In several of the posts in my category on nuclear use and/or war, I talk about the “actors” involved. No, not the Hollyweird types but the (so-called) leaders of various nuclear powers.
Back when such was primarily the U.S. and Soviet Union, the basic feeling was that both parties were rational actors. That is, they were of reasonably sound mind, had rational interests in protecting the lives and livelihoods of their respective countries, and were not bent on destroying the world. Even as the club grew, this remained the basic framework for evaluation and consideration of the actions of those people.
There was always at least some (lip) service given to the potential for madmen to get control of a weapon or even a missile or plane. Or, that some form of technological failure would set things off. The presumptions behind Fail Safe (book and movie) was about the former, while the satire Dr. Strangelove presented the latter. That said, both dealt with larger-scale events and both led to efforts to prevent or mitigate same. Twilight’s Last Gleaming looked at someone gaining control of a nuclear missile command post/silo. The ridiculous The Manhattan Project looked at a student building an atomic bomb. Dawn’s Early Light examined rogue Soviet agents firing a missile from Turkey to provoke an exchange.
As far as the public (and media of the day) were concerned, the real problems lay with rational actors and the chance for mistakes or other to lead to an exchange. The public sentiment seemed to be that rational actors would otherwise never consider a nuclear exchange. The chance of a madman/terrorist getting a bomb was not considered real in terms of public perceptions. For those actually involved with security and proliferation, it was a larger concern than was generally shared with the public. So, between the perceptions of the public outlined above via movies, and concerns for safety, as weapon design advanced so did the safety mechanisms. PIDs (which could be snap hooks or cheap padlocks) were replaced by PALs. At least for some weapons, which is why the loss of the Soviet arms depot just before the Soviet Union came apart was (and is) worrying to the pros. Odds of any such weapons still being viable, if they ever existed or were missing, is slim. That said, the materials and parts within them are potentially a different matter. If they were there, real, and missing that is.
So, what happens when a state with nuclear weapons is not a rational actor in accordance with the basic framework? What happens when it’s not one madman who gets in charge, but rather an entire government that has a very different take on the world and what is rational within it?
It’s a very interesting question, and one we may get to explore more than theoretically in the coming days. A certain degree of lip service, if that, has been given to the concept of a state that has a very different take on politics and religion, but the “experts” have tended to push that they would behave as rational actors. My thoughts on that have never been in full (or most other) agreement as the leaders of such a country would not think as we think, within a framework of thought crafted by Western civilization. Pretty much the “mores” argument on dealing with the Soviets/Russians, but with added mayhem.
So, in the last week we’ve had a country, that if it is not already a nuclear weapons power is extremely close to being such, attacking multiple countries not just by proxy but directly via ballistic missiles — including three that are believed to be nuclear powers. This on top of conducting “covert” operations on a wide scale, possibly into the Americas. A government hanging on in many ways by a thread with a population that is a powder keg looking for a spark. A government that is a theocracy that makes typical repression look tame. A government that advocates and works for their version of Armageddon as it will bring about the return of the hidden imam and the creation of a world-wide Islamic caliphate.
By no measure can Iran be considered a typical rational actor in terms of nuclear use/non-use scenarios. In fact, I consider them far more unstable than North Korea, and that’s saying something. Especially given a number of rather troubling developments with Kim and the North Korean government/military that don’t bode well for a peaceful 2024. That’s a nightmare that I will leave for others to explain. In regards Iran, you have a regime that has no regard for human life on any level. Such is a Western concept they reject completely and totally. They consider lives outside of themselves as even less than those they wantonly kill or maim to stay in power.
Aside from the U.S. and Israel, Iran has chosen to attack Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. Which has responded with attacks of its own that may be just the start of retaliation per various declarations. While some are saying they won’t really go at it as both are Islamic, the fact is they are two different “flavors” of Islam and they are not compatible. This has the potential to get very, very interesting on its own.
Now, let’s look at a known feature of Iranian activities: the use of proxies/catspaws. Something I’ve brought up from time to time is a concern that this would apply even to nuclear operations. To make it even more fun, I can think of several ways they could make such a use appear to be the result of others being careless, such as China or North Korea. There is growing evidence that both the latter have supplied weapons (and more) to Hamass, Hezbowlah, and the Houthi/Hootie. Or, despite their apparent closeness to Russia, suspect that they would be more than glad to set them up as well.
Given the reported involvement of China with Iran’s nuclear weapon and missile development, do you think it would be hard to get enough material to obfuscate the origins of a nuclear weapon? Or that others might share material (or help obtain such) to use for such a purpose from others? While analysis can often tell us where the nuclear materials in any device, dirty or otherwise, came from there has always been the possibility of spoofing that, or at least to providing enough to put the analysis into question. Remember that arms depot and that there is potentially a fair bit of nuclear materials available for use/reuse, from every major nuclear power. Just a thought to brighten your day.
Now, let’s kick things up a notch. Imagine if a nuclear weapon detonated within Yemen, or after being launched by the Houthi at a ship in the gap. On the former, I would expect to see Israel blamed and the large number of governments demand (or even execute) attacks on/destruction of Israel. The huge amount (and growing) of antisemitism is not an accident or otherwise unplanned. Even if it was clear the detonation came from a missile or drone launched from Yemen, expect a large and coordinated push to blame Israel. Now, to kick it up even further, consider what would happen if the Biden Regency, which is not terribly pro-Israel (and has a number of antisemites within it) has to react to American warships, or even a CBG, caught in such a blast.
Or, while less likely image if something were to happen in or near Venezuela where both China and Iran have been busy, busy, busy. Imagine it happened to a British ship or ships, or to the capital of the country they want to invade. Far fetched you say? Not as much as I would like.
Because it all comes back to Iran being a non-rational state actor. They are an Islamic theocracy driven by religious beliefs and more importantly goals. Their actions have to be analyzed and considered in that light. To continue, as some “experts” seem determined to do, to treat and analyze them as rational actors is ridiculous. Even absent nuclear intents, it is foolish in the extreme to consider them a rational actor and treat them accordingly.
That the Biden Regency/Obama II The Dementia Boogaloo will continue to do so, and work for them instead of against them, is a given. Once bought, they do tend to stay bought… Which is all the more likely to escalate the situation. It is also driving a wedge into a number of long-term and/or important alliances. This fracturing is very detrimental to the concepts of peace and stability, be it deliberate or otherwise. It also means anything done by another that might be effective will be resisted if not prevented by the Regency.
Meantime, Iran will continue it’s international game of chicken and work towards its own ends. While for many in the West the attacks on three nuclear powers makes no sense, it did and does make sense to the mad mullahs in Tehran. I strongly suspect we would be a lot better off if our experts would start trying to look at it from their viewpoint rather than continuing to try to shoehorn it into the rational actor box. They are not rational actors as we think of it, and failure to acknowledge that is going to have very bad results.
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