Strangelove in Tehran

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Sat, 2012-12-01 13:41 -- John Batchelor
Saturday, December 1, 2012


Spoke Michael Vlahos, Naval War College, in re the developing theme in strategic weapons called the Second Nuclear Age, and it is time to apply this thinking to the gathering storm of war in the Middle East. In the First Nuclear Age, two superpowers, Uncle Sam and the Soviets, faced off with tens of thousands of weapons of all scales and delivery platforms, using a doctrine first proposed by the braniac John von Neumann called MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction.  The US submarine fleet of ballistic missiles was the guarantee that the US took the last shot in an exchange that would leave the global populations in ruins for centuries.  The US did not object to the smaller states of the UK and France also bearing nukes.  And the Soviets distributed their arsenal into many of the vassal states in the empire, such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, even China before it broke away.  In the Second Nuclear Age, the official nuke club is now nine, with Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea added to the original US, UK, France, Russia, China.  The uniform expectation is the the club will grow quickly in the Middle East.  Iran is the likely next member, though its entrance exam is long delayed by the disapproval of the UN Security Council and the inconvenient fact that pre-revolutionary Iran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  Other states mentioned as likely to qualify in an arms race with rivals are South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.  It is not far-fetched to speak of aspiring nuke states such as Nigeria, Venezuela, even the failed state of Zimbabwe (Red China client).  In sum, a scattering of democracies will join with a grab bag of rogues and tyrannies to create a chaos of nukes, weapons systems, kleptocrats and gangsters to present the Second Nuclear Age as "Bedlam, Mon Amour."

Above: The movie "Dr. Strangelove" aka: "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb", directed by Stanley Kubrick. Based on the book 'Red Alert' by Peter George. Seen here, Slim Pickens as Major T.J. 'King' Kong. Initial theatrical release January 29, 1964. Screen capture. Copyright © 1964 Columbia Pictures. Credit: © 1964 Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Pyxurz.

War Game Iran Wins.

Paul Bracken's new book, "The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger and the New Power Politics," presents a war-game scenario whereby Iran subdues the US and Israel without firing a shot or brandishing a nuclear weapon from its unknown arsenal.  The scenario starts with a series of deadly exchanges between Israel and Iran's clients Hizballah and Hamas.  Suddenly, Iran evacuates its largest cities.  The US blinks and orders/pressures Israel to stand-down.  Why?  Because Iran is demonstrating a readiness to use and suffer nuke attacks.  In this game, the tiny nuke power of Iran (even an unconfirmed nuke power) wins, and the abundantly well-armed nukes states of the US and Israel lose.  Paul Bracken's point is that the Second Nuclear Age presents a multiplicity of versions of this exchange, in which the very potential of a nuke in the hands of an unpredictable small, rogue state makes the Major Power world more fearful than ever in the First Nuclear Age world of MAD.  The game can quickly gets scarier with states such as Zimbabwe boasting of a single weapon that is planted on the border with South Africa, or even non state actors such as al-Shabab in East Africa  claiming to possess a suspect weapon that is hidden somewhere between several failed African states such as Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya. 

What is to be done?

United States Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is commander of Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the SAC B-52 airborne alert bomber force just hours from the Soviet border. Ripper orders his executive officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF (Peter Sellers), to put the base on alert, asserting that it is not a drill. The alert is sent to the patrolling aircraft, including one piloted by Aircraft commander Major T. J. "King" Kong (Slim Pickens) and his crew. All the aircraft commence an attack flight on Russia, and lock out unauthorized external communications through the CRM 114 Discriminator.

Some measure of remedy for this and other war-game scenarios, as presented by Paul Bracken, is to adopt new conventions about nukes.  This does not mean banning nukes, since that failed in the First Nuclear Age.  The remedies include a new treaty that forbids the nuke states to practice nuclear alerts, forbids the states to develop ICBMs, forbids the states to threaten outside their local regions.  Could this forbidding be any more effective than the failed forbidding of weaponeering?  Yes, because the banned protocols are easier to enforce.  Nuclear alerts are exercises that can be discovered and stopped without resorting to war-making.  ICBM technology must be tested out of doors; threatening another continent is not a a secret easily kept (see North Korea).  Also, manning the round-the-clock staffing of a nuke weapon regime is well beyond the assets of most states; and if the nuke arsenal is not secured at all times, it is prey to the capture of a regime rival who would quickly become the new boss: therefore, nukes destabilize dictatorships much easier than democracies.  Ask yourself: can Tehran's IRGC police nuke weapons that have been dispersed into the hands of competing base commanders?  The rogue general with a nuke -- "War is too important to be left to politicians," opines Brigadier Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) -- was the predicate for the thrilling 1964 Cold War farce, "Dr. Strangelove."  (See above video)  Can Iran control the protocol for keeping nukes on ready alert at all times without error?  This was the predicate for the thrilling 1964 Cold War tragedy, "Fail Safe," and Henry Fonda's wry remark, "A technical state of war now exists."  (See below video)

When Fail-Safe opened, it garnered excellent reviews, but its box-office performance was poor. Its failure rested with the similarity between it and the mutually assured destruction satire Dr. Strangelove, which appeared in theaters first. Despite this, the film later was applauded as a Cold War thriller. The novel sold through to the 1980s and 1990s, and the film was given high marks for retaining the essence of the novel.[3] Over the years, both the novel and the movie were well-received for their depiction of a nuclear crisis, although garnering a legion of critical reviews that centered on the one fallacy, in that the "fail safe" command sequence was misinterpreted.[2]