Confronting nuclear brinksmanship Posted by: McQ
on Friday, January 20, 2006
I'm not much of a fan of Jaques Chirac and the reasons vary ranging from the diplomatic and political realms to the cultural realm. France has it's reasons, no matter how much I disagree, for each of its positions, and I won't bore you with what they are and why I disagree. But in sum, France has not been the greatest friend or ally to the US lately.
Add to that the previous French reluctance to engage in other than diplomatic efforts regardless of the threat in general, and you have a largely useless and ineffective partner as well.
Given that background and history, recent remarks by Chirac, concerning the use of nuclear weapons and France's willingness to do so, should point out to all the seriousness of the situation in Iran. If Jaques Chirac is threatening to use nukes, it's serious. And that is exactly what Chirac did recently:
President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country that sponsors a terrorist attack against French interests. He said his country's nuclear arsenal had been reconfigured to include the ability to make a tactical strike in retaliation for terrorism.
"The leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would envision using . . . weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and fitting response on our part," Chirac said during a visit to a nuclear submarine base in Brittany. "This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind."
"Against a regional power, our choice is not between inaction and destruction," Chirac said, according to the text of his speech posted on the presidential Web site. "The flexibility and reaction of our strategic forces allow us to respond directly against the centers of power. . . . All of our nuclear forces have been configured in this spirit."
At the same time, he condemned "the temptation by certain countries to obtain nuclear capabilities in contravention of treaties."
Stark reality, it seems, has somehow managed to elbow it's way to the front in France. Real concerns about Iran's unstable and apocolyptic leadership with nuclear weapons has apparently tipped the balance.
As we've discussed here, since Iran has acquired medium range ICBMs (North Korean BM-25s), central Europe is within range of Iran. One cannot view such a development as anything but threatening if they live in central Europe. Iran already has missiles capable of hitting Israel. It is also surrounded, on most sides, by Muslim countries. Unless it is building the capability to hit them, there is no place else at which these missiles can be aimed.
Speaking of reality, Iran's president does indeed believe we're in the end days. But the acquisiton of the North Korean medium range ICBMs may indicate that he's less willing to hasten them than we might believe. Let me explain.
What has been obvious since the first day of his presidency is he wants to see Israel eliminated. Calling for a nation to be "wiped from the map" is a pretty good indicator of his attitude and intentions toward Israel. Nuclear weapons would give Iran that capability. But could Iran survive such a use?
That depends on a number of things, one of which is whether Iran is successful in taking out all of Israel's nuclear retaliatory ability. Frankly I think that is unlikely if, as I've heard rumored, Israel has submarine launch capabilities. But let's assume Iran does strike first and is successful in completely destroying Israel and it's 2nd strike capability. Then what?
It is open to retaliatory nuclear strikes from Europe and/or the US. Obviously, having just used a WMD in a first strike against a regional country there's no question of its threat to other nations. And that is where the nuclear brinksmanship comes in. Iran may feel that if it has the capability to hit central Europe with nuclear weapons that may be enough to deter both the US and Europe from retaliating.
It's a very dangerous bit of brinksmanship, but, given the recent history of Europe and it's non-confrontational attitude, one with a solid chance of success.
Until today. Today, Jacques Chirac removed that option from the table. Today, Chirac said, in effect, France would not be held hostage by Iran if Iran used nuclear weapons elsewhere. He is saying France reserves the right to strike the offending country with nuclear weapons and will risk it's retaliatory strike.
It's a brave and bold statement, and, despite our differences, we should welcome it as a critical stance at a crucial time as we search for an effective way to deal with Iran.
UPDATE: Apparently Chirac is the cowboy now, at least in Germany's eyes:
French President Jacques Chirac's threat to use nuclear weapons against states that might resort to using weapons of mass destruction may make it harder to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, a German lawmaker said.
``I'm concerned that Iran will use these comments as a pretext to underline its own interests and that it will make negotiations more difficult rather than easier,'' Eckart von Klaeden, a foreign policy spokesman in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said in an interview in Berlin.
How do such comments make it more difficult to work with an intransegent rogue nation? Like they're being so cooperative now. Apparently Germany wants the position of "Europe's Old Lady" now that France seems to have abandoned it (at least in this case).
OK, just to be a Franco-phobe...note Iran can’t hit France, yet... when Iranian weapons can hit France AND Chirac says this, then it’s a red lettre day. For right now, it’s just another day. Certainly, France has always reserved the right to resort to nuclear weapons and has emphasized that quite often.
Plus, this is as much a play to INTERNAL French politics, "Pour quoi, does France have or need nuclear weapons?" "Why to deter terrorist, mes amis." This is another justification for the Force de Frappe, or whatever it’s current name is.
But I’m not sure this particular promise of retaliation means that France must be hit ... instead I read it as encompassing greater Europe (or the EU).
And again I’d say...
...when Iranian weapons can hit France AND Chirac says this, then it’s a red lettre day.
This is akin to the US guaranteeing European security from 1945 until the mid-1960’s with nuclear weapons, fairly secure that the US would emerge unscathed from any Soviet use of nuclear weapons. Things got more "interesting" once it could reasonably be asked, "Would a US President risk Chicago for Hamburg?" Will Chirac risk Lyon for Bucharest? He might, I always believed a US President would risk Chicago; so too might a French President risk Lyon.
This is the part of your Chirac quote that gave me pause.
President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country that sponsors a terrorist attack against French interests.
Just what are the French interests defined as? Would a strike on Isreal be construed as an attack on French interests. The same if Italy were attacked. The same is true of the term "terrorist attack" is the above quote. If France suffers a Iranian financed Hezbollah attack on its trains similar to Spain or London’s transportation system is France suggesting they will retaliate with nuclear weapons?
Well that’s the quote that had me think that any threat or attack on the EU would be considered a French interest.
Would a strike on Isreal be construed as an attack on French interests.
I’m not sure it is, to be honest, but by removing the ability of Iran to use the threat of nuking Europe without retaliation (or preemption) from Europe, it opens the door for the US to respond to any attack on Israel by Iran.
For France and for the US, nuclear retaliation raises the question of targeting.
To burn the citizens of Teheran or Qom because of the mullahs’ crazy decisions wouldn’t seem to help the politics of the region much.
However, pointing out to the good people of Iran that they can, again, suffer, for their leaders’ mistakes might motivate internal regime change - the most desirable outcome for all. The Germans and the Japanese in WWII both seemed to have bought into their leaders’ viewpoint and shared in the responsiblity for that war. Can we say the same for the people of Iran?
Israel should be counted on to live up to "an eye for an eye." I don’t think they’d want it any other way.
Since Chirac specifically mentioned ’tactical’ nuclear strikes, I am going to presume that they would not simply level Tehran in response to a nuclear attack. You would probably see several tactical nukes used to take out suspected missile sites, perhaps take out some airfields and strategic military targets, and then move in with traditional air-strikes to finish off whatever is left of Iranian military capability before a full-scale ground invasion.
I think we can safely assume that any action taken on the part of Iran that could possibly result in the French retaliating would result in a coalition that would make the first Gulf War look unilateral in comparison.
Any discussion of "Tactical nuclear strikes" brings us to the second part of Bernard Brodie’s paradox of nuclear weapons, namely, "That nuclear weapons are extremely destructive." Even low-yield weapons will produce or cold produce extensive short and long-term damage to Iranian civilian systems.
However, pointing out to the good people of Iran that they can, again, suffer, for their leaders’ mistakes might motivate internal regime change - the most desirable outcome for all.
Don’t forget that for nuclear brinksmanship to be successful, the nation on the other end has to believe the threat to be true. In the case of Iran, a strike on Israel would demonstrate they’d use nukes so, by said demonstration, Europe would have to conclude it was ’true’ that Iran would indeed strike Europe if threatened.
It is that belief which would, supposedly, keep both Europe and the US from retaliating. France just nixed that scenario’s validity, which should, I would imagine, cause some real reassessing in Tehran. Frankly, I see this as a ’good thing’.
And yes, perhaps such a strike will provide impetus to the "regime change" movement in Iran.