Nuclear Future for the Greater Good?

‘We love death more than Israel loves life’ is the motto of Hamas, the de facto and de jure government or governing force of Gaza and, potentially, that of Palestine. Often anti-Israeli support comes to Hamas from Iran and other Muslim and/or Arab states. This essay takes up the challenge of imagining what nuclear Iran and a more nuclear Middle East can mean to Israel and the world.

The importance of such an analysis is tremendous as the scenario of a nuclear Middle East and wider world holds innumerable threats, fantasies and maybe illusions. As this paper is academic, it mainly relies on theories and concepts related to this subject. Another important factor is the subjective approach of the author. The latter attempts analysing the situation not only within the framework of existing paradigms, and mundane likes and dislikes, but also through the prism of several theories and psychology of basic human emotions (fear, love, hope). 

Current Situation, Assumptions and Perspectives

What is the situation in Israel and Middle East now? It is torn by fragmentation, wars, religious and political discord. Ever since its birth Israel had to fight for its right to exist. If we count only the number of rockets fired at Israel starting from 2005 (that year Israel voluntarily withdrew from Gaza Strip), then it makes 11000 rockets!

In ‘The Spread of Nuclear Weapons’ Kenneth Waltz suggests that if more states have nuclear weapons, then it will make the world a safer place[i]. He and some other scholars would not mind welcoming Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine into the nuclear club.

Some of the underlying assumptions Mr. Waltz implies include the following:

1.      States are rational,

2.      Leaders of states behave rationally,

3.      Countries do not make wars for small gains,

4.      Nuclear world means more uncertainty, which leaves less room for fear.

Let us ponder below over these basic assumptions.

First, Iran is a theocracy, while in Israel religion (Judaism) has a huge impact on state policy and politics.[ii] In a state where religion is part of the government or has a major influence on the latter, how can one speak of rationality or assume that the given state will behave rationally? Waltz defines the term rational as follows: ‘…one is rational if one is able to reason’.[iii]Groups of men reason that ‘[the state of] ‘Israel’[iv] embodies an eternal threat to Lebanon …’. They also reason that destroying Israel and killing the Jews living there is the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.[v] Does this mean they are rational or that they will act rationally in case if they carry out their plans? Therefore, the definition of rationality and the assumption of rational states and/or rational state leaders is very, very problematic.

Cuba risked its own destruction by harbouring soviet warheads. Entire Gaza could be nuked out by Israel, but that did not stop Hamas from literally firing thousands of missiles on Israeli cities. Nuclear Threat Initiative states that Israel’s first nuclear program was established by Ben Gurion in the late 50s. In late 60s speculations concerning Israel’s atomic bomb were already common. Israel is believed to be the world’s sixth country that has gone nuclear (in 1966-1967). In 1967, during the Six-day War, Israel assembled its first three albeit rudimentary but deliverable nuclear explosive devices, according to NTI report. Saddam Hussein estimated that Israel already had a nuclear weapon, and he even ordered all the weapons be unleashed upon Israel in case if Baghdad is wiped off and all the leadership (including himself) perish.[vi] Hussein fired missiles at Israel during the First Persian Gulf War (1991).[vii] Would he not throw an atomic bomb at Israel if he had one (or two…)? Moreover, Hussein also envisaged that nuclear weapons could be launched against him straight from the United States, and that did not deter him either… Cuba’s and other examples should serve as basis for conclusions regarding the level of rationality of states and the theory of nuclear deterrence which we will touch upon further below.

Second, Hamas, Hezbollah, and similar units feel they have even stronger reasons to exterminate Jews and annihilate Israel because of the latter’s nuclear capabilities. The religious leader of Palestine, Muhammad Hussein, quoted a religious text on January 9, 2012: ‘Oh Muslim […], there is a Jew … come and kill him.’[viii] This is not the only case of leaders who reason in these terms.[ix] Hamas Covenant literally says Jihad is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And their objective is to liberate (i.e. destroy) Israel completely. It seems that Mr. Waltz systematically falls victim to some cognitive distortions (present in most, if not all, human minds) or simply consciously minimizes the potential risks associated with the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by various structures.[x] In any case, the heads of these regimes are often motivated not by simple pragmatic calculations or simple reasoning, but also by emotions, identities and diverse ideologies.

