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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Importance of the Bush Doctrine!

Destroy Iran's nukes to save our cities
One of the most terrifying possibilities the world faces is that al-Qa'eda, or some other Islamist group, gets hold of a nuclear bomb. Islamist terrorists are certainly trying to obtain one: Osama bin Laden has issued a document entitled "The Nuclear Bomb of Islam", which insists it is "the duty" of Muslims to acquire a nuclear bomb in order to use "as much force as possible to terrorise the enemies of God".

The Foreign Office's senior counter-terrorist official has "no doubt at all" that Islamist terrorists are actively seeking a nuclear device. "There are people" he adds dryly, "for whom exploding a nuclear bomb in a city would be a triumph for the cause."

A 10 kiloton nuclear bomb would be a relatively small one by today's standards, but a 10 kiloton explosion in a city would mean that, from the centre of the blast for a distance of one third of a mile, every structure above ground level would be obliterated and every person would be killed instantly.

For the next third of a mile, the city would look like the weird moonscape which Berlin had become by the end of World War Two, after almost a year of Allied bombing raids.

And for a third of mile beyond that circle of hell, buildings and people would burn, both with flames and the effects of radiation.

To consider that outcome is to realise that it must be prevented. But how? Deterrence - the threat that if you detonate a nuclear bomb in our country, we will retaliate in kind on yours - has so far prevented nuclear war between nations. The only time nuclear bombs have been used, it was against a country without the capacity to retaliate.

Deterrence, however, depends on your enemy having cities and a population that can be threatened with obliteration.

The problem is that terrorist organisations have neither. They are simply groups of individuals with no responsibility for, and no control over, a state or its population.

Deterrence breaks down as a consequence. If they could get hold of a nuclear bomb, Islamist terrorists would have every incentive to use it to cause as much destruction as possible in an "enemy" country such as Britain or America - and there's no threat we can brandish to stop them.

Which means that the over-arching aim of the civilised world must be to ensure that they cannot get hold of a nuclear bomb, because that is the only way we can protect ourselves against nuclear terrorism.

The most powerful argument against allowing nuclear proliferation is that the more countries that have the bomb, the more likely it is that one will end up in the hands of terrorists.

Nuclear bombs are still, mercifully, beyond the capacity of terrorist groups to engineer for themselves: a terrorist organisation would have to get one from a government.

When the governments trying to acquire the technology for making nuclear bombs are known to train and supply Islamist terrorist groups - as Syria and Iran, for example, certainly do - the importance of preventing them obtaining the capacity to make such bombs is overwhelming.

That is why the Israelis destroyed Syria's "not for peaceful means" nuclear facility last September, and why the rest of the world acquiesced in the destruction, which broke international law and had no United Nations resolution.

It is also why the US continues to send signals to Iran that it will not oppose, indeed might even join in, any attempt by Israel to hit Iran's fledgling nuclear facilities: sending precisely that signal must have been at least part of the point of last week's very public announcement that the Israeli raid on Syria's putative nuclear bomb factory had been successful.

Governments can perhaps be deterred from leaking nuclear weapons to terrorist groups by the thought of what the Americans would do to them if there were a nuclear explosion in an American city and the construction of the fatal bomb could be traced back to, say, Iran or Syria.

The Americans have not been shy about letting those governments know what would happen. As one US official put it to me: "We would totally obliterate the country responsible" - a phrase echoed by Hillary Clinton when she said the US would "totally obliterate" Iran if that country was responsible for a nuclear attack even on Israel, never mind America.

Governments, however, are not always able to control all their members. Some members of the Iranian administration might not be deterred by the prospect of nuclear armageddon (indeed, some seem to welcome it). Which means that the only way to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists it to keep them out of the hands of national governments who might give them to terrorists.

If Iran builds a nuclear bomb factory, you can be sure that Israel will try to destroy it. You can also be sure that, when it happens, the rest of the world will not object.


joe six-pack said...

Prevention of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon is an issue that is worth waging war over. Even massive conventional warfare is preferred over ANY nuclear exchange. Although many people may disagree, I blieve that the war in Iraq is draining resources that terrorist organizations have that could be devoted to the pursuit of nuclear weaponry.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a huge commitment to a war with Iran would be a wise move for any reason unless it is because of a direct nuclear attack against the U.S. I am in favor of limited strikes to their nuclear infrastructure as well a ground incursions into Iran via Iraq. I agree that the terrorists are getting drained fighting in Iraq. That's the reason to support incursions. If they're attacked in their staging areas they will need more support to fight American forces. It would be a real meat grinder that they couldn't cope with.