Victor Davis Hanson: Why States Like Iran Can't Have Nukes

Roundup: Historians' Take

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of the just-released The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.

Given the worrying over nuclear Iran, it is timely to review the rules of nuclear proliferation.
Otherwise insignificant nations and failed states gain credibility by shorting their own people to divert billions of dollars to acquiring a bomb. Take away that fact from Pakistan, and the United States would probably have reduced aid to such a de facto belligerent long ago. Without the ongoing appearance of possessing nukes, North Korea would probably earn about as much foreign aid as Chad or Niger. What makes France a world player, in a way that the much larger and richer Germany is not, is not just the burdens of German guilt, but also the fact of a nuclear France. The bomb sometimes achieves what even GDP, population, strategic location, or natural resources cannot.
Presumed madness is a force multiplier of nuclear capability, especially in an Islamic apocalyptic context. Under conventional nuclear deterrence, rough nuclear parity, and the assurance that neither side has a first-strike capability sufficient to render its opponent nuclearly impotent, prevent both wars and nuclear blackmail. But if a head of state can feign insanity, or, better yet, convincingly announce a wish for the apocalypse, then he can, in theory, circumvent some traditional rules of deterrence. An Iranian theocrat’s supposed willingness to use his sole nuclear weapon to wipe out tiny Israel — at the cost of losing 30 million Iranians from retaliation — yields a cheap way to obtain not just parity with Israel, but potentially a nuclear advantage.
In any given Middle Eastern crisis, a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran will always talk of the return of the hidden imam while threatening to repeat the Holocaust. By these means, it hopes to reap political concessions that its paltry array of nukes would not otherwise warrant. Acting as if one had nothing to lose is an advantage in nuclear poker — analogous to the supposedly prison-bound high-school dropout picking a fight with his graduating, Harvard-bound counterpart...

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