Monday, October 16, 2006

Are Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strikes The Only Answer To Rogue Religious Regimes?

North Korea's nuclear test last week has highlighted the lack of options available to democratic states in managing rogue states. The failure of the international community to prevent nuclear proliferation, both in the Indian sub-continent and now North Korea, means that the potential for other states to develop their own weapons has increased. Iran may be next, but the march of nuclear power is likely to be stalled rather than halted.

The prospect of long-range nuclear weapons in the hands of the mad man, Kim Jong Il, is bad enough, but the idea that a fundamentalist islamic regime gains nuclear capabilities raises a whole host of other issues.

In the Cold War world there was a balance of power between the two rival superpowers. Mutually assured distruction worked as a doctrine between the US and the USSR because of the rationality of the actors. Game theory was the planet's true saviour.

Dealing with mad men is an entirely different proposotion and while we can dress it up as religion, it is really a misplaced view of what's rational. Let us assume for a moment that Pakistan removes Musharraf as President and that a religious government is installed in his place. What would prevent them from launching a nuclear strike against the US or the UK, particularly if they felt their interests were being threatened in Afghanistan.

Cold war theory would suggest that mutually assured destruction will prevail and that a rational Pakistan would not launch strikes. However, let us take a different perspective, one in which this life is not the end, but the beginning. A rabidly islamic state might decide that Jannah is preferable to this life. If they further believe that defense of the Islamic way of life is dependent upon attacking the west (witness 9/11) then a nuclear bomb will only hasten their entry into paradise. If you are a true believer, then this is certainly not mutually assured destruction.

Sam Harris in his excellent book "The End of Faith" states:
"In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime - as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day - but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception fould plunge us into a state of hot war of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world's population would be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher's stone, and unicorns. That it would be horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely."


Anonymous said...

Europeans caused proliferation - Google URENCO + A Q Khan

Disillusioned and Bored said...

That's not really the point. It doesn't matter who caused proliferation. I'm sure you could make the tortured argument that the US caused all proliferation by inventing the bomb. The real question is what we do with people once they have it.