Deterrence And Iraq

The other argument raised by Demosthenes is that of deterrence. Now, for the record, I want to state that this is a legitimate argument to make, even if I don’t think it’s an especially good one. If Saddam Hussein can be deterred from using his nuclear weapons, then there’s no pressing need to invade.

Except there are plenty of reasons to suspect that deterrence will not work in this case.

But first, a quick summation of the principles of nuclear deterrence. First of all, it requires both sides to have nuclear weapons and be rational actors. Second, it requires each side to be able to inflict unacceptable losses on one another. The principle iof deterrence states that if both sides know full well that the other can destroy them if there’s an attack with nuclear weapons, then neither side will be willing to use their nuclear weapons.

In some cases, this principle works well. India and Pakistan are prime examples of this. Pakistan may be a state on the brink of failure, but Musharraf knows that it’s not in his best interests to provoke a full war. Nor would India take the risk of losing a significant number of its people over Kashmir. Thus, neither side is willing to significantly inflame the other to the point where a nuclear exchange would happen.

Now, what if Musharraf lost power in a coup to fundamentalist forces? In that case, deterrence would no longer apply as one could no longer assume that there were two rational actors in play. In that case, the only option would be to preemptively remove Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities before they could be used.

Finally, to the issue at hand: Iraq. The question that needs to be asked is why Saddam Hussein would spend so much time and effort to develop a nuclear weapon if it would gain him essentially nothing through US deterrence? Since it is clear beyond any real doubt that Saddam is working towards the creation of an Iraqi nuclear device, then one has to ask why.

The answer to that question is why deterrence will not work against Iraq. Here’s what Demosthenes says about deterrence:

It’s also not about that silly idea that he’ll somehow invade someone and dare the U.S. to retaliate. If he attacks someone conventionally, then they (or their allies) can repel him conventionally. If he threatens to use a nuke in response to that, then the U.S. will guarantee that he’ll get nuked to glass. His nuke becomes of precisely zero use as leverage except in the case that he’s doomed anyway. Which, of course, is the entire point of the concept of national sovereignty in the first place… so that nobody is ever put in that situation, and does something desperate due to it.

And yes, the U.S. would most certainly take that risk. They’d have to, or the rest of the planet would know that the U.S. isn’t planning on using its weapons and would act with impunity. The U.S. has to communicate with absolute certainty that the use of a nuclear weapon *will* prompt a response. If Saddam doesn’t know that, his advisors (whose own asses are on the line) will no doubt be quick to tell him.

Saddam’s advisors aren’t going to dictate a damn thing to Hussein, because if they did, he’d have them shot on sight. Anyone in the Iraqi command structure who might disagree with Hussein has already been purged, and those who might speak up are unlikely to due to fear. This means that the potential rational check on Hussein’s power has been silenced at gunpoint.

The only context in which is makes sense for Saddam Hussein to want a nuclear weapon is if it gives him a large degree of leverage. Demosthenes assumes that Saddam’s neighbors have the military ability to defend themselves (which except for Iran they do not), and that we would get involved in such a battle if we knew that Saddam had a nuclear weapon. Neither of those contentions hold much water. If we’re displaying this level of reticence to act now, when Iraq is in a weakened state, what chance is there of us acting against a nuclear-armed Iraq?

Nor is it entirely certain that the United States would be willing to respond with a full nuclear strike if Iraq took Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Could one honestly say that the people who now think an invasion of Iraq is too costly in terms of dollars and lives support an action that would render Iraq unhabitable for years and kill potentially millions of people? Would we launch an attack that would irradiate Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or other nations? Would we honestly be willing to commit utter genocide against the Iraqi people because of Saddam’s possession of nuclear weapon? Yet that is exactly what the principles of deterrence force is to be completely willing to do.

That is not an acceptable option. Even if deterrence didn’t result in that nightmare scenario, the point that Saddam could make a fatal miscalculation is still a proposition that is too potentially disastrous to allow to come to pass.

None of the deterrence options are even remotely acceptable. The only way we can prevent any or all of these scenarios from happening is to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not have nuclear weapons capability. That can only be achieved by destroying his ability to develop and hide nuclear weapons or productions facilities. To achieve that goal would require a level of force that would be nearly identical to that of an invasion force. In the end, the most viable and least dangerous option is to ensure that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.

2 thoughts on “Deterrence And Iraq

  1. Problem here- I noticed that you are assuming that the democratic-regime overthrowing, Taliban-ally dictator #1, Musharraf, is “rational”, while you are assuming that dictator #2, Hussein, is not. Your only basis for this seems to be-

    Musharraf allied with the US when we came knocking on his door, therefore, he is sane, whereas Saddam did not, therefore he isn’t.

    I don’t buy this logic.

    No, Saddam is NOT trying to create a nuclear weapon to oppose the US- that would be like trying to face down a tank with a slingshot. Saddam is trying to create a nuclear weapon to use as leverage against his neighbors- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran- and, Israel.

    His bomb may be a threat to our so-called “allies”, but not to us.

  2. Actually, after studying Musharraf for some time, I’m convinced he is very much rational. He’s trying to be the Ataturk of Pakistan – using his power to slowly move towards a more stable democratic system. I’m not sure how much sucess he’s going to have, but I’ve few doubts that he’s trying to do the best he can with the situation at hand.

    As for the Iraqi threat, if Iraq takes the Saudi oilfields, we’ll see oil prices skyrocket. Which means that the world economy grinds to a halt. Of course, if Saddam has a nuke, it’s going to make it that much harder for us to prevent him from doing that. (Although I’m not entirely convinced that he wouldn’t place one in a major American city in order to blackmail the American government as well…)

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