Thursday, December 13, 2007

India, Pakistan And The Limits Of Deterrence

According to this article in The Middle East Times, India's intelligence service is in the spotlight these days for what some say is a massive failure last month to predict the State of Emergency in neighboring Pakistan. Given the nuclear status of both nations, that's the kind of lapse that could potentially have global implications. It also adds some context to the duelling announcements this week of the test-firing of a 700km-range, nuclear capable Pakistani cruise missile, and a 6000km-range, nuclear capable Indian missile that's now in the works for next year. The range of India's missile would put it out of striking range for "most capable missiles in Pakistan's arsenal..." according to the Times of India.

In addition to being alarming in and of itself, the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff demonstrates the potential risks of a nuclearized Middle East, especially one where the nuclear equation is not bi-lateral but multi-lateral. The argument that a nuclear Iran can be deterred is, to my mind, defensible. But the image of deterrence that is often invoked is based on the relatively stable version eventually arrived at by two mature and stable superpowers. The Middle East bears no resemblance to that kind of arrangement, and even less so should Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all join Israel as nuclear weapons states. A situation where every missile test launch evokes existential alerts adds an unacceptable level of tension to an already volatile region.

It's also interesting to see American progressives suddenly become proponents of nuclear deterrence, even if in theory it could apply to Iran. As I recall as a thirteen year-old marching in the 1981 No Nukes rally, a defense posture that ultimately depends on a willingness to obliterate hundreds of thousands of lives was a very high burden to bear. Its relegation to the dustbin of history was one of the supposed benefits of the end of the Cold War. While it's reassuring to see the principle of deterrence enjoy something of a revival in lunatic neocon circles, I'd like to see progressives to come up with proposals that represent, well, progress.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Pakistan   

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