Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:31 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:31 | SYDNEY

What deterrence against a rational foe looks like


Sam Roggeveen


21 May 2008 12:05

The photo is of Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev at the UN General Assembly podium in 1960, brandishing his shoe in anger at remarks from the Philippines delegation. Not what one would call statesmanlike behaviour, and perhaps even evidence of some kind of mental imbalance.

I raise this because some on the US right are arguing that deterrence against the Soviet Union was one thing — they were rational opponents against whom the logic of mutually assured destruction could work — but the religious fanatics in Tehran are not rational actors, so we must not allow them to develop such weapons. In turn, that means the US must commit itself to bombing Iranian nuclear sites if diplomacy fails. More 'liberal' American commentators reply with the Krushchev defence; ie. the Soviets may look rational in retrospect, but their behaviour was at times weird during the Cold War, and at other times downright aggressive and expansionist. Yet deterrence worked then and can work now, so bombing Iran is unnecessary and probably counterproductive.

I side with the liberals on this one, but then again, I'm not an Israeli. Given how small that country is, and how few nuclear weapons it would take to effectively destroy the Israeli state, could we blame them for deciding not to trust in the logic of MAD? I still think a US strike on Iran is unlikely, but the Israelis? Watch this space.