Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A World Without Nuclear Weapons?

A World Without Nuclear Weapons...?

By Theodore Couloumbis, Bill Ahlstrom & Gary Weaver

The recent signing of the new Russian-U.S. strategic arms reduction treaty launches a month of intense activity focused on reducing the threats of nuclear conflict and nuclear terrorism and tightening control over nuclear materiel and technologies.

Regardless of outcomes, this reflects the new dynamics driving the original nuclear club of the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China toward coordinated policies and actions.

What are those new dynamics?

This is a very different world from the early Cold War, or the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, or the 1991 Soviet Union collapse – a world made stark by the terrorist attacks on the U.S., Madrid and London, on Mumbai and Moscow, as well as by North Korean nuclear weapons and missile tests, and Iranian missile tests coupled with hidden uranium enrichment plants.

Bomb-building knowledge is readily available on the Internet, and nuclear technology masquerades in multiple uses. Nuclear weapons materiel is relatively less – but still dangerously – accessible. Well-financed terrorist groups with a gleam in their suicidal eye abound, and as Pakistan’s chief nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan proved, everyone and everything has a price.

The major powers, including the European Union (two of whose members are nuclear-armed), are threatened by various extremist and terrorist groups that have the potential of building or buying a nuclear bomb, or a less destructive but still horrific “dirty bomb” that uses conventional explosives to scatter highly radioactive material in a city.

The major powers no longer are focused on deterring military action among themselves. The new U.S.-Russian START treaty signed last week recognizes that minimal deterrence and assured second strike capability with siloed and submarine-based missiles is sufficient. Today the fear is that the new actors will not be deterred by threat of retaliation, or, in the case of terrorist groups and non-state actors, no place could be identified to retaliate against.

Direct major power military conflict – even conventional – is highly unlikely in current conditions and will remain so as long as none of them becomes aggressively revisionist. Globalization has inextricably intertwined the stability and prosperity of the established powers and the emerging major powers – as starkly demonstrated by the collapse of the financial system. This tends to restrain revisionist tendencies. (Although revisionism could be tempting in extreme conditions brought about by climate change, for example.)

Among the major powers, strategy is shifting to preventing successful attacks from terrorist groups or rogue states. President Obama's statement on the release of the updated U.S. Nuclear Posture Review emphasized that “… the greatest threat to U.S. and global security is no longer a nuclear exchange between nations, but nuclear terrorism by violent extremists and nuclear proliferation to an increasing number of states.“

As a result, there are two overriding priorities for the major powers: Building a Russian-American-European-Chinese consensus that active defense against rogue-state and terrorist nuclear attacks is in their common interest, and taking concerted action to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons and delivery systems. While different, the two are inseparable.

How can the major powers respond to these new dynamics and deal with this significantly different nuclear future?

First, aggressively prevent the spread of nuclear materiel and technologies. Enhanced controls over nuclear technologies and materiel should effectively put both out of the reach of rogue states and terrorist groups. Theoretical knowledge about how to build a weapon is one thing … and uncontrollable in the Internet age. Weapons-grade materiel and the technologies to create and use it are something else – and quite controllable. Significant, collective controls over dual-use technologies must be agreed and enforced by the major powers, including against their own businesses as well as international black marketeers.

Second, collaboratively develop and deploy advanced technologies and defense systems that can prevent missile attacks and cross-border trafficking in weapons-capable nuclear materiel and bombs. The U.S. should make available its anti-missile technology to any major power that wants to deploy it. All the major powers should cooperate on developing and deploying advanced detection technology to secure national borders against smuggled bombs and fissile material. Relevant intelligence sharing, including commercial intelligence, should be aggressively expanded.

While deterrence has ceased to dominate U.S.-Russian relations, it was in part the justification for both India and Pakistan to develop their nuclear weapons – to deter China, but also each other.

Deterrence and defense are both arguably still relevant for Israel -- a known but not acknowledged nuclear power. Israel can credibly threaten conventional or nuclear retaliation for any attack from another state. And it has multiple methods of preventing such attacks from states and terrorist groups through deployment of anti-missile defenses and advanced detection technologies, and its willingness to use force. But its willingness to preemptively destroy suspected nuclear facilities in its neighbors is not an ultimate defense -- merely a delaying tactic.

