Oct 06 2009
Iran appears to be doing everything it can under the radar to try to obtain a nuclear weapons capability (Global Security). Eventually, it’s going to succeed.
One lesson I’ve learned from years of conquest and top-tier diplomacy is that if you play the game long enough, everyone gets nukes. You just have to live with it.
For many years, I wasted far too many hours on the popular computer strategy game, Civilization. The simulation puts you in charge of one pixelated nation amongst mostly-unfriendly rivals, exploring, fighting and learning technologies from the alphabet to nuclear fission.
In this game, it’s virtually impossible to prevent widespread nuclear proliferation. Worse, if bellicose rivals like Genghis Khan or Xerxes survive to the modern era, even a sizable nuclear arsenal is not a sure deterrent against a nuclear sneak attack. There were just two methods to pre-empt such shenanigans, which don’t translate very well into the real world (at least for those nations that want to avoid a worse reputation than the Nazis).
The first option was to simply wipe out any nation on the cusp of obtaining nuclear technology. Invade, destroy their cities and annex their territory. In a word, genocide.
The other way was to keep that rival in a permanent state of deprivation through isolation and nearly constant military bombardment of all population centers larger than a village. Call it genocide-lite, still horrible enough to contemplate in the real world (and not terribly fun to play in the game, either).
As in the game, nuclear proliferation seems to be a matter of when, not if. Pakistan built the bomb when its poorest citizens were eating grass to keep their stomachs full. North Korea is also presumed to have a nuclear capacity, even though millions of its people are thought to rely on foreign food aid. So countries that cannot provide the basic stuff of life for its own people can build nukes.
The CIA can make estimates about when rogue states like Iran will gain a nuclear capacity. Two years, if they’re lucky. Ten years on the outside. No one knows. But who thinks the Iranians won’t have a nuclear capability within a few decades? And if any nation (presumably the USA or Israel, but Iran has no shortage of regional rivals) tries to bomb an Iranian nuclear program into cinders and dust, will they also be willing to keep bombing, year after year, decade after decade, in perpetuity? Of course not.
The UN Security Council touts the dream of “a world without nuclear weapons”. While they contemplate hobbits and unicorns, the only rational course of action for nations that really want to deter bellicose nuclear wannabes is to continue to make it as difficult as possible for them to achieve their aims.
But there is no end-game date to human history, so another priority must also be to prepare for a world with Iranian nuclear weapons.
Fortunately, we have far more options than can be designed into the algorithms of the best simulation gaming software. Now is the time to keep strengthening alliances, ink “nuclear umbrella” agreements and put anti-missile batteries into position. We’ll also need to stay united in opposing the regime now in power in Iran, as a reformed and democratic Iran may present less of a danger to its neighbors and the rest of the international community. And we shouldn’t bend to the Iranian hardliners’ threats and bullying before or after they get the bomb.
Probably sooner than later, we’re just going to have to live with the Iranian bomb. No amount of game-playing is going to change that.