1. @ Rod – Interesting look at the situation. I’m not convinced that Iran’s current nuclear activities are geared towards weapons. Iran wants to be able to produce and sell their own isotopes for medical and industrial use. Making them in their own reactor as opposed to buying them at market price would be a big deal for them. They can’t buy the 20% enriched uranium so they must enrich it themselves. I also think that an Iran bomb isn’t quite as scary as our leaders make it out to be. As I recall (from books not personal experience) the US was considering strikes against China’s fledgling nuclear stockpile for the same reasons were considering Iran today. We seem to be getting along fairly well with China today.

  2. The whole idea of preventing everybody else from getting nuclear weapons is unworkable. Like in any competition you can’t suppress the competition forever. Microsoft tried to suppress the competition for decades, but has now been forced to take a backseat to Apple in many sectors, simply because Apple products are better. If we are afraid of nuclear war, we should build the best shelters, the best contamination clean up technology, the best missile defense…. there is so much you can do OTHER than suppressing the competition.

  3. Iran is indeed rich in oil and gas. But in only two decades from now, it will be a net importer of energy. This is because the population is increasing, demanding a better standard of living, and a general drive towards providing electric power to outlying areas. Iran is now a country of a very high percentage of youth. They are probably one of the youngest nations in the world. Almost 70% of the population is under 30 years old and all have huge expectations from their government. Even now they use more than half of their production of oil and gas for domestic consumption.
    Iran is the largest and most powerful State in its region. It does not have any power deficit with regards to any of its immediate neighbors and doesn

  4. Though the US has not ever used nuclear weapons since the end of World War II, our mere possession of nuclear weapons colors everything that we do. The same is true for every nuclear weapons state. NWSes are – generally speaking – untouchable via conventional military force.
    States generally try to maintain the balance of power between them. A nuclear Iran would cause a major shift in the balance of power in the region that Iran is in, as it would free up much of Iran’s conventional resources to be used for power projection. It is only logical that those adversely impacted by a shift in the balance of power would try to counterbalance against that by trying to get their benefactors, in this case, the US, to strike at the nation – Iran – that is threatening the region’s balance of power.
    However, is it in our interest to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East?
    I do not think that Iran’s nuclear weapons program (and, yes, in my opinion, there is one) is a direct threat to the United States, only an indirect one. Though the goal of ending the arms race and bringing the sordid history of nuclear weapons to an end in a complete, verifiable, and irreversable fashion ought to remain a national priority, we must remember that the world as it is is not the world as we want it to be, and we can only do what we can with the tools that we have on hand in the world that exists today.
    Iran may be a bunch of totalitarian theocrats, mass murderers, terrorist supporters and harborers, and general creeps, but they are not insane. Iran is a threat, but it is one that is fundamentally deterrable against. Provided we do not directly imperil Iran’s national survival, I doubt that our national survival will be in danger. Other nations, like Israel, may feel differently, but then again, Israel is not the 51st state, and our friendship and alliance with them, such as may be supposed to exist, is exclusively defensive (as opposed to offensive) and reactive (as opposed to preemptive) in character. The Gulf Arabs are not our allies or our friends – we have not forgotten who funds al Qaeda – they are dictatorships – and we merely share interests with them in maintaining the oil flow.
    I think positive outcomes may come of a nuclear armed Iran seeking regional hegemony. A balance of power in the Middle East that provides for the oil flow to be maintained without credible threat of interruption is not in our ultimate national interest, and has not been since 1973.
    The best thing that could happen for the United States is for a balance of power to emerge in the Middle East – that, due to the threat of Iranian military action – backed by Iranian nuclear arms – the continuity of the world oil supply is placed in jeopardy. This would force the US to embark on a crash program for domestic alternatives, which would serve the national interest far more than any other single policy decision that can be made. Our dependence on Middle Eastern oil is the greatest weakness that we Americans have, and it needs to be ended at an early date.
    Kicking the Middle Eastern oil habit would be painful, but, as they say in the Marines, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

    1. I think it is an error too to interpret nuclear technology activities in Iran only in terms of America-Israel-Iran interactions. Who doesn’t factor in this debate very much is the Russians, who would see a nuclear armed Iran seeking regional hegemony a greater threat to their interests in the several recently independent ‘stans’ on their southern border. I also suspect that Russian intelligence on what is going on in Iran is more accurate and complete, compared to the West at this point. It is highly unlikely that a full weapons program could be hidden from them, yet they seem comfortable doing business with Iran in nuclear matters.

      1. @DV82XL – I am pretty certain that there are some conflicts within Russia about helping Iran in its nuclear energy pursuits, even if they have a pretty good first hand understanding about the extent of other activities. Like the Saudis, about the only Russian product that anyone really buys is their oil and gas. They do export some fairly profitable weapons and they have a growing market share in the nuclear industry.
        However, helping Iran operate nuclear plants to displace domestic use of natural gas can be risky to the profits of Gazprom. With gas, there does not have to be much of a shift the supply/demand balance to have a major impact on the sale price. Many European countries are current chaffing under some long term gas contracts that are indexed to oil prices since the world price of gas on a per unit heat basis is far lower than the price of oil. Believe it or not, I just read about an LNG shipment that is actually leaving the US and being exported to Europe where the price is enough higher than it is here in the US to make such a shipment profitable.
        Reaching Europe via a gas pipeline from Iran is far cheaper, but Iran currently does not have much gas to spare. That would change if they started up a few nuclear plants – which can free up 87 billion cubic feet per year each. (Assuming a 1400 MWe plant like the ones that the UAE has purchased from South Korea.)

        1. Well Iran doesn’t have that clear a route for a pipeline to Europe, or India, or China that wouldn’t be fraught with political difficulties so I would guess that this is not so much of a problem for the Russians ether. Ether way the Russians seem more comfortable with Iran, most others, so I can’t see them being too worried about them

          1. @DV82XL – you are right about pipeline access – for now. However, the Iranians do not have the nuclear plants right now either. By the time they could possibly build and begin operating those plants, the Nabucco pipeline may be operational. One of the main hurdles that has slowed its development is arranging sufficient supplies of gas to fill it.
            This is a link to a BBC story from last month indicating that Turkmenistan may be able to provide some of the required gas.
            Here is a link to some images of the proposed routes – notice that Iran is included at the supply end – that also has an intriguing quote from the Russians – “If we can’t own the pipeline, we’ll control the faucet.” That article was published in the summer of 2007 when the project was still in the planning phases.

            1. Well that’s the whole point. Russia is not all that worried about gas from Iran eroding its market, or it would seem its geopolitical influence that comes from controlling supplies. I would argue that in a region where national grudges against neighboring countries go on for literally thousands of years, the political aspects of using any of the proposed routes from that link will remain problematic.

              1. @DV82XL – I am not talking about geopolitical influence as much as I am talking about cold, hard cash. Gazprom executives – some of whom sit inside the Kremlin – care a great deal about the sales price of natural gas. If the EU succeeds in building Nabucco, the price of gas is likely to fall due to the shift in power between customers and suppliers.
                Perhaps Russian companies are working together to make sure that the effects can be mitigated through internal influence – making sure that Iranian nuclear energy does not grow so rapidly that it will actually free up much gas. Alternatively, the folks heading up Rosatom may not even care that much about Gazprom profitability – they are probably rivals for influence within the famous power struggles inside the Kremlin.

                1. That’s a very pertinent observation. It is possible that there is some tension between the long-term plans of Rosatom and those of Gazprom. Nothing is cut and dried in energy politics. Nevertheless, the fact is that the Russian have been willing to do business with Iran in nuclear matters, during this period, while others have not.

  5. There are so many problems with interpreting this leaked comment.
    1) It is an American talking to his government about something Saudi said. Americans are, we know, extremely anxious about a nuclear Iran. How anxious are the Saudis? We do not know. So, even if the Saudis would rather not have a Nuclear Iran, and might say so to the Americans, we don’t know how deeply they feel about the issue.
    2) It reminds of the Climategate emails, in that these leaks are mostly simple statements, into which commentators are inserting, between the lines, their favourite novels. So any News or Commentary about these statements often reflects more about the News source, or Commentator, than any ambiguous, but accurate, analysis that the scant content of these messages affords.
    3) Entirely lost in all this is that the most important public policy of governments invariably occur in the real world. Little than is truly important for public policy is secret, between or within governments. (Of course there are exceptions, but why harp on that almost exclusively?)

  6. I do not fear a direct military nuclear attack from Iran. I fear one or more anonymous bombs in shipping containers going off in U.S. cities.
    Every human has a right to the benefits of fission, but enrichment and reprocessing should be limited to large stable nations under transparent observation by the IAEA.
    Enrichment is a tiny fraction of the cost of nuclear power and the UN can guarantee peaceful nations with transparent peaceful nuclear power access to enrichment.

    1. @Bill Hannahan – Enrichment is indeed a small part of the cost of nuclear power. Heck, the whole fuel cycle from mining to conversion, to enrichment, to fabrication to long term storage only costs a US utility fuel buyer about .5 cents per kilowatt hour.
      The problem is that the fuel supplying countries have a long history of using that supply as a club with which to force their customers to do their bidding. The restrictions put onto the purchaser include things like forever foreswearing the ownership of all of the interesting by-products of fission. Look at the dispute we are having with the South Koreans right now – a country that we generally like. They want to renegotiate a 40 year old deal preventing them from recycling. They are a small, crowded country without a lot of empty land and they are also a county full of people that dislike the idea of wasting resources.
      But some people who gloss over the fact that there are thousands of nuclear weapons already in existence, many of which are in the hands of countries that already do not like us, claim to be afraid that South Korea might let some of the material get into the wrong hands. We are talking here about used light water reactor fuel with a high enough burn-up so that the Pu isotope mixture is wildly inappropriate for weaponization. I hate being in the position of defending someone who has been quoted saying some pretty wild and nasty things about his neighbors and even his own people, but why would anyone trust the US as a fuel supplier?
      Russia is no better; how many times has it used its fuel supplies (oil, gas, AND commercial nuclear fuel) to try to mold the actions of its neighbors?
      Look at what happened to India for 40 years after exploding a device that was apparently similar to the peaceful Plowshare type explosives? It was cut off from the international nuclear fuel market and ended up without enough uranium to keep its reactors operating at full capacity.
      I wish I lived in a world without nuclear weapons. However, I was born about 14 years too late for that. I now simply want to live in a world where ownership of nuclear weapons confers no benefit and where the chances of any actual use of the weapons is tiny enough to ignore. The best way to achieve that goal, I think, is to try to elevate human prosperity to the point where everyone feels like they have something to lose if weapons are the way that disputes get solved.

