31 January 2012

What’s So Scary About Nukes?

China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and the UK all saw declines in their total militarized dispute involvement in the years after they got nuclear weapons.  A number of these are big declines.  USSR/Russia and South Africa have higher rates in their nuclear versus non-nuclear periods, though it should be kept in mind that for the USSR we only have four years in the sample with no nukes, just as the Cold War is starting.

After accounting for a decent number of variables, the general trend still holds:  acquiring nukes is more likely to lead a decrease in military activity rather than an increase. Of course, extrapolation doesn’t prove anything, but the historically observable fact is that acquiring nuke does not automatically lead a country to act more aggressively.

Incidentally, only one government has ever detonated nuclear weapons during war, and that was the United States’ government during WWII. Perhaps, then, foreign policy experts are projecting our intentions onto the Iranians.

Whatever the case, the United States does not have the authority to tell sovereign states what weapons they may or may not acquire.  As such, Iran has the right to pursue nuclear weapons if they so desire.  The United States, therefore, may find advantageous to start behaving with more diplomacy and less bravado when dealing with foreign powers.  Especially if we go bankrupt and can’t afford a military anymore.


  1. It has to be remembered that during WWII the US and the UK were already in the business of destroying cities and killing civilians massively. The conventional bombings of Dresden and Tokyo killed more civilians than did the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1945, the atomic bomb was just another, much bigger bomb that did the usual bombing raid much cheaper. It might be noted that the Japanese military didn't see the Hiroshima bombing as a reason to quit.

    Today, the atmosphere is different. We haven't had six years of truly massive civilian killings and city destruction, and we are not inured to killing on such a scale. In the 60s, 70s and even 80s, our and Russia's policy was to kill as many enemy civilians as we possibly could. Now we want to go after missile silos.

    When Iran gets the bomb (and it will and soon), there will be a spate of nuclear countries: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt,
    Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia... Basically anyone with the cash.

    This will probably not be a problem, except for the Sunni/Shia and oil/no oil divides in the Middle East. We might see a short-lived nuclear war there.

    But would we care?

  2. Every nation that developed the bomb, starting with us, did so with the expressed intention of using it against a known enemy in war. No one got it just to satisfy intellectual curiosity or just to give their scientists something to do. So it isn't such a steep slope of imagination to expect the iranians to do the same thing. Problem is, Iran isn't at war with anyone officially and they are at war with us (and have been since 1979) unofficially.

    Why on Earth would we care if a nation that is at war with us expends huge financial effort developing nuclear weapons? Nope. I can't think of anything either.

    It isn't the development of nuclear weapons that causes a state to simmer down. It is the development of nuclear weapons by their enemies that does this.

  3. Prof lives in some weird alternate universe where Iran sends troops to the US border, supports enemy attacks on the US, actively works to overthrow the US government, and regularly assassinates key US citizens.

    In reality, it is the US doing all those things to Iran, but hey, whatever, Iran must be at war with us since they are resisting our attempts to rule them.

  4. No. I look at the real live attempts by government of Iran to actually kill Americans all over the world.

    Pillaging US Embassy in Iran. 1979.
    Beirut Marine Barracks bombing. 1983.
    Beirut Embassy bombing. 1983.
    Bombing of US embassy in Kuwait. 1983.
    US Embassy annex bombing 1984.
    Highjacking of flight 221, murder of 2 US passengers. 1984.
    Highjacking of flight 847, murder of US passenger. 1985.

    (gap from 1985-2003 is from bordome listing them on my part, not due to Iranian inactivity)

    Iraq from 2003-2011, multiple operations, multiple US citizens killed, multiple Iranian government agents captured in the field. (2012 ain't over yet)

    Looks like a war to me. The fact that it is a low-level war gives us the freedom to ignore it. But Nukes changes the attrition calculation.

  5. @sykes.1- So what you're saying is that increased number of nations having nuclear weapons correlates with peace.

    @Justin- Agree that the US government has not pursued peace in good faith. This tends to make it difficult to sort out intentions.

    @Prof. Hale- First, it doesn't matter why any nation acquires nukes, what matters is what they do with them. The Soviet Union may have wanted to kill Americans with its nuclear arsenal, but it never actually did.

    Second, you claimed that the Iranian government has attempted to kill Americans all over the world. Could you please point out a time when the Iranian government killed an American on American soil?