Saturday, April 15, 2006

A little more on Iran

One of my very first blog posts ever (so that would be like 9 posts ago or something, and 2 years--me being really on top things, as usual) ran something like, "it's not that big a deal if Iran develops nuclear weapons." My next post rescinded it (in fairly pompous style).

Neither one of those posts matters because Iran will or won't produce a nuclear weapon regardless of what the West wants. We can't stop them.

Suppose that the U.S. or Israel launches a preemptive assault, conventional or otherwise, against Iranian nuclear technology infrastructure. Even better(!), suppose that this operation is successful, in the sense that Esfahan and other such places are actually destroyed or rendered inaccessible. Suppose, finally, that there is no subsequent occupation of Iran.

Have we eliminated Iran's capability to make nuclear technologies?

The answer depends somewhat on the strictness of your definition of nuclear technologies. I would speculate, however, that the answer is yes only if you assume (1) that the nuclear physics establishment in Iran is ridiculously incompetent at record keeping and/or (2) that most or all of the qualified scientists and engineers will be killed in the attack. As the population of Iran is about 70,000,000, I would not plan for (2). Then, without (1), resurrecting the nuclear technology program is a question of resources not research, and to my knowledge, the resources are not the complicating factor; for example, one could expect the large part of any fissionable material that Iran might obtain in the future to be enriched successfully and actually used for something.

That is, the question "Is our... family of... nations justified in law and morality in failing to incapacitate this monster?" is not relevant because it is not actually within our means to incapacitate this monster except in the very short term. Like or not, we will have to deal with some kind of brinksmanship in the future, and the reasonable thing to do now is to decide how that will work. In particular, we need to fully assess the possibility of Iran handing over some fraction of its arsenal to terrorist groups and develop a threat of force that can handle the possibility that the national origin of a weapon is not instantaneously clear.
We need to find a way, through intelligence or diplomacy, to inventory Iran's arsenal with some accuracy. We need to know whether or not Ahmadinejad's threats are actually backed by the Guardians.

I don't see that fretting now about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons at all is very useful except in frightening people. A reasonable and well-publicized plan of response to the new situation (which we can't avoid with any amount of ruthlessness short of erasing Iran) is the correct answer.

Carry on.