Third, constructivist theory gives a much more realistic view of many human societies (including governments or states). It states that social reality does not simply exist; it is being created, and identities, ideas, mindsets play an important role in that process. The constructivist theory allows us to understand that nuclear Lebanon, Palestine and/or other countries will still make decisions based on their identities, values, ideologies, not on detached, logical reasoning. A nuclear state will not transform itself into a rational actor. Would states that send missiles, chemical weapons and Islamist suicide bombers abstain from using a more effective weapon? To some leaderships, it can be rational to sacrifice most of their people for a higher purpose.[xi] 

Possibly one of the most peculiar things Waltz does is his usage of a failed prediction. He calls upon Norman Angell: ‘…war would not occur as it could not pay’[xii]. The main argument of Waltz is that ‘when the active use of force threatens to bring great losses, war becomes less likely’. This prediction already failed the author, as Waltz points out himself. He just suggests that this failed prediction will work with nuclear weapons. Calling upon constructal, constructivist and game theories, I believe the already failed prediction will fail again. It is only a matter of time.

Finally, Waltz estimates that when more countries have more nuclear weapons, there will be less certainty which will inhibit countries from attacking each other[xiii]. It is quite unconventional to seek stability or certainty in uncertainty itself. If one is honest about one’s uncertainty, one can firmly come to only one conclusion: ‘I am not certain about anything.’ Making calculations and betting on uncertainty is an oxymoron, it is illogical. A logically disentangled individual cannot rely on such argument.

The Mantra of Nuclear Deterrence and Its Origin

‘To deter’ literally means to frighten, as Waltz defines the term.[xiv] The root word of deterrence is ‘terrere,’ i.e. to scare/terrorize. The idea is that when one country wants to attack another one, the offender knows that although his attack may be carried successfully and the other side is considered defenseless, he also knows that he may get a very serious reaction which will bring him/it/them more harm than good.[xv] To deter someone is to terrorize someone quite literally. Waltz himself admits: ‘Deterrence does not depend on rationality. It depends on fear.’[xvi] And just a few lines above he called upon reason and simple reasoning. The latter shows that instilling fear is not an effective way of achieving peace. Governors would try to deter their enemies, and yet it would not work.[xvii] Moreover, the game theory asserts (based on various experiments and tests carried out for decades by now) that human beings can act rationally, but in critical situations they often do not do so. We act irrational more often than we think.

Constructal law, as explained by its creator, Dr. Adrian Bejan, states: ‘For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it.’[xviii] This law explains how life evolves and happens. From simple amoebas to governments and international units, this theory states that life starts from a simple pattern and then grows into a more complex one. But the complexity of form(s) is secondary; the same basic energy flows in all forms. This law allows us to claim that the essence of deterrence (non-nuclear or nuclear) has not changed, it is the same old energy of fear: spearheads evolved into nuclear warheads. This allows us to predict that the behaviour will be the same sooner or later, too.

A Buddhist scholar, Professor Walpola Rahula, invites us to consider the following: ‘There can be no peace or happiness for man as long as he desires and thirsts after conquering and subjugating his neighbour. As the Buddha says: ‘The victor breeds hatred, and the defeated lies down in misery.’[xix] Dr. Rahula then reminds us of something fundamental: ‘People are hypnotized, psychologically puzzled, blinded and deceived by the political and propaganda usage of such terms as ‘national’, ‘international’, or ‘state’. What is a nation but a vast conglomeration of individuals? A nation or a state does not act, it is the individual who acts. […] What is applicable to the individual is applicable to the nation or the state’.[xx] Dr. Rahula also touches upon the problem of nuclear deterrence directly: ‘To talk of maintaining peace through the balance of power or through the threat of nuclear deterrents, is foolish. The might of armaments can only produce fear, and not peace. […] Through fear can come only hatred, ill-will and hostility, suppressed perhaps for the time being only, but ready to erupt and become violent at any moment. True and genuine peace can prevail only in an atmosphere of mettā, amity, free from fear, suspicion and danger.’[xxi]  

Some scholars will state that sacrifices can be justified. As long as you, your family and friends are not expected to sacrifice your lives, the perspective of sacrificing is very attractive.[xxii] Some people would also sacrifice their own lives and those of others. One of the fundamental justifications of the acceptability of such sacrifices is the idea of a ‘greater good’ which may be interpreted as ‘national interests’, ‘security’, ‘safety’, ‘rule of law’, ‘justice’ etc.

