Mutual Assured Destruction

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

24 November 2013

So the Romans have cut a deal with the Persians.

Teheran will limit its enrichment of uranium to 5 per cent and accept other restraints on its nuclear activities to convince Washington that it does not intend to build a nuclear bomb.

In return Washington will relax economic sanctions against Teheran.

The deal, clinched this morning in Geneva, is supposed to last six months to allow the conclusion of a comprehensive permanent treaty.


Well, we shall see.

The deal buys time for the Americans who will cite it when they veto any attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear plants.

It also buys time for the Iranians, who will do what they can to circumvent its restrictions while benefiting, at the same time, from the relaxation of sanctions.

However, we have a basic question to put.

The number of states in the world that are known to possess nuclear weapons is as follows: the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. South Africa can probably be added to this group and possibly Brazil as well.

That makes 11 countries. There may be others we don’t know about.

The number of countries in the world is just south of 200.

Why should the 11 states mentioned above be allowed to retain their nuclear weapons, while other countries are prevented from acquiring them?

Surely, in the interests of equity, justice and global security, the existing nuclear weapons states should divest themselves of their weapons of mass destruction if they want others to refrain from developing them – thereby making the world a safer place for everyone?

Stands to sense, dunnit?

Which, of course, is why it will never happen.

There is more chance that the moon is made out of green cheese than that the existing possessor states will voluntarily relinquish their nuclear weapons.

In any case, Iran claims its nuclear programme is focused solely on the development of nuclear energy for non-military purposes. It maintains that it has no intention of exploiting its nuclear research to make a bomb.

Well, it would say that, wouldn’t it?

Antigone1984 thinks it quite likely that, alongside the non-military development of nuclear energy, Iran will also be pulling out the stops to produce a nuclear bomb.

No one in the Middle East is unaware that when, at the behest of the West, Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi voluntarily abandoned nuclear development he became toast.

The whole world is also aware that the one reason the tinpot dictatorship of North Korea is able to cock at snook at the mighty United States is the fact that it has produced its own nuclear bomb.

Antigone1984 thinks it likely that, with the proliferation of scientific knowledge and the globalisation of trade, it is only a matter of time before more states acquire the knowledge and materials to produce nuclear weapons.

Trying to stop the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons is like putting one’s finger into a hole in the dyke at a time when the main is about to surge over the top.

However, the possession of nuclear weapons does not mean that those weapons will necessarily be used.

There is a military doctrine, moreover, which purports to ensure that they will never be used, in particular, against states which themselves have nuclear weapons and so are in a position to retaliate. This is the doctrine known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Any state which attempted to use its nuclear weapons in those circumstances would be mad.

Take Iran, then.

Iran and its near neighbour Israel are not, unfortunately, on the best of terms. Nor are they on an equal military footing. Israel has a nuclear arsenal, Iran does not. Israel, therefore, can attack Iran with impunity, even if restricting itself to the use of non-nuclear weapons, knowing that Iran’s reaction will be inhibited by the knowledge that Israel can, in the last resort, use nuclear weapons against it.

However, if both parties had nuclear weapons – Iran as well as Israel – the possibility of war recedes dramatically since, in a conflict, both countries would be faced with the likelihood of Mutual Assured Destruction.

It is this motivation, we believe, that will lead not to a reduction but to an increase in the number of countries striving to acquire nuclear weapons.

However, there is another way out: universal nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, this is not remotely on the cards, politically speaking.

One final question.

What is the name of the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons – and this not once but twice – against their enemies during a war?

Yep, you’ve got it. Not rocket science, was it?

Technical note:

Enrichment involves increasing the proportion of the fissile isotope uranium 235 to the non-fissile isotope uranium 238 in natural uranium.

Natural uranium contains around 1 % of uranium 235.

You cannot increase the actual amount of uranium 235 that is present in the sample of natural uranium that you are using. What you have to do is remove part of the uranium 238 that is present. The result will be an increased proportion of uranium 235 relative to the remaining uranium 238.

Enrichment for use as fuel in commercial thermal nuclear reactors involves increasing the proportion of uranium 235 to 3 % or 4 %.

In order to be able to make a nuclear bomb, you have to increase the proportion of uranium 235 to around 90%.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


This entry was posted in Africa, Brazil, China, India, Iran, Israel, Korea, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, USA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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