Creative Destruction

April 10, 2006

Release of Nuclear Weapons … For Real?

Filed under: International Politics — Brutus @ 11:38 pm

I've been reading all over the place about the Bush administration's apparently serious preparations to launch yet another unprovoked, preemptive war, this time against Iran. That doesn't surprise me much. What has me gobsmacked is discussion about preemptive use of tactical nukes. Can this possibly be for real?

I'm quite used to the "refusal to rule out any possible scenario" type of saber rattling. What I'm not used to is discussion of a nuclear scenario that falls anywhere short of a fight for the survival of humankind. Am I wrong to believe that a categorical refusal to consider using nukes except as a last resort — and that's intended in the stone-sober, literal meaning of last resort — is one of the things that kept us from MAD years ago? We're nowhere close to a situation in the world right now that would give rise to using nukes, even of the tactical sort, to achieve our ends.

So I know that some of my fellow contributors here are more favorably disposed toward the Bush administration, its policies, and its actions. Just out of curiosity, what would be the argument for limited, preemptive, tactical use of nuclear weapons against Iran? I'm likely to disagree and argue with it, but I want to hear it anyway.

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12 Comments »

  1. Good God, could such an argument really be made?

    It would just be excessive! If you were to launch a strike to knock out their nukes, it’d make much more sense to use bunker-busters and the like. I mean, it’d still leave too many civilians caught in the crossfire, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to if you started using nukes.

    No, I know you’re looking for a devil’s advocate on this one, but I see nukes as something you use, like, after the last resort. Because I have this notion that half of what has deterred their use more broadly since Nagasaki was the sense that no one was using them…and if they were to be used again, people might start feeling more entitled to resort to their use more frequently.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 10, 2006 @ 11:58 pm | Reply


  2. Bush administration’s apparently serious preparations to launch yet another unprovoked, preemptive war,

    (Nitpick time) Unprovoked, yet preemptive?

    I don’t like Bush or his administration (the ‘religious’ politics thing being the major reason), but Iran getting nukes isn’t a happy scenario. Discussions aren’t working (Iran claims it needs to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes [of course, uranium enrichment isn’t required nor does it help in nuclear power], and is simultaneously talking about nuking Israel.

    What do you suggest to be done on this issue? It doesn’t seem to be going away on it’s own.

    Comment by Tuomas — April 11, 2006 @ 12:19 am | Reply

  3. Of course, what I wrote doesn’t really have to do with nukes.

    Comment by Tuomas — April 11, 2006 @ 12:30 am | Reply

  4. Just out of curiosity, what would be the argument for limited, preemptive, tactical use of nuclear weapons against Iran?

    I don’t think there is a good argument for such use.

    There’s a case for nukes integrated into a massive aerial and special ops strike on the Iranian military – including its nascent strategic element – which, like the Iraqi military, can be rapidly and effectively degraded without enormous loss of life on the part of American forces.

    Such a strike could be prefaced (and followed) with an announcement of the Rice Doctrine – no dirtbag countries, as defined by us, will be permitted to maintain a military with nuclear capability.

    Comment by bobhayes — April 11, 2006 @ 12:36 am | Reply

  5. Second, basically, to everything bobhayes says.

    Now it may be that the “nukes” under discussion are a very different animal from the Hiroshima monstrosity – that is, that they are designed to achieve a specific tactical effect against an underground target; that they are designed so as to minimize, rather than maximize, loss of human life; and so on. So I think it would be a mistake to conflate this type of weapon with the Hiroshima/Nagasaki type bombs – or with thermonuclear warheads, which are many orders of magnitude larger.

    Even so – and not having any specialized knowledge about this – I’d be extremely reluctant to use any type of nuclear device, for all the obvious reasons: radiation and fallout; the precedent that is set; and so on.

    But as for that “unprovoked, preemptive war, this time against Iran” … well, frankly, I’m fine with that.

    Comment by Asher Abrams — April 11, 2006 @ 2:46 am | Reply

  6. Tuomas: (Nitpick time) Unprovoked, yet preemptive?

    Naturally, we’re preempting the provocation, too.

    Bob Hayes: There’s a case for nukes integrated into a massive aerial and special ops strike on the Iranian military – including its nascent strategic element – which, like the Iraqi military, can be rapidly and effectively degraded without enormous loss of life on the part of American forces.

    I’m still unsure what that would be. You appear to feel it’s not a good argument but acknowledge its existence. That’s what I’m asking for.

    Asher Abrams: But as for that “unprovoked, preemptive war, this time against Iran” … well, frankly, I’m fine with that.

    Since war in the modern world has such high stakes, it is frequently regarded as a tool of last resort. I’m still mightily uncomfortable with it and don’t really believe in “small, controlled” conflicts. However, the mood has apparently shifted. War is not yet good, clean, American fun, to be sure, but to be unconflicted about war is evidence of a serious loss of moral outrage over its use.

    Comment by Brutus — April 11, 2006 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

  7. Brutus, there’s no good argument for just doing a nuclear strike. That would be a half-measure.

    There is a good argument for taking out the Iranian military, or at least its ability to deploy force beyond its borders. That argument is “because we feel it to be in our national interest”.

    I’m not sure what purpose being “conflicted” about war serves, other than to establish our bona fides as Good Sensitive People. War is a tool of statecraft like any other.

    Comment by Robert — April 11, 2006 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

  8. What is the reason being given for such an attack? If it is the development of nuclear weapons, then North Korea has been doing so for the last few years with relatively little prevention by the US. The Iranian military may be crushed easily. However, the issue in Iraq isn’t the quickness of the Iraqi military’s fall, but the ability to hold the area and manage it.

    Do we have the resources to overthrow Iran, which is the likely intent, and manage Iraq at the same time?

    Comment by Toy Soldier — April 11, 2006 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  9. No, we don’t have the resources to overthrow Iran. We do have the resources to make it impossible for them to get any further with their nuclear plan.

    The problem with North Korea is that they attained nuclear weaponry before an administration committed to real (i.e., non-rhetorical) non-proliferation was able to stop them. That makes it impossible for us to do with NK what we can do with Iran or Iraq.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it for Iran.

    Comment by bobhayes — April 11, 2006 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  10. Would it not require us to nuke a lot of the Iranian facilities, exposing the environment to high amounts of radiation which would eventually spread to civilian areas?

    Also, once we have attacked a country who has not attacked us with a nuclear weapon, what reason would North Korea–or anyone else with nukes–have to restraint them from allying with Iran and jointly attacking us?

    I suppose my issue is that this does not seem tactically sound when there are larger nuclear threats looming around us.

    Comment by Toy Soldier — April 11, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

  11. Would it not require us to nuke a lot of the Iranian facilities, exposing the environment to high amounts of radiation which would eventually spread to civilian areas?

    Couldn’t tell you.

    what reason would North Korea–or anyone else with nukes–have to restraint them from allying with Iran and jointly attacking us?

    Same thing that’s stopping them now.

    I suppose my issue is that this does not seem tactically sound when there are larger nuclear threats looming around us.

    AFAIK, a nuclear-arming Iran is our #1 potential nuclear threat. What do you have in mind that’s of higher urgency?

    Comment by bobhayes — April 11, 2006 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  12. Truthfully, to open up the debate, while I worked in France in 1992, my former boss sold to most middle east countries nuclear detonators, the products needed to build a bomb. Most people do not know this, but getting the fissile matter is actually easy, getting the detonator products is hard. So essentially, Iran already has the bomb and has had it for about 20 years.

    Comment by Vilon — April 12, 2006 @ 6:06 pm | Reply


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