    2. Even if the question of supplying weapon-grade fissile material is removed, it still requires a sizable technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to make a weapon. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing a militarily significant number of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars, and the idea that such a project could be carried out by surreptitiously diverting commersial reactor fuel belongs in pulp novels, not in any rational discussion of the issue.

      1. @DV82XL – I agree. Since it is still introduced as a concern by people who should know better, I maintain that the real motivator behind the whole linkage between recycling used fuel and proliferation is money. The established energy industry does not want its hard won addicts to realize that clean, abundant energy is available – all we have to do it work diligently and carefully. We do not have to bow down to dictators, we do not have to sacrifice our freedoms, and we do not have to put young lives at risk of being ended or permanently altered by warfare.
        I want to follow the advice of my favorite President of the 20th Century – the guy who was in office when I was born.
        The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future. That capability, already proved, is here–now–today. Who can doubt, if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, that this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient, and economic usage.

  7. Rod, you describe things as they are now, I describe how they should be in the future.
    Enrichment should not be held as a club over countries that want commercial nuclear power. Those countries should be guaranteed access to enrichment, at market prices, in exchange for having a transparent nuclear program.
    Iran and N Korea do not have transparent programs. Their weapons are a danger to us and should be dismantled. India and Pakistan have secret nuclear programs; the world would be a safer place if those programs had been nipped in the bud. Sanctions on those four countries should be ratcheted up to whatever level is required to convince them to give up their nuclear weapons programs.
    The comment implying that Plowshare type explosives are nothing to worry about baffles me.
    The reprocessing of high burnup fuel is orders of magnitude less important than enrichment because it is not a practical path to weapons. Secret reprocessing of low burnup fuel is a problem. I support reprocessing when it becomes economically attractive.
    I support your goal to elevate human prosperity to the point where everyone feels like they have something to lose if weapons are the way that disputes get solved. While we

    1. @Bill – my vision is just as much a vision of a difficult to reach, but worthwhile future as yours. I also see a world with far fewer weapons because the owners have figured out they are far more valuable and useful when beaten into fuel rods and used to provide massive quantities of reliable heat.
      My basic feeling is that the vast majority of the world’s population are pretty decent people who I would not mind inviting to a “pot luck” dinner. I am pretty sure that they would contribute to the feast preparation and the clean-up and not attempt to hog all of the best parts of the meal – even if they had already filled their plates to the brim.
      On the other hand, there are people in positions of wealth and power who are “climbers” and greedy individuals who do nothing but take, and take and take, with the feeling that larger numbers on their bank statements make them winners in some kind of game of life. Unfortunately, our system occasionally elevates those aggressively greedy people to the top. They have used their positions to dominate others so long that they think it is their right. If I put myself in the shoes of someone who was not born in America, and I study the history of energy, I would have a hard time trusting American businessmen and diplomats who make energy related promises.
      Your comment overlooked the most famously “secret” nuclear weapons program of all – why?
      Your comment about supporting reprocessing when it becomes economically attractive puzzles me. How does something become economically attractive if you do not practice the art and refine the processes? Do you think that the enormous variety of large, affordable flat screen TVs and computer monitors available in every major department store this Christmas came about because the people who figured out that you could produce moving images without CRTs sat around waiting for the technology to come down in price?
      Remember, it was only a few years ago that there was no such thing as a 50″ television and a computer monitor with a screen larger than 24″ was as expensive as an economy car.
      My experience with technology is that there needs to be a substantial body of research to make sure that the goals are possible, there needs to be a roadmap produced by both technologists and hard nosed cost accountants, and there needs to be steady investment and a willingness to sell products for less than current cost, knowing how you plan to bring costs down to the market price.
      The best estimates from the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the world in recycling used nuclear fuel show that the next generation plants will produce commercial fuel that costs about 20% more than current commercial fuel. That might not sound compelling enough, but 20% more than today’s commercial nuclear fuel is still only 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour compared to about 3 cents per kilowatt hour for enough natural gas heat to produce one kilowatt-hour.
      Finally, the comment about the Plowshares explosions needs some explanation. We were loudly claiming that the whole series was a peaceful use of atomic energy. The Indians determined that they, too, had a right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. However, when they exercised that interpreted right, using exactly the same intellectual basis as the US applied to its own program, they were cut off from the international nuclear trade for more than 40 years.
      That cut off added a great deal of poverty and misery to the world. Your advocacy of ratcheting up sanctions to whatever level is necessary indicates to me that you would like to see that kind of regime repeated, no matter how many fundamentally decent people get hurt, in order to force proudly stubborn people at the top to give up something that gives them power. Sanctions do not hurt the top of the heap – they have plenty of resources to buy whatever they need on the black market.
      Read, for example this story about North Korea’s successful effort to get around one of the most repressive sanctions regimes ever attempted:

