money on them. They have a bunch of extremely poor people who can't get away from genocide. You want to spend how much per survivor to kill the guys who want to kill them, and leave them in that same poverty?

Hmm, maybe Campaign 2006 is going to be simple: If you believe in letting Iran get a nuke, vote Dems -- otherwise vote Rep.

I expect the republican campaign will be that simple. No doubt they planned the whole iran campaign starting in 2000 or so with that intention.

Anyway, I don't speak for any democrats. I'm a registered democrat as of 2003. Where I live the only effective way to vote against a republican is to vote for a democrat. It's our retarded election system. I'd much rather vote libertarian. At this point republicans are more anti-llibertarian than democrats.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 12, 2006 03:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom Grey, you're a piker.

A first strike against a nuclear opponent could easily save us 20 million civilian casualties.

If they're about to attack us and we attack first, and their missiles never make it into the air -- it could possibly save us 200 million casualties.

And after our attack most of the evidence about whether they were actually about to attack us will be gone. Take it on faith, our sneak attack was *necessary*. And we'll do the same to anybody else who threatens us.

That's what we give up when we give up first strikes. Not 10,000 soldiers getting killed in an unnecessary invasion. 200,000,000, maybe 300,000,000 civilians.

Except that we aren't actually safer after we make a first strike. We aren't safer after we show the world we're the sort of people who do that. We're in some danger after we show the world we'll nuke a nation that doesn't have nukes. (But then, maybe iran does have some, and we know it, and we're waiting for them to test one....)

J. Thomas noted earlier how expensive invasion is. Sudan is showing how expensive, in genocide unstopped, non-invasion is.

I tell you what. Figure out how much it would cost to invade sudan in a way that will end genocide there. And then guess what would happen if we just dropped that much money on them. They have a bunch of extremely poor people who can't get away from genocide. You want to spend how much per survivor to kill the guys who want to kill them, and leave them in that same poverty?

Hmm, maybe Campaign 2006 is going to be simple: If you believe in letting Iran get a nuke, vote Dems -- otherwise vote Rep.

I expect the republican campaign will be that simple. No doubt they planned the whole iran campaign starting in 2000 or so with that intention.

Anyway, I don't speak for any democrats. I'm a registered democrat as of 2003. Where I live the only effective way to vote against a republican is to vote for a democrat. It's our retarded election system. I'd much rather vote libertarian. At this point republicans are more anti-llibertarian than democrats.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 12, 2006 03:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

@Tom Grey

"Promising no first nuclear strike" -- are you willing to accept 10 000 more US casualties for this? How many more US soldiers are you willing to have killed, to enforce the political decision that Iran will NOT be allowed to have nukes?"

I wonder where you get your incredible hubris. Do you really think that all we have to do is send over a nuke, and that will be the end of it, mission accomplished, game over? Do you really believe that nuclear weapons are so complicated and difficult to procure that our enemies, including terrorists, will never strike back with them? I am not a "liberal." I believe the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was moral, reasonable and justified. I would not oppose their future use in all conceivable circumstances. However, you are deluding yourself if you think that the first use of nuclear weapons will make our troops or our citizens safer or more secure in any way shape or form. The chance of mass death in our own population as a result of a nuclear holocaust will be inconceivably greater after first use than before. If you think I'm the one courting unnecessary risk to our troops or anyone else by opposing first use, you either don't understand the problem, or you haven't bothered to think about it.

Posted by: Helian at April 12, 2006 04:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Helian wrote:

The devastation and death will be unimaginable. We live in a democracy, and the people will demand revenge, if not on the actual attacker, than on some country,

--------------------------------------------------

This is why Bin Laden is free in our "allies'" hotest vacaion spots and the Saudis who funded him are making money in American markets.

Posted by: rs at April 12, 2006 09:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"In April 2002 Jewish academic David Perlmutter in the Los Angeles Times inferred Israel under some circumstances would launch revenge attacks against targets worldwide: "Israel has been building nuclear weapons for 30 years. The Jews understand what passive and powerless acceptance of doom has meant for them in the past, and they have ensured against it. Masada was not an example to follow--it hurt the Romans not a whit, but Sampson in Gaza? With an H-bomb? What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a Nuclear Winter. Or invite all those tut-tutting European statesmen and peace activists to join us in the ovens? "

Why is Mr. Perlmutters religion or ethnicity of consequence? Do you think it adds credibility to this? It does not.

Such evidence as there is for the sampson option, comes from Hersch. It is about Israel threatening a strike on Moscow, if Israel was being destroyed by forces backed by the USSR. It was NOT a threat to commit genocide against the entire Jew hating world. Twisting it into that, clearly shows, well, an agenda.


'"For the first time in history, a people facing extermination while the world either cackles or looks away--unlike the Armenians, Tibetans, World War II European Jews or Rwandans--have the power to destroy the world. The ultimate justice?" '

Israel does not have the power to destroy the world, nor the intention. I can see why some like to think that, though.

'"The same month Senator John McCain's brother Joe'

what does he do for a living? what makes him an authority on anything?

Posted by: liberalhawk at April 17, 2006 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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