Thursday, September 19, 2002

Nuclear Threat

You know, the periodically made argument that we could just deter Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction against us actually says a lot about the proponents of just leaving Saddam ”in his box.”. They say that after all, we did deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Why not Iraq too? On the face of it, it is a plausible argument. But as I’ve argued before, we deterred the Soviets from nuking us. And we deterred them from invading West Germany. Conventional forces had a role there too. But we did not stop them from fighting us through proxies, both nations and terrorist groups hostile to us. It didn’t even stop the Chinese from sending their army against us under the guise of “volunteers” nor did it stop the Soviets from shooting at us covertly during the Vietnam War. We failed to stop them from sponsoring insurrections or invading countries (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan). In all these things, we too were deterred from responding directly. Most importantly, our nuclear arsenal did not stop the Soviets from wanting to destroy us—needing only the opportunity to strike should we let down our guard.

Is this what we want in our future with Iraq? Someone who is only deterred from a direct, open attack on us? Someone who can, through Saddam’s deterrence of us, sponsor terrorists and revolutions, invade other countries, and seek to hurt us if he gets the chance? If Iraq takes Kuwait again, or gasses the Kurds, or launches a bio attack on a Japanese city, these pro-deterrence people will argue that after having lost so many people, is the price we would have to pay to fight back really worth it?

But back to what the deterrence argument implies about the future reaction of the anti-war deterrence crowd. They claim repeatedly that if Saddam had the bomb, that would be the smoking gun that would allow us to attack. Aside from the problems of attacking once he has the bomb, these people won’t support military action then. The cost of doing so if Saddam fires a nuke at us would be too much for them to bear. Plus, having argued that containing Saddam would work just the way we contained the Soviets, the deterrence people would argue that surely, since we deterred a Soviet Union with their thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons, we can deter an Iraq with one. Or ten. Or one hundred. Or, you get the idea.

Shoot, if you think about it, the ones who are extolling the value of deterrence now are the ones who, back in the Cold War, wanted us to disarm unilaterally to show an example for the Soviets to follow. They didn’t like deterrence then. Yep, the surrender lobby is clever, I’ll grant them that. Argue whatever you have to, as long as the end result is that our enemies grow stronger.

Oh and one more argument against relying on deterrence to contain Saddam. Israel. Everyone knows that Israel has had nukes since when, the late sixties? Just how much value have these, perhaps hundreds of, nuclear weapons provided in stopping attacks against Israel or Jews worldwide? I think the answer would be somewhere around, oh, zero. Why? Because the Israeli nukes might only deter a march on Tel Aviv itself and Israel’s conventional forces are strong enough to stop that threat cold. And were I the Israelis, I would continue to rely on their conventional forces—I wouldn’t rule out that some fanatic might gain control of a nation and decide that losing 50 million Arab citizens was a small price to pay in order to eliminate Israel. You have to admit, limited conventional attacks and terror have been aimed at Israel with no less enthusiasm because of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Let’s go a little further, too. Opponents of invading Iraq say Saddam will only use those weapons (that he denies having) if we attack. But most say Saddam will not nuke us, but will strike at Israel if we attack Iraq. So how does this behavior square with arguments Saddam only wants those weapons to deter us? We attack Iraq (again, to disarm him of weapons he supposedly doesn’t have). Israel doesn’t attack Iraq. Saddam nukes/gasses Israel. Here we have a two-pack of whoop ass in a can against the deter Saddam logic: Saddam isn’t interested in deterring Israel, just killing some people there (Arab and Jewish, I might add) and Saddam is not deterred from attacking Israel because of Israel’s nukes. (One day, I really should address the Arab-Israeli issue. Right now, I am only drawing conclusions about deterrence)

Case closed. Don’t make me address deterring Iraq again.