      1. “We were loudly claiming that the whole series was a peaceful use of atomic energy. The Indians determined that they, too, had a right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. However, when they exercised that interpreted right, using exactly the same intellectual basis as the US applied to its own program, they were cut off from the international nuclear trade for more than 40 years. … That cut off added a great deal of poverty and misery to the world.”
        All that India had to do was to sign a treaty. This treaty was not so onerous that most of the rest of the world didn’t agree to sign it. India refused. It’s their own fault that they were cut off.
        Since you are comparing India to the US, I’d like to point out that the US is not in constant conflict with a neighboring state over mostly religious issues.

        1. @Brian – India would have signed the treaty if they had been treated the same way that the five established “nuclear powers” had been treated. As it was, they refused to accept a permanent second tier treatment.
          It may have been illogical from some perspectives, but I can see their point.
          I am not convinced that the issues that India has with its neighbors are “mostly religious.” I have known a lot of quite religious people of various types. I think that religion is WAY overrated a source of actual physical conflict. Remember, the old saying “religion is the opiate of the masses?” Opiates tend to make people more passive, not more aggressive.
          On the other hand, humans have been fighting over territory and other resources since we lived in caves.

          1. Rod – Eh … it was still their choice, so please excuse me when I don’t shed any tears for them. Other countries have done quite well after signing the treaty.
            Sure, India and Pakistan are fighting over “stuff” (i.e., land), but religion is how they distinguish between the two sides. Call it “cultural differences,” if that makes you feel better, but it still amounts to the same thing — a tribalism that leads to conflict.
            “Remember, the old saying “religion is the opiate of the masses?””
            Er … that “old saying” is due to Karl Marx. It’s not all that old, and Karl meant that religion is a comfort to oppressed people in a heartless world. It helps them to accept their lot in life. If that lot is to go die for their country or their people or their faith, then so be it.
            “Opiates tend to make people more passive, not more aggressive.”
            Heh … tell that to Al-Qaeda. They seem to think that its a great recruiting tool. Last time I checked, they were not all that passive.

            1. @Brian – have you never been the underdog or fiercely wanted to make you own way in the world? Have you never declared your independence of domination and told someone to go take a hike if they tried to buy your passivity with money?
              I like to think for myself. I like to be as independent as possible. Quite frankly, that stance has cost me some money over the years and probably was part of the reason that I retired from the Navy 14 years after my last promotion. However, I like to think that I am a slightly more productive and happy person because of it.
              By my way of thinking, India’s choice was pretty logical considering their desire to move from being a colony to a position in the world reflective of being the world’s most populous democracy in just a few years. Part of their adamancy in not signing the NPT as a nonnuclear power was their belief that they had at least as legitimate claim to full power status as the other neighbor with whom they had recently fought – China.

              1. > I think that religion is WAY overrated a source of actual physical conflict.
                This is however a great misunderstanding of religious fundamentalism – while common among religious moderates, it is a failure to see the reality as it is. Rod, there are people who actually believe exactly as the various books say, and if you read them you know that their god is by no means a moderate – he is exactly as violent, hateful, sectarian, and divisive, as the fundamentalists preach. It seems to me (as pointed out by Sam Harris), that it is the moderates with their “pick and choose from a Holy book” attitude who are by construction blind to the fundamentalist world view. Please remember that once you pick-and-choose, you assert your own authority over the “divine word”, which is perpendicular to a fundamentalist world view.
                > Remember, the old saying “religion is the opiate of the masses?” Opiates tend to make people more passive, not more aggressive.
                Exactly, this was a comment on popular masses under state religions in the 19th century, long after the Crusades, the Inquisition, centuries of burning of witches and heretics, and almost perpetual civil wars (due to religious differences) were abandoned in favor of moderation. A very different beast from fundamentalists – Christians in 14th century or Islamists these days. We tend to think that the fundamentalist Christians centuries ago were some kind of crazy lunatics without reasoning capacity. Well, read St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Dominic, they argue all the doctrinal foundations for the practices of the Holy Inquisition and religious warfare in a rather clear, calm, and rational manner, in flustering similarity to works of Sayyid Qutb or Khomeini’s Velayat-e faqih, the roots of both Sunni and Shia fundamentalist revival nowadays. Europe abandoned its adherence to fundamentalist interpretation of religion (in most places at least) only after Europeans nearly wiped out itself from existence during the 30 years war, many centuries before nuclear weaponry. If the 30years war was waged with nuclear weapons, the world would look much differently.
                BTW the quote in context: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. “

              2. Rod – Everybody instinctively loves an underdog. Nobody loves a whiner.
                If India wanted to forgo international help with their nuclear program so that they can have their own weapons program (to defend against China, perhaps; to strong-arm their non-nuclear neighbors, definitely), then fine. That is their prerogative.
                These types of decisions have consequences. If you can’t deal with the consequences, then don’t take the option. Complaining about it afterward just makes you look like a crybaby.