If the deterrence and defense argument works for Israel, so too can Iran argue that having nuclear weapons would deter American invasion and regime change a la Iraq with a nuclear threat against American energy interests in the Middle East. While the major powers and the UN Security Council can make it difficult, if Iran is determined to secure nuclear weapons, it will do so. Iranian and Israeli nuclear weapons might create a new, regional deterrence scenario of mutual assured destruction leading to a standoff. But it would also most likely trigger an accelerated arms race involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of whom would rightfully feel threatened by nuclear-equipped Iranian forces. And the nuclear arsenal in an unstable Pakistan remains a wildcard.

The stability and territorial integrity of the entire Middle East is at risk if Israel preemptively attacks Iranian nuclear installations, or if Iran launches any major attack on Israel, nuclear or conventional, and Israel retaliates with nuclear or conventional arms.

Extending major power guarantees of the territorial integrity of the entire Middle East is a potential way of dealing with these complexities. The major powers should jointly guarantee the territorial integrity of all states in the Middle East, and extend anti-missile coverage to those who desire it while keeping these defensive umbrellas under their own control. A separate American guarantee of Israeli territorial integrity, perhaps matched by a European or Russian guarantee for Iran, would bolster the guarantees’ credibility.

The major nuclear powers should all adopt the stance taken in the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review: “[to] not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations … [while a non-nuclear state] that uses chemical or biological weapons … would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response ….“ This updates a position first advocated by President Eisenhower in 1957.

American and Russian leadership, as it emerged in the new START treaty, can catalyse concerted action, drawing in Europe and China. Certainly the collaboration of the U.S. and Russia on decreasing their own stockpiles gives both a more persuasive position in convincing other nations to restrict nuclear weapons. Some collaboration may best be institutionalized in the UN Security Council, or in other forums, such as the nonproliferation regime. Any and all available avenues should be used.

Major power actions should be directed at inducing cooperation from North Korea, India, and Pakistan to renounce (North Korea) or reduce (India and Pakistan) their nuclear weapons programs. And at persuading other potential nuclear powers, such as Brazil and South Africa, that they have nothing to gain from nuclear arms.

While highly unlikely that we will see nuclear weapons disappear from our world in the foreseeable future, restricting their further spread and controlling nuclear weapons technologies and materiel is an urgent task calling for major power leadership to accelerate global action.

Atomic weapons changed everything in 1945. We were just not sure how.

From the 65 years of the nuclear era, during the time of most intense global competition short of world war, we have learned how to live with nuclear weapons. We have also learned how to work realistically toward a world without them once again.

Iran: Radical, But Not Crazy

By Theodore Couloumbis, Bill Ahlstrom & Gary Weaver

Last month Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that Iran was turning into a “military dictatorship,” as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was steadily assuming more and more power within the country. The image of Iran as a threatening and militarized nation, ruled by an irrational regime and intent on destroying Israel, would become even more ominous if Iran were to join the nuclear club.

While experts are divided on how long it will take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and the capability to deliver it reliably, many believe that the U.S. today could easily shoot down any missile aimed at Israel before it got 100 meters off the ground. Nonetheless, a nuclear armed Iran is no longer just a paranoid possibility - it now seems a realistic probability.

Both superpowers fought deadly and protracted conventional wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. But both clearly avoided direct military conflict, fearing nuclear escalation. Americans and Soviets established open communications about military maneuvers and actions so that neither side would mistakenly assume that it was about to be attacked by the other. As Soviet nuclear and missile delivery capabilities increased, the U.S. and Soviets were locked into a balance of nuclear terror as neither party could use its weapons without suffering (with the rest of the world) massive nuclear retaliation. The fear of nuclear war might have been exaggerated in the public mind, but the foreign policies of the two superpowers remained coldly logical and realistic, especially after the near miss of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Today, all nine states that are known to have successfully tested nuclear weapons have never employed them in anger, except for their initial use against Japan to end the war in the Pacific in 1945. Rather than increasing the probability of war between nuclear powers, ironically, nuclear capability may have actually decreased the likelihood of conflict. Some even argue that the mere possession of nuclear weapons "civilizes" the behavior of its holders. Nonetheless a nuclear armed Iran would be very destabilizing in the region.

To prevent a pre-emptive attack by an opponent, states try to communicate clearly that they will not resort to their own nuclear weapons unless they are first attacked. And a second strike capability reinforces the deterrent effect. While in the past, overwhelming military superiority may have led states to try to compel behavior they sought in neighbors or adversaries, nuclear weapons are clearly better suited to instead deter unwanted behavior.

For the past 65 years, nuclear powers, even when provoked, have avoided increasing hostility against fellow nuclear club members. For example, the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai were seemingly planned and coordinated in Pakistan. Yet India did not threaten Pakistan. In fact, the leaders of both countries intensified their diplomatic discourse. The same has held true for tensions between China and India.

But the situation becomes highly unpredictable when confronting so-called dirty bombs or “suitcase nukes” in the hands of terrorists with a fanatical state of mind and a death wish. Situations such as these clearly fall outside the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Will “rogue” states, such as North Korea, or states that may be motivated by religious extremism, such as Iran, behave rationally and place national survival at the top of their foreign policy priorities?

Mao’s China was usually perceived in the West as irrational, unpredictable and inscrutable during the Cold War. An aggressive ideology - Communism - was believed to drive its foreign policy. The great fear was that a nuclear China would force other nations, especially surrounding states, to capitulate or face nuclear war. “Nuclear blackmail,” it was argued, would drive the states around China into the “Communist camp.”

History has shown this fear to have been unfounded. China behaved like all other nuclear powers and it has a rather rational, predictable and transparent foreign policy. Practicality and national interest have determined China’s foreign policy, not ideology. The key question is whether China’s behavior will also apply to a nuclear Iran.

If Iran, as Secretary Clinton asserts, is moving toward a military dictatorship, it arguably might displace the religious fundamentalism of the current regime with more familiar patterns of praetorian rule. The IRGC, however, is not a regular army. It is more ideological and less pragmatic than the usual military, and it remains closely aligned with the clerical elite. Ahmadinejad himself is a former IRGC member, and he has reportedly transferred a large portion of Iranian state enterprises and other assets to IRGC control - consolidating its economic control and influence and undergirding its ability to potentially dominate internal Iranian politics and society.

But, one could still cautiously argue that soldiers who view the survival of their state as the fundamental imperative will give the consequences of a nuclear exchange a second thought. It is possible that Ahmadinejad is imprudent enough to actually provoke a nuclear exchange with Israel. However, the last thing the IRGC would want is a war they would lose. Indeed, the IRGC might even consider suspending the nuclear program if they were to realize that a nuclear weapons capability could decrease their control over Iranian society.

The world would clearly be better off if Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Israelis know that populist national leaders can be dangerously irrational. Israel has bombed nuclear sites before, and describes a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. The Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, are deeply worried about an Iran with nuclear weapons and appear to be considering even closer ties with the U.S. and, astonishingly, Saudi Arabia is reportedly thinking of allowing Israeli military overflights to attack Iranian nuclear sites. But even Iran’s most extreme leaders would not want to risk destroying holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem with a nuclear weapon slightly off target from an attack on Tel Aviv.

Israeli military action targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities would also be highly destabilizing. It is unlikely that all of Iran’s nuclear sites would be destroyed and it would set back Iranian efforts by only a few years. More significantly, an Israeli strike would cause Iranians to rally around the flag and support the current regime and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and give the regime a greater excuse to crack down on dissidents. Regardless of reality, the U.S. would be viewed as complicit, further compromising its role as peacemaker in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. An upsurge in jihadist activity throughout the region would inevitably follow.

Israel will not easily accept the proposition that Iran will act like other nuclear powers and avoid the temptation to launch a suicidal nuclear attack. Iran may believe that Israel will surely attack its nuclear facilities. Instead of a Cold War analogy, this may be closer to a World War I situation where each side believes that the other will soon be attacking preemptively. The IRGC is a fairly decentralized organization. An IRGC commander could decide to launch an attack without consulting with his leadership in Tehran – potentially triggering an accidental nightmare scenario.

Israeli intransigence on the matter of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements is also seriously disrupting the Mideast peace process and the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much more destabilizing to the region than the prospect of Iranian nuclear arms. It energizes jihadist recruitment and flames resentment among millions.

In a world where the perfect is the enemy of the good, a containment and engagement policy, ideally coordinated with Russia, China and the EU, would probably work with Iran. The U.S. could extend its nuclear umbrella to Israel and to Arab states while expanding jointly approved international sanctions aimed at further restricting key aspects of Iranian trade – balancing these with continued diplomatic and other efforts to bring Iran into responsible regional and international engagement. As during the Cold War, a credible threat of nuclear retaliation for a nuclear attack by Iran on its neighbors can magnify the deterrent effect.

The clerical elites of Iran have not shown that they are driven by irrational ideology. They have been long on rhetoric but short in terms of probing action. They and the IRGC want first and foremost to maintain power and expand Iran’s image and role as a respected regional nation state with serious economic interests. Inviting pre-emptive attack or second-strike retaliation does neither.

As Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak said last month, Iran is governed by radicals, but they are not “totally crazy...”