Prague spring and nuclear winter are mutually incompatible. The United States of America wants to play First In Last Out (FILO) on global denuclearization. When the power of American nuclear deterrent can achieve the denuclearization of the rest of the world first, the United States wants to give it up at the end. But that self-ordained sense of nuclear responsibility cannot be more self-contradictory.
A simple question any sitting president must ask himself (or herself when that happens) is “would I use the nuclear codes as Harry Truman had done in 1945, even if that is in self-defense or in retaliation?” This question had essentially defined the landscape of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Neither side wanted to retaliate, let alone strike first. Arms race had become a stalemate with the only way out of that madness being ending it.
The world finds itself once again in a similar but far more decentralized stalemate. There are suddenly more players and wannabes in the nuclear game and the Reaganesque escalate to deescalate Nitze school thinking on nuclear policy can be far more dangerous in multilateral global nuclear politics. The perm-5 of the permanent United Nations Security Council no longer has the high ground on nuclear power. It never did.
The Iranian predicament brings this lack of legitimacy in the distribution over global nuclear power to the foreground. India cannot be called a responsible nuclear power even when it had not signed the NPT until recently. Likewise, Pakistan cannot be tolerated when it possesses nuclear weapons, being still a non-signatory NPT state. And nobody knows what the nuclear capability of Israel is, next door to Iran. North Korea could be getting away with it inebriated by American placations not to do so with cases of fine cognac as periodic gifts for its leadership.
Perm-5 countries have all, at will, violated all nuclear treaties when it suited them. The rest of the world has followed the example of the perm-5: as long as you can acquire them, because a nuclear war is a tail risk, nuclear weapons are geopolitically useful to exercise regional or global power, as if the very presence of a nuclear arsenal signals advanced technological strength even if it may never be used in warfare. Still, with the only exception to that rule is the United States which lends the American nuclear arsenal dangerous credibility, inviting the geopolitical destruction of America’s capacity to throw its weight around the world.
The reality of this charade of nuclear power plays, however, is delusional. What if regional neighbors or global trading partners call the bluff by saying that they will not yield to any nuclear and non-nuclear sticks and carrots because they cannot be attacked anyway? Even the United States cannot nuke its way into geopolitical dominance, despite its past attack on Japan. The intent behind all the defense expenditures on nuclear weapons will then be stripped naked of their purpose to achieve economic growth and technical change by causing global tensions to divide and rule the world. If the divisions are no longer between the United States and the former Soviet Union, they will be between the NATO West and the former communist countries transitioning out of communism led by Russia and China. And the charade continues.
This fundamental lack of civility in geopolitics is problematic. And the Iranian context seems to be offering a way out to geopolitical honesty and decency before the emerging multilateral global nuclear defenses can result in unintended consequences. Neither Israel nor the United States has any legal standing to attack Iran but it would be appropriate for Israel to bring up to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations (UN) the possible risks from dirty bomb terrorist attacks on Israeli soil given the history of terrorism against Israel in the region.
It would then be Iran’s obligation to permit the verification of the safety of all of its nuclear fuel by UN inspectors, albeit the rhetoric of its peaceful intentions. And it also behooves Israel to disclose its own nuclear program to the region to defuse any tensions over the perception of lopsided Israeli power in the region, besides of course to set the stage for complete global nuclear disarmament that includes the perm-5 of the UN Security Council.
There was never a perm-5 nor should there be one: all those in the nuclear game must be all out at the same time (All In All Out, AIAO). Now, that must be something new for the Pentagon’s operations research folks to ponder over.