by Cheryl Rofer
First summary here.
Iran is rattling missiles, photoshopping images, and continuing to operate its enrichment plant. Israel is rattling bombers. The United States is rattling words. North Korea has handed over lots of records, but no plutonium.
Herman Kahn worked out the strategies for massive nuclear exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Both the United States and Russia are now disassembling their nuclear weapons, rather than building more. The nations that have tens or hundreds of nuclear weapons are looking fairly peaceful lately; even India and Pakistan seem to have achieved their own version of the balance of terror. Terrorists don’t seem to have any nukes hidden away yet.
So the danger is that a nation will break out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with a few nukes. This is a very different problem from the one Kahn addressed.
The last country to face an analogous situation was the United States at the end of World War II. By the time it had tested an implosion device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and dropped weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was out of atomic bombs and fissionable materials. Truman bluffed for the several years it took to build some tens of nuclear weapons.
That was, of course, when no other nations had nuclear weapons.
Andy at Nuclear Mangoes reminded me over the weekend of my irritation that nobody has addressed the strategy of one to a few nuclear weapons. That’s a different problem than something in the range of 5-10, which is a different problem from a higher number. None of these have been addressed systematically for today’s world.
So let’s have a blog tank. Anyone who wants to participate should post a scenario (or scenarios) on their blog or, if you don’t have a blog, in the comments to this post. Here is the problem I want to address:
What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support.I envision a next step after the scenarios have been presented, perhaps a mutual critique, but I am open to suggestions on that next step. Let’s keep this first round to scenario development.
I’ll pull things together, as I did the last time around. I won’t try to reconcile one scenario with another, although I may note similarities.
Deadline for scenarios: July 18.
There’s not much reading available that I think would be helpful, precisely the problem we will remedy. Michael Levi’s On Nuclear Terrorism is a good example of method, but I don’t want to get into the details of nuclear terrorism right now. (Considering a handoff to terrorists as a possible scenario for a nation is okay; what the terrorists do with it afterward is outside the scope.)
Jeffrey Lewis’s “Minimum Deterrence” has some relevance.
Leave a comment with a link to your post.
Expanded After the Jump
I see that I need to say a bit more about what I am looking for. I have also gotten a little smarter by starting to read George Perkovich's India's Nuclear Bomb last night, about which I will say more after I attempt to clarify the blog tank.
I am actually pretty easygoing about the bounds of what participants may choose to do. Obviously, North Korea and Iran have a lot to do with thinking about what a country would do if it had just a few nukes. Also obviously, its plans and intentions have a lot to do with its specific circumstances. But I don't want to get into a rather conventional discussion of North Korea and Iran in particular. There is too much we don't know about them, and most of that discussion has been had already.
But it may be useful to look at that question more generally. That is, what about a country's situation might induce it to develop nuclear weapons? What does it do with them after it's got them? Of what utility are nuclear weapons if a country can produce only a few? Thinking these questions through can give us insight into what sorts of incentives North Korea and Iran might respond to, which other countries might be in danger of going nuclear, and what we might do to discourage this pathway before nations get too far down it.
It seemed to me that developing scenarios might be a useful way to look at the interconnected factors in a national decision to develop nuclear weapons. Given the limitations of our medium, we can't be as detailed as Michael Levi in On Nuclear Terrorism, but I think we can fruitfully begin in the blog form.
Shane Deichman has provided a scenario that I think will be quite useful for our purposes. And a chuckle with it, too.
I commented above that the United States was the last nation to face this problem. That's not accurate, although it may be the most relevant of the possible examples. Every nation that has gone nuclear has faced a version of it, but there have been big differences.
The Soviet Union, UK, France and China all went nuclear during the Cold War, as part of one of the two big alliances. They also were significant conventional military powers, so the nuclear weapons were frosting on the cake. They all announced their nuclear capability by testing, and the fact of their going nuclear was not particularly surprising, although the timing might have been. Israel, India and Pakistan all went nuclear against the wishes of the larger powers. Something of an implicit bargain was struck between the United States and Israel that it would not announce its nuclear arsenal. India first tested in 1974, but its desire to be more moral than the former colonial powers required that it claim that its nukes were for peaceful use. In May 1998, during a period of tension with Pakistan, India exploded three nuclear devices underground, and Pakistan followed with five underground explosions two weeks later. According to Perkovich, India's motivations were a complex blend of internal politics and security concerns. Presumably India was able to build up its arsenal quietly in the time between its first test and the break-out with Pakistan.
The 1979 flash in the South Atlantic may have been a joint test between Israel and South Africa. The apartheid South African government built a half-dozen nuclear weapons, apparently for a last-ditch defense in a civil war, and gave them up after apartheid crumbled.
North Korea ramped up its negotiating position by exploding an underground test. Iran has some way to a bomb, if that is indeed its goal.
One of the arguments for bomb, bomb, bombing Iran is that if it gets a nuclear weapon (and it will have only one or two to start with), it will nuke Israel. But how much sense does that make?
There are many more questions. I hope to see a variety of responses. I'm looking for a sort of creative realism that will bring out the many variables in these sorts of strategic calculations.