  8. Buffett is on the right track.
    “Spurred by a pledge of $50 million from Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted Friday to set up a global nuclear fuel bank that aspiring nations can turn to for reactor fuel instead of making it themselves.”

    1. @Bill – I do not want to denigrate the effort, but take a look at the details. A man whose personal fortune amounts to tens of billions of dollars pledges $50 million. Buffett’s wealth varies depending on the stock market, but that number is roughly 0.2% of his net worth.
      However, the strings that he attached asked the international community to provide a 2:1 match to show that they were also serious. Despite the fact that $50 million is “decimal dust” in the US budget, he had to extend his initial deadline by more than 2 years before we finally came up with the money.
      There is a reason why an international nuclear fuel bank has been bandied about as an idea since the Baruch plan – so far without much success. It is difficult on all sides to set up and for the targeted customers to trust that it means what the donors say it means.

      1. Russia has just established a 120 tons store of low-enriched uranium to the International Enrichment Center at Angarsk, an industrial city near Lake Baykal, just north of Mongolia, which has been created:

    1. @Bill – I also trust that Israel not to send containers with bombs into the US – we give them about $4 billion per year in aid. However, Israel has demonstrated that it is quite willing to use massive force against lightly armed people without any means of escape.
      Your use of the word “decade” with regard to sanctions makes me wince. How long do you think it takes to for imposed sanctions to lead to starvation and deprivation for the most vulnerable members of the targeted country?

  9. 1) If the nuclear energy was the issue, why isn’t Saudi Arabia (and everyone else) having the same issues with UAE? UAe is building nearly 6GWe of nuclear capacity, and contrary to Iranian Bushehr (which BTW none objects over) is 6x bigger and more realistic threat to oil consumption: Bushehr is in construction since 1975, while the UAE plants are outsources to people with an excellent track record of building plants in 5 years or less. If your thesis was correct, there would be objections to the UAE deal – but there were and are none.
    2) I think it is difficult to doubt that Iran is after nuclear weapons – they did not keep their nuclear energy programs (Bushehr) in secret, but they kept in secret (in violation of their IAEA and other agreements) everything which stinks as a weapons program. If they were after nuclear power, why would they continuously reject all the bribes from international community to basically give them all the fuel for free, assist with nuclear power development, only if they allowed the international community to make sure their program is for peaceful purposes only?
    Then there is their well documented close cooperation with North Korea over military technology. Obviously North Korea only want nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, right? (the last sentence was a sarcasm) I think claiming that Iran is only after peaceful uses of nuclear energy is incorrect, to put it mildly.
    3) Of course they are not going to bomb the US, or even Israel, at least not in the first instant. They will use their nuclear arsenal as a leverage/blackmail in international politics. Giving nukes to of Hezbollah or other of their proxies will only happen after they secure a lot of loot from the blackmail. The idea of apocalyptic weaponry in the hands of a messianic regime should scare people. Claiming that the whole “expectation of 12th imam” is just a story for children, which none believes in, is a great misunderstanding of fundamentalist mind, which brings me to the last point:
    4) Frankly, I find your apologetics here rather alarming. This seems to me a long standing point with religious moderates (such as you I dare to presume), who refuse to accept that fundamentalists actually believe what they say the believe. When these folks say they love death more than we love life (by the virtue of a quick way to paradise), it is the religious moderates who doubt this – “it must be lack of education, abundant poverty, needs for energy, …” moderates rationalize. I would ask, paraphrasing Sam Harris here: How many architects and engineers need to fly into buildings at 400mph to make us actually believe them? It is possible to be well educated, to the point of being able to make a nuclear weapon, and still believe in 72 virgins as a reward for martyrdom – this is how compartmentalized our mind is, and our discourse is: nowhere during my technical education I was told that stories and promises as such are nonsense.
    (Aside: The fact that the terrorists mentioned above were Arab Sunni rather than Persian Shia is not relevant. During Iraq-Iran war the children of Iran were sent into minefields to explode them by their own feet, and given plastic “keys to paradise” to wear while doing so. The same fundamentalist mentality applies here.)

    1. We have start thinking some of these things out: why would any country like Iran attack the US, what are they going to gain? More than likely they would be nuked until they twinkled, and countries like Russia and China, that might otherwise be moved to hold the US back would not step in to intervene
      Why would anyone give a subnational group a nuclear weapon period? Nobody is stupid enough to put something like that into the hands of people that are just as likely to blackmail you with it; it is just not credible. Please don’t recite the usual rubbish about religious extremists, that is just propaganda, these people know exactly what they are doing, and would not risk their own existence. Just like every Western politician, they are much more comfortable talking someone else into sacrificing their lives for the cause, then they are taking any chances with their own. Demonizing the enemy is standard propaganda, don’t let it stop you from using reason.
      If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, and builds a nuclear arsenal it will be to defend the country against invasion. They will be lower yield tactical nuclear warheads, with short-range delivery systems that can make a mess of an invader massing on their border. or take out an invading fleet sitting off shore. That’s what they will be for, and nothing else. To have a strategic capability you need a nuclear arsenal of tens of thousands of units and long-range delivery systems. You cannot take out a country like the US, Russia, or China with a few hundred warheads. There was a reason the US and Russia had 70,000 nuclear bombs between them during the Cold War: those were the sorts of numbers that gave the sides some hope of knocking out the others capacity to retaliate, the Prime Objective of any First Strike doctrine.

