Monday, March 04, 2013

We Won't Even See It Coming

Iran will go nuclear and we will be surprised when they do it.

I've long worried that Iran knows that it risks being attacked if it approaches red lines to nuclear weapons development. So Iran needs to be ambiguous about when they are about to become a nuclear-armed power. One method is to disperse key nuclear facilities abroad.

The other method is to go nuclear while everyone watches Iran approach the red lines that we believe are the only path to becoming a nuclear-armed state. With both a uranium and plutonium path to nuclear weapons, our problems are greater since Iran has the prospect of building weapons with both methods in a sprint. The problem for Iran is to deter attack while Iran builds home made bombs:

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?

And still we talk and hope, believing Iran is one pragmatic ruler away from a grand bargain that solves everything.

Or maybe Iran fulfills my fears and goes nuclear before we can react. Iran might be within range of deciding to race to nuclear capabilities and we'd lack the time to decide to do something about it.

What if the Iranian navy picks up a North Korean-designed bomb while they are touring the Pacific and then makes a good-will visit to Singapore or--better yet--Hong Kong, on the way home when the Iranian government announces that they are a nuclear power? And what if Tehran then quietly informs a number of relevant states that if anyone attacks Iran, loyal Iranians in custody of the nuclear bomb on that Iranian ship sitting in that harbor will detonate that bomb? Would we bomb Iran if we thought the Chinese would then blame us for losing Hong Kong? Would Israel?

But Iran would never anger China like that, you say! But if Iran can deter us with nukes, why wouldn't Iran be able to deter China with nukes? And if China can't be deterred by Iranian nukes, explain to me again why Iran can be deterred by American or Israeli nukes.

Iran has been preparing for decades to cross the nuclear threshold without drawing a violent response. They might think outside the box of ballistic missile-based nuclear deterrence for the first critical months of being a nuclear power. As I'm prone to saying, they're nutballs--not stupid.

Have a lovely day.