Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iran's Nuclear Program

This was originally a letter to Space News, which was published in April.

Discussing Iran's nuclear and space launch capabilities Victor Zaborskiy, Space News 24 March 2008, writes "... security guarantees from the United State, possibly including a commitment to launch a strike against Iran if Teheran's attack against Israel is presumed immanent, " emphasis added.

This is a call for war with Iran based on an assessment by a security apparatus that couldn't tell the difference between an Iraq with or without WMD -- whilst conducting daily overflights. The chance of this same apparatus getting the intelligence right on Iran's intentions should be regarded as approaching zero. Zaborskiy is a calling for war with Iran whenever the president feels like it.

We know that Iran is developing space launch, and the only difference between a launcher and a missile is the software in the guidance computer. We know Iran is developing nuclear power, and the hardest problems of nuclear weapon development can be solved developing civilian nuclear power. It is quite likely that Iran will someday develop nuclear weapons. There are at least two potential reasons:

1. They wish to launch a nuclear attack on Israel or Europe. In either case, Iran would be obliterated within days by hundreds, if not thousands, of nuclear weapons launched by the victim and America. Maybe it's just me, but this seems unlikely. Supporting a few hundred suicide bombers is one thing, committing national suicide is another.

2. They wish to deter an attack by the United States. Why would they believe America would attack them? Well, the U.S. has been openly discussing an attack on Iran for years. At one point, there were discussions of nuclear attacks on Iran to destroy underground bunkers. That is, of course, just talk. Then there is history. America overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein 1980s war of aggression against Iran, a war which killed a million people. To be fair, Iran did imprison a hundred or so U.S. diplomats for in 1979-1980.

The second option seems, at least to me, a couple of orders of magnitude more likely. After all, the Iranian government has an obligation to prevent attacks on their territory and America has demonstrated a willingness to invade Iran's neighbors based on faulty intelligence (Iraq). Iran can't possibly match America's conventional military strength. Iran probably remembers that nuclear weapons successfully deterred America from invading Cuba and the more recent change in U.S. policy towards North Korea after a single, partially successful nuclear bomb test. A few dozen nuclear tipped missiles would almost certainly prevent an American attack.

This has profound implications for U.S. policy. We'd better get it right.

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