Monday, April 02, 2007


In recent months I have been remiss in kvetching about international affairs on this blog. This is partly due to work demands and partly due to the fact that I have a lot of other things on my mind. But, in case you were wondering, overall I'm doing great, and I hope to post a bit more often (save for the fact that Pesach starts tonight).
While trying to hack away at my enormous reading list, I came across a Wall Street Journal column by Bret Stephens which really struck a note with me (emphases mine):
A more serious objection to the American and British modernization plans is that they offer no realistic security against terrorism. Suppose al Qaeda detonates a nuclear bomb in Times Square. Suppose that the weapon was stolen from an old Soviet depot, meaning no "return address" for purposes of retaliation. Suppose, also, that al Qaeda threatens to detonate five other bombs if the U.S. does not meet a list of its demands. What use would deterrence be then? Against whom would we retaliate, and where?
This scenario does not invalidate the need for a nuclear deterrent: There would still be conventional opponents to deter, and it's odd that the people who tell us we can "contain" a nuclear Iran are often the same ones who insist we can forgo the means of containment. But the question of what to do after a nuclear 9/11 is something to which not enough thought has been given. We urgently need a nuclear doctrine -- and the weapons to go with it -- for the terrorist age. The RRW, which simply prolongs a Cold War nuclear posture through the year 2050, amounts to a partial solution at best.
What would a sensible deterrence strategy look like? "Even nihilists have something they hold dear that can be threatened with deterrence," says Max Singer, a collaborator of the great Cold War theorist Herman Kahn. "You need to know what it is, communicate it and be serious about it."
Would it hinder Islamist terrorists if the U.S.'s declared policy in the event of a nuclear 9/11 was the immediate destruction of Mecca, Medina and the Iranian religious center of Qom? Would our deterrent be more or less effective if we deployed a range of weapons, such as the maligned "bunker buster," the use of which a potential adversary might think us capable? How would the deployment of a comprehensive anti-ballistic missile shield alter the composition of a credible deterrent? Does it make sense to adhere to the NPT regime when that regime is clearly broken?
One needn't have answers to these questions to know it requires something more than pat moralizing about the terribleness of nuclear weapons or declaring the whole matter "unthinkable." Nothing is unthinkable. But whether the unthinkable remains the undoable depends entirely on our willingness to think clearly about it, and to act on our conclusions.
Do read the whole thing (no subs. required). I absolutely agree that these delicate issues need to be the subject of a much more realistic and straightforward debate in the Western world. I think the nuclear deterrent (updated and modernised to the latest standards) is absolutely vital, particularly considering the various state-based threats looming on the horizon (Iran and North Korea being only the most dramatic). However, it must be only one of various prongs in an effective and realistic deterrence policy. Unfortunately few countries and people seem to be willing to do what in Italian would be called fare i conti con la realtà (to square your accounts with reality). Let's hope that cooler heads prevail, and recognise the irresponsibility of offering empty platitudes about "doing our bit for peace" in the face of real threats.