Page 1 of
2 The Iranian bomb in a MAD
world By Dilip Hiro
For countries small, middling or great,
acquiring nuclear weapons is all about the most
basic requirement: the survival of the regime or
Joining the "nuclear club" has
proved an effective strategy for survival. The
possession of city-busting, potentially
planet-ending weaponry threatens to bring about a
MAD - the Cold War acronym for "mutually assured
destruction" - world. While the
"madness" of this strategy is
apparent, a rarely mentioned aspect of today's
geopolitics is that acquiring nuclear arms has
proved a logical step for a regime to take when
its survival is at stake.
States and the Soviet Union, the superpowers of
the Cold War, stacked up nuclear weapons by the
thousands as "deterrents", well aware that the use
of even a tiny fraction of them would annihilate
the planet many times over. The doctrine worked,
maintaining a precarious peace until the Soviet
Union collapsed in 1991.
China acquired an atom bomb in 1964, it joined the
four permanent members of the United Nations
Security Council with veto power - the United
States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and
France - which possessed nuclear arms, thus
gaining entry to the "nuclear club".
club's monopoly was broken by a minor power,
Israel, in 1967 - stealthily, because its leaders
decided not to test the bomb they had built. Even
so, the US Central Intelligence Agency got wind of
it. What did then-president Lyndon Johnson's US
administration do about it? Nothing. And what
about the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), the UN watchdog agency charged with
administering the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT)? It was empowered to act, but only in
cases where a UN member had signed the treaty.
Israel did not.
In June 1981, when the UN
Security Council's Resolution 487 directed Israel
to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA
safeguards anyway, Israel simply ignored it.
Ronald Reagan's White House maintained a
thunderous silence on the matter.
that with the Bush administration's present stance
in the case of Iran. Unlike Israel, Tehran
initialed the NPT early on - and that treaty
allows a signatory non-nuclear power to enrich
uranium for civilian purposes. By not informing
the IAEA when it started to do so in 2002,
however, Tehran failed to meet its treaty
obligations. That "original sin", combined with
the Bush administration's strong animus toward a
hostile regional power, has in its trail brought
UN sanctions against Tehran, with Washington
acting as the prime mover.
The lure of
deterrence In 1998, four years before
Iran's push for nuclear power, India officially
detonated an atomic bomb and, soon after, its
arch-rival Pakistan followed suit. Like Israel,
neither of them had signed on to the NPT. US
sanctions followed but did not impede Delhi's
progress in this field.
India had embarked
on this path after acquiring a bloody nose in its
1962 border war with China over disputed
territories in the Himalayan region. After its
defeat in a conventional war, its leaders
concluded that only possession of atomic weapons
would deter Beijing from invading again. By so
doing, they underlined a growing belief in the
deterrent power of nuclear arms - a route by which
militarily inferior countries could hope to deter
their superior rivals or enemies.
Pakistan, engaged since 1947 in a bitter
struggle with India over the status of the
disputed province of Kashmir, was a case in point.
Well aware of their country's inferiority to India
in population and economic development, Pakistan's
leaders knew that it would be no match in
conventional warfare. The only way to achieve
parity with their larger, more powerful neighbor
was by acquiring nuclear weapons.
started a clandestine nuclear-arms program in the
late 1970s, reaching their goal a decade later.
They waited, however, to test their first bomb
until after India had officially admitted to doing
so in May 1998. A year later, fighting between
Indian and Pakistani troops in the Kargil region
of Indian-administered Kashmir did not escalate
into an all-out war because both sides were
nuclear-armed, with their leaders seemingly
prepared to use their arsenals in extremis.
The episode, frightening as it was, reassured
Pakistani officials that their country was now
secure from being overpowered by India.
the mid-1950s, the same reasoning had led Israeli
leaders to pursue the nuclear path. Uncertain
about how long they could maintain their edge over
the combined forces of their Arab neighbors in
conventional weaponry and the quality of their
troops, they concluded that an effective deterrent
for a beleaguered country was the atomic bomb.
Indeed, during the early days of the 1973
Arab-Israeli War, when the Israelis were caught
off-guard and invading Arab armies made striking
gains, the government ordered its entire arsenal,
then 25 atomic bombs, mounted on specially adapted
bombers. Those bombers never took off, in part,
because the swift airlifting of military hardware
and ammunition from the US soon helped turn the
tide in Israel's favor. In short, Israeli leaders
equipped their military with atomic arms to ensure
the survival of the State of Israel. Such a
process, once started, never ceases. By now,
Israel reportedly has an arsenal of at least 200
More recently, North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il has acted in a similar fashion.
In January 2002, he noted with alarm the way his
country was included in the "axis of evil" - along
with Iraq and Iran - by US President George W Bush
in his State of the Union address. "States like
these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an