      1. DV82XL – speaking with tremendous respect to your opinions, I think you make the mistake assuming that fundamentalist messianic zealots follow our rules of secular rational calculus – that they are actually not the religious zealots, as they themselves claim to be. Where is any evidence for that? Their proclaimed aim is to bring on the Messiah, the 12th Imam in the case of current leadership of Iran. If you believe that the current “veil of tears” is just an illusion in the grand scheme of things, than no matter how comfortable you are, the yearning for the “real world behind the veil”, the yearning of this world to end, is stronger than the biological survival instinct.
        Again, how many comfortably living middle or even upper class people with technical carriers and PhDs in need to fly themselves into buildings at 400mph for us to understand that they actually mean what they say? It is not “the standard propaganda of demonizing the enemy” if it is the enemy actually who is saying so. It seems to me profoundly irresponsible and wishful thinking to reject all this evidence as “just propaganda”, rejecting the possibility that some people do seriously mean what they actually say, in particular when there is plenty evidence for it.
        First they would use the nuclear weaponry as a means of blackmail, in a similar manner as North Koreans. This would be abhorring but not desperate situation. They would certainly not try to attack any superpower. I also agree they will unlikely openly attack Israel, as it would strike back, though this relies on assumption of some (secular) rational calculus among the leaders in Tehran and Qum, which we can hope for but never can be certain of. In particular if they found themselves in the situation that majority of the country rejects their “custodianship by divine providence” (which seems to be likely after the 2009 election fiasco), the nuclear retaliation may be a wanted outcome. Dictators tend to do this when their flock fails their expectations. We can talk about how much likely such situation is, but rejecting it from the beginning as unrealistic seems to me wishful.
        Second, I find the argument of “blackmail back” as unpersuasive (ignoring many ways how would IRGC assure it cannot be blackmailed back.) It is like suggesting that Jezuites would blackmail the Vatican. Sure, had Hezbollah been a secular terrorist organization, one could doubt their level of adherence to the dogma. The point is they are not. Like it or not, we are dealing with religious zealots, certain of their revealed truths. They do operate under some rational calculus, but with a very different sets of variables and boundary conditions than the secularists. Your assessment seems to me resides on a ground-up rejection of all the religious/Jihadist propaganda as some sort of folks tales to scare children, rather than a serious declaration of core values. If there are people, the fellow poorly evolved primates, claiming on camera that they love death more than we love life, and they follow up by blowing themselves to pieces, how can you claim this is just some sort of lame propaganda, and they are unwilling to risk their existence? Seems to me they very much are.

        1. I’m not going to bother arguing with you because you have obviously drunk the Kool-ade. Believe whatever you want, convincing people like you to see beyond the prejudices that have been inculcated by propaganda is too depressing. I feel very sorry for you, but the situation in the Middle East is not my fight, and the waning influence of the U.S. in the international sphere is not my concern. But as it is becoming increasingly clear that none of the rhetoric and bellicosity aimed at Iran will have any effect on domestic policies there, because it cannot be backed up by a credible military threat, I would suggest that preparing to adjust to world with a nuclear armed Iran might be a better use of one’s time than finding justification for brandishing hollow threats.

          1. I dont think that the military threats are that much hollow, and I dont see overt support by the US as a necessity. I guess we see this issue rather differently.

          2. PS: If you could briefly explain what makes you think that Iranis are actually not serious about the nature of their government, I would be thankful.

    1. As I see it there are five possible applications for nuclear weapons:
      1. Deterrence
      2. Warfighting
      3. State terrorism (a la Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
      4. False flag attack (eg a future white supremacist regime nukes Israel, and frames Muslims for it)
      5. Genocide
      No 1. doesn’t actually involve setting off the nuclear weapons.
      No 2. involves using the weapons against military targets, not civilians.
      No 3. requires the victim to know who they’re supposed to surrender to (and in any case is impossible if the intended victim has nuclear weapons of its own).
      No 4. involves framing a third party, not remaining anonymous.
      Only No. 5 is compatible with anonymous nuclear attacks.
      Are there any states (I don’t think non-state terrorist groups would be capable of building a nuclear weapon), which you believe have GENOCIDAL ambitions against the United States? (Some Islamists may have genocidal ambitions against ISRAEL, but you were talking about American cities being anonymously nuked.)

