Friday, May 15, 2009

Hooray for Nukes!

About time someone's gone out and said it. Thomas Barnett lays out the "Seven Reasons Why Obama's Nuke-Free Utopia Won't Work" in Esquire, and offers a defense of nuclear arsenals that goes far beyond "mutually assured destruction". A few thoughts:

Bartlett, like pretty much every serious proliferation scholar I've read recently, seems to think a nuclear Iran is inevitable at this point. I have to agree, and I even agree that a nuclear Iran in and of itself would be no less manageable than other nuclear enemies have historically been. It's very difficult to be certain of course, but I've become convinced that much of Ahmadinejad's "Crazy Tom" act is precisely that, a ruse to keep us worried and his people appeased. Bizarre heterodox Shia eschatologies aside, Khomeinist Iran hasn't actually done anything to live up to the impression of being dangerously unhinged that they find useful to present to the world. Consider the Iran-Iraq war, in which the radical theocracy's tactics were far more rational than those of the classical secular strongman Saddam Hussein.

But here's my main quibble: my concern in the region is not so much a nuclear Iran as the nuclear Bahrain, UAE, Saudia Arabia, and possibly Egypt that a nuclear Iran implies. Bartlett is right that nuclear powers have no interest in handing their safety umbrellas over to terrorists, but I think he's unduly influenced by the happy fact that nuclear weapons have historically been developed by stable and well-ordered nations. And that's not even so true these days, as there are legitimate concerns that Pakistan could collapse and her arsenal fall into the hands of the Taliban. For that matter, the legal legitimacy of Pakistan's nuclear program didn't keep AQ Khan from selling nuclear secrets far and wide. Where will we stand when half the Middle East has nukes? Offering to extend America's nuclear umbrella as far as the Gulf might possibly convince these states to forgoe nukes, but I wouldn't count on it.

I agree with Bartlett 100% that an American policy of eventual disarmament makes us less safe. I'm far less sanguine, however, that a continuation of current US nuclear hegemony won't still entail significant nuclear concerns.

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