I mentioned that the soft kill has to have a hard deterrence component, what I called Unilateral Assured Destruction. I think that should look something like the following.
In the course of his speech to the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy said this:
It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
I have long thought this was a model of statesmanly clarity.
President Bush should say something similar to the Iranians, to get maximum clarity into the nuclear stand-off we are going to be living with.
It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any attack with a nuclear weapon originating in Iran, or deemed by the United States in its sole discretion to have originated in Iran, delivered by any means, against any nation, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.
Bush would then go on:
Let me be absolutely clear. Any nuclear weapon detonated by any terrorist anywhere in the world against anyone will be presumed to have originated in Iran and will cause, without further notice, an immediate and large-scale nuclear attack by the United States on Iran. The attack will be directed against all military, political and economic targets, as well as centers of population. The goal of this attack will be the destruction of Iran as a functioning state and society permanently and completely. Again, to be absolutely clear, the United States now has contingency plans in place to execute any such attack on very short notice. The retaliatory attack as planned will immediately kill the majority of the people now living in Iran. Let the Iranian government and the entire world know what will happen if Iran ever tries to make good on its threats. Moreover, the Iranian government would be wise to exert itself to prevent any nuclear weapons from falling into terrorist hands. This is not a negotiating position, it is a statement of policy and a warning. I do not think there is any way for me to make our intentions more clear. Let the Iranian government conduct itself accordingly.
We won’t get this kind of clarity. But the world would be a safer place if we did.
UPDATE: To be absolutely clear, this would be declaratory policy. What we should actually do if, God forbid, we suffered a nuclear terrorist attack, would have to be decided at the time. The point of this is to make the Mullah’s stop and think and, in particular, realize that any open use of a weapon might well lead to their annihilation. Possession of nuclear weapons imposes grown-up rules on those who want to play for big stakes at the big table.
9 thoughts on “Updating JFK for Iran — or Cold War? Been There, Done That”
“Let me be absolutely clear. Any nuclear weapon detonated by any terrorist anywhere in the world against anyone will be presumed to have originated in Iran and will cause, without further notice, an immediate and large-scale nuclear attack by the United States on Iran.”
Aren’t you forgetting N. Korea? How does telling Iran that any terrorist nuclear attack in the world will trigger a all out war against them NOT encourage North Korea to sell nukes to terrorists to set off against the US? You’ve just told NK that they can, without retaliation set off terrorist nuclear attacks. After all, how does one go about finding out whether the device originated in NK rather than Iran or made from materials taken from Russia, for that matter? Further, it seems to me that following through on that threat, we would likely be in full war against Iran before we ever figured out that we were wrong. What then? Do we say “Oops! Sorry about that”?
I see your point. But the response is not complicated. Tell the NKs the same thing. If in doubt, we destroy them both. That would give them both an incentive to keep their nukes at home.
So we would go to all out war with two nations, knowing that at least one of those nations had nothing to do with the attack. In fact the bomb might have come from somewhere in Russia. Do we tell them the same thing? Do we go to war with three nations? Where does it end?
Ummm, not only did we sign a paper saying we’d never get rid of El Barbudo, but we gave up our listening posts in Turkey or Greece which they didn’t know we had.
Now he’s just too old and not worth doing anything over.
Some have said JFK blinked.
The only good thing was the commies realized what a nutcase they had on their hands down Cuba way.
It would not be a case of “going to war with” these nations, except as a legal formality; it would a case of annihilating them.
After the counter-strike there would be enough of Iran or North Korea left to have a war with.
Besides, you are objecting to the pronouncement of policy; as this would be the inevitable reality of the response of the US (or any other Great Power) to a nuclear attack, it may be as well to announce the fact in advance in order to deter such an attack, and emphasise that protestations of “you can’t prove we did it!” will avail nothing. Such circumstances invoke the realities of war, not the due process of court procedures.
In addition, the risks faced by an innocent but hostile and nuclear-armed third party make an excellent argument for said party deciding to verifiably desist from having such weapons in the first place.
Craig, on further consideration, I do not think this applies to Korea. Iran has the uniquely stupid behavior of its current president which makes it a special case. Iran has made it clear that it wants nuclear weapons and that it wants Israel destroyed. NK has wisely chosen to remain inscrutable about what it is really up to. The point would be make a public response to Iran’s public statements and conduct.
As John F notes, you can announce a strategy of retaliation, and then not do it, or do less than you have threatened. But making the threat clear would help to focus thinking in Teheran.
Lex and John F.,
Okay, we threaten Iran with nuclear retaliation (whether we actually would follow through or not) regardless of whence the nukes actually originated under the theory that Iran doesn’t want to be reduced to cinders and will, therefore, pull back from developing nukes. Suppose, as I have, that Ahmadinejad is willing to accept such an eventuality, even selling Iranian nukes to terrorists, under the wacky theory that such a retaliatory response would bring down the armies of Allah upon us and we’d be wiped out and Allah would rule the world. Okay, realistically it’s balderdash but, under those circumstances, it doesn’t deter them from selling nuclear material or devices to terrorists and the use of the same against us. Granted it would remove Iran from the world stage as a future threat.
Or, suppose that Iran doesn’t believe our threats will be carried through upon and therefore will not be deterred. Okay, these are possibilities no matter what we do short of simply nuking them now before they do develop nukes. There probably IS no other way to be certain that Iran doesn’t carry out its threats to Israel or the US. Israel may have the political will to do this, I doubt that we do.
Korea is unscrutable. Suppose their intent is to sell nukes to terrorists and their inscrutability is precisely calculated to remove suspicion from themselves and place suspicion on Iran as the most likely suspect and whichever terrorists have the cash to pay for them use them. Or, say, terrorists obtain their nukes from poorly guarded instalations in Russia and use them. Without knowing the origin of the nukes, against whom do we retaliate? Iran? Even though Iran not only denies complicity but actually had nothing to do with the nukes? Okay, war isn’t a courtroom but morally, aren’t we required to make sure that our response is just? How is a nuking of Iran, in the hypotheticals that I’ve laid out, a just response? It leaves the real culprits free and clear, no? Not only is that not just, it’s totally ineffective as either a deterrent or a punishment.
“will, therefore, pull back from developing nukes” No. I think it is inevitable that Iran will get nuclear devices soon, and nuclear weapons some time in the years ahead.
“Without knowing the origin of the nukes, against whom do we retaliate? Iran?” I said “deemed by the United States in its sole discretion to have originated in Iran”. If we think it didn’t, or that it probably didn’t, we wouldn’t even have to break our word not to retaliate against Iran. On the other hand, if Manhattan has been destroyed, and millions of people dead, and a few trillion in fixed and irreplaceable capital chopped out of the American economy, I think we might just destroy Iran and NK on general principle. They wanted to get into this game, so they assumed the risks. I pity the millions of people who live under tyranny and suffer for its evils, including death at our hands if this all comes down.
As to “nuking them now”, I agree that is the only way to stop them for sure, and that we do not have the will to do that. Bush said so.
It would be really cool if he’d just get it over with and say:
“go ahead, make my day.”
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