  10. After some consideration, I am not going to allow myself to be drawn into this discussion any farther than I have already have. I would suggest both Dissenting voice, and Bill Hannahan take the time to study and understand the geopolitics of nuclear weapons. Please start by reading this essay: The Nuclear Game – An Essay on Nuclear Policy Making There are two more essays in the series you may also find enlightening. The subject is somewhat more complex than most realize, and does not follow classical imperatives in the same way conventional warfare does.
    I am not interested in debating current propaganda on Islamic militancy, beyond pointing out that historically fanaticism has been a vice of the rank-and-file in any group, the leadership of these movements generally takes a more pragmatic view of the situation.

  11. Until the quality of your questions indicates that you have done some basic research into the subject of nuclear warfare, I will not respond. Your questions show a deep ignorance of the basics, and we would both be wasting our time. You may choose to consider this response arrogant, or assign to it any other motivation than the one I have stated, that is your privilege. frankly I couldn’t care less. If you’re not willing to do some basic reading, then I don’t consider you worth engaging with.
    Rod, if you have issues with my attitude, please feel free to tell me and I will refrain from posting here.

    1. I read your link (and also many other discussion of the subject). They are correct as far as states run by secularists, opportunists, or moderates at heart, who seek joy in this world. The example of Maoist China is clearly of this kind (secular dictatorship to (they claim) seek heaven on Earth); Saddam Hussein was an opportunist who started as a secularist and morphed to vocal and monetary supporter of jihadist terror during the 1990s. I very much agree with you in these cases.
      The point not addressed, and raised by me earlier, is what to do with a messianic regime which is actually serious. In particular if there is way they can start actuating the Prophecies while claiming plausible deniability to avoid annihilation, such as: “We and our Shia friends from Hezbollah have nothing to do with that the HEU explosion in Tel-Aviv, it certainly was the Al-qaeda Sunnis and their well known friends at ISI, or even more likely the Mossad did it, as anyway we know they are responsible for every damn thing since the Noah’s flood. Now prove us wrong! You cant? Well why do you want to retaliate against peaceful people like us!”. See, very difficult, in particular as it is now clear that most Iranians actually do not support the Custodianship of Guardian Council nearly as much as they “should”.
      Claiming that there just cannot be any such thing as self-destructive fundamentalism at the level of tyrannical national government seems (to me at least) based on wishes, and I will not insult you with examples. Yes there are examples of “rank-and-file fundamentalism where leaders were more pragmatic”, but there are examples to the contrary too. You may say that this is the gambit you are willing to make, while others are rather reluctant. But it seems rather unconvincing to claim that such risk is nonexistent, or not worthy of consideration.

      1. Please insult me with examples, and some documentary proof to back them up – otherwise you are just blowing hot air.
        Obviously everything you think know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Iranians aren’t suicidal: in fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary. The Iranians allied with the United States and against the Taliban in 2001, assisting in the creation of the Karzai government. They worked against the United States in Iraq, where they feared the creation of a pro-U.S. puppet on their border. During the Gaza war, Israel warned Hizbullah not to launch rockets against it, and there is much evidence that Iran played a role in reining in their proxies. Iran’s ruling elite is obsessed with gathering wealth and maintaining power. The argument made by those

        1. I dont claim that everyone among Iranian leaders are messianic zealots, it just seems that many are. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haghani_Circle
          If that is enough to lead to nuclear terrorism to bring upon global chaos as a necessary prerequisite to to this version of redemption of humanity is IMHO very much unclear, which brings me back to the gamble I spoke about before.
          Examples, lets look into recent history: in WW2 Japan the military leadership was willing to defend the island to the last woman and child, waging the war at all costs; while Hirohito was more amenable to the rational calculus you mention. Nazi Germany was the opposite in this example – its military leadership was by large rational calculators, while Hitler in the late days was determined to defend/destroy Germany until all Germans were dead, as they “disappointed him”.

          1. The point being, that in both of those historic cases, the fanatics were in the minority, and their opinions did not carry the day.
            The link you offered doesn’t suggest anything that one couldn’t find in the theology of many Christian sects, particularly those with pentecostal roots, yet being a member of one of those churches does not draw suspicion down on American politicians.
            Iran quite rightly feels surrounded. It had two neighboring countries invaded by a hostile superpower, with hundreds of thousands of troops near its border. Pakistan and India, the biggest regional powers, are nuclear. Russia — the former “Satan from the North” has plenty of them. Everybody knows that Israel has nukes, perhaps up to several hundred bombs. If Iran will acquire some atomic bombs, it will not destabilize the regional balance-it will make the situation more symmetrical and stable.
            Iran isn’t even the worst or the most dangerous regime around there. It has plenty of flaws. And yet it is far more open,and tolerant than most of its neighbors. It has some political prisoners, but probably no more than Turkey, which does not abide any dissent related to Kurdish question. And Iran has not been the aggressor in all its conflicts in recent decades. On the contrary, it has been a victim of aggressions, in particular the war initiated by Saddam, who was tacitly supported by US (and by the Soviet Union which sold to Iraq billions of dollars of weapons).
            To dismiss Iran’s actions as the machinations of religious zealots bent on working towards universal Islamic rule for the entire world, is simplistic, and fails to take into account the facts on the ground.

          2. @Dissenting Voice – so how do you feel about the Saudi regime? Do you think it is right that about 6,000 royals control the vast majority of the country’s resources? What about that regime’s support of Wahhabi clerics as a way of helping to maintain their dominance – divine right of rulers, etc.? How about their establishment of indoctrinating madrassas throughout the Islamic world with some being built in western societies? Why do you think that the US leaders overlook those obviously troubling aspects of the Saudi regime.
            My point in this post and subsequent discussion thread is to stimulate deep thinking and questioning attitudes.
            I like your nom de plume – I often have a dissenting voice myself in many arguments with people who have difficulty recognizing propaganda techniques. I have had the opportunity to be a close observer of the kinds of indoctrination and dehumanization that often accompanies military training. Those techniques are often employed as the best way to get otherwise highly moral people with a developed sense of right and wrong to employ weapons against a declared enemy.
            (I am a retired naval officer who completed three tours at USNA at various levels of seniority and responsibility – one as the subject of the techniques and two as one of the people who was supposed to be using them. During each of those tours, I was a bemused observer of some pretty “interesting” behaviors, but I like to think that I maintained my critical thinking skills.)

    1. Be my guest. Your opinions don’t mean anything to me, given that they are the product of someone that is unwilling to make an effort to understand the topic he is holding forth on. This is unfortunate because in other domains of nuclear energy you obviously have done your homework. Instead you have chosen to swallow uncritically baseless propaganda on the matter. This attitude is beneath you as an otherwise intelligent nuclear commenter, and thus not forgivable. Nuclear weapons are a complex topic, and it is clear by both your questions and assertions you do not understand the subject as clearly as you think you do. You owe it to yourself, if no one else to correct this.

      1. Dv8, when people ask questions about nuclear energy I answer them if I know the answer. I do not insult them if I cannot answer their question. If you were as well educated as you think you are you would give thoughtful insightful answers to my questions and you would lose the attitude.

        1. If you wish to consider the fact that I don’t really care what your opinion of me is an insult, then you have a very thin skin. Three times I have written that you do not understand the topics of nuclear weapons, or nuclear warfare. That is not an insult., it is a simple opinion, based on the contents of the comments you wrote. Previously, I posted a link to an essay that would be a good departure point if you chose to bring yourself up to speed, and said I was not going to discuss the mater further until you had read it. Had you read it, (it was written by someone that worked as an insider) and had you read the other two essays in the series, you might have found that most of the ideas you hold about this subject are wrong. There are other sources I can point you to that discuss the technical issues of nuclear weapons that would have made you see that they are as fundamentally as different from regular ordinance, as that class is different from fireworks, and that one cannot assume that they can be treated like they were regular explosives.
          Instead you have only replied with other ill-informed statements and questions, and take issue with my motivations. If anyone should feel insulted, here it is me.

  12. [Three times I have written that you do not understand the topics of nuclear weapons, or nuclear warfare. That is not an insult., it is a simple opinion,]
    Actually you stated that as a fact not an opinion. You also wrote;
    [I’m not going to bother arguing with you because you have obviously drunk the Kool-ade]
    Not an insult?
    You also wrote; [Obviously everything you think know about Iran is wrong] Not an insult?
    You also wrote; [More than likely they would be nuked until they twinkled, and countries like Russia and China, that might otherwise be moved to hold the US back would not step in to intervene]
    Using my knowledge of nuclear weapons I pointed out that potential downwinders would likely object strenuously. It appears that you did not consider that aspect and have no answer for it.
    You wrote; [They will be lower yield tactical nuclear warheads, with short-range delivery systems

  13. Apparently you cannot differentiate between remarks addressed to you and those addressed to others.
    Again statements like: ” Simply drop an appropriately sized block of weapons grade uranium on top of another similar block and the resulting explosion will take out at least several city blocks, probably much more” demonstrates the utter ignorance that you have of the technical aspects of the topic. The so-called long-range missiles from the link you posted look like medium-range missiles within the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Strategic Arms Limitations definitions, again indicating your lack of understanding of the fundamentals. Nor does your statment about down-winders demonstrate any understanding of the capabilities of US nuclear weapons, or how they are to be used operationally.
    The fact is that you still have not done any research, but instead whine about how you think you have been treated by me, and if what you quoited by me is insulting to you, then you have a very thin skin for someone posting on the internet.

  14. [Again statements like: ” Simply drop an appropriately sized block of weapons grade uranium on top of another similar block and the resulting explosion will take out at least several city blocks, probably much more” demonstrates the utter ignorance that you have of the technical aspects of the topic.]
    Is that the best you can do, a non denial denial?
    [The so-called long-range missiles from the link you posted look like medium-range missiles]
    As opposed to the short range missiles you specified.
    [Nor does your statment about down-winders demonstrate any understanding of the capabilities of US nuclear weapons, or how they are to be used operationally.]
    Show me the U.S. DOD technical reports that explains how targets will be “nuked until they twinkle”.

    1. Obviously you prefer to wallow in your own ignorance and preconceived notions, rather that make an effort to learn the truth. This makes you someone not worth having a dialog with, as I don’t waste my time with the obstreperously stupid. This will be the last time I answer you, make whatever ego-salving little reply you must, I’m through.

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