At least 190.000 individuals were murdered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oxford hosted around 22600 students in 2015. Around eight Oxford universities were wiped out. This is a successful example of nuclear deterrence.[xxiii] The likelihood of such scenarios grows in a more nuclear future. If the human factor is left out, it is very easy to deal with numbers and justify anything. Once one imagines that their father/mother/spouse or best friend are even a single one among those thousands, much shifts in one’s mind.

Conclusion

Is nuclear future attractive? Fighting terrorism through deterrence sounds like extinguishing a fire with petrol. Terror did not help humanity during the era of Draconian laws. Nor it helps nuclear Israel these days. I call this ‘the problem of fighting a hole’. The idea is one cannot ‘fight’ a hole or negative phenomena (e.g. war, poverty, terror). A hole can be filled at best and covered at least. But if you bomb it, take away more material from its surroundings, or build a wall around it, it will not help.

Walpola’s wisdom gushes from the practical example of Buddha.[xxiv] Speaking of ‘the problem of fighting a hole’ (i.e. fighting fear with fear, advocating violence against violence) and suggesting an alternative, he notes: ‘Surely it cannot be more risky than trying a nuclear war’.[xxv]

Kenneth Waltz ascribes the avoidance of the ‘nuclear Holocaust’ during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 to the rationality of Khrushchev and Kennedy. A believer may argue that the Lord saved us. In my country, Armenia, it is widely believed that humankind avoided the nuclear World War mostly due to the diplomatic acumen of our countryman Anastas Mikoyan, the first Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, who managed to persuade stubborn Fidel Castro to accept the removal of the missiles.[xxvi] But what if humankind avoided war simply by fluke? If so, will fortune always smile on humans?

 


[i] Sagan, Waltz. The Spread of Nuclear Weapons. W.W. Norton & Company, 2003, pp. 6 – 9

[ii] The Israeli military does not hold figures classifying its soldiers as secular or observant. But a detailed study by the Defence Ministry journal Maarachot showed that by 2008, the percentage of national religious infantry officer cadets had increased ten-fold to 26 percent from 2.5 percent in 1990.More religious Jews seek to influence Israel’s politics especially after 9000 Jewish settlers were pulled out of Gaza. Many rabbis actively propagate various ideologies and seek to spread these over the military sector as well. For further information see http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/israel-military-religion/

[iii] Sagan, Waltz, p. 54

[iv] They always use brackets when referring to Israel.

[v]J. Alagha, J. (2006). The shifts in Hizbullah’s ideology: religious ideology, political ideology, and political program (p. 380). Amsterdam University Press., p.188

[vi] Waltz and Sagan, p. 80

[vii] It was Hussein who hit Tel-Aviv for the first time ever during the city’s and Israel’s history.

[viii] For further information follow the following link http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=6098

[ix] Another prominent religious leader who campaigned for the total extermination of Jews was another mufti, that of Jerusalem, referred as Hitler’s Mufti, was Amin al-Husseini. He was elected as mufti since 1921 and held it until his death. He actively opposed UN partition plan. On February 3, 2014, a Jordanian Member of Parliament quoted Muhammad, too: ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them’. (https://www.jihadwatch.org/2014/02/discussing-kerrys-peace-efforts-jordanian-mp-quotes-muhammad-judgment-day-will-not-come-until-the-muslims-fight-the-jews-and-the-muslims-will-kill-them)

[x] Waltz and Sagan, pp. 127-130

[xi] For instance, leaders and heads of states like Alexander the Great or Napoleon would fight with their armies risking to lose their own lives which was equal to losing one’s empire in those days. The co-founder of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, also was one of those leaders. Neither the imprisonment in Israeli prison, nor the assassination attempt by Israeli forces deterred him. He would always stress that ‘either victory or martyrdom’ was their path, and the only solution was to wipe off Israel and chase away the shameless Jewish occupiers. That was his rationale. Many such leaders prevail in various countries across the globe.

[xii] Waltz and Sagan, P. 44

[xiii] Ibid., p.15

[xiv] Ibid., p. 5

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Ibid., p. 154

[xvii] Only considering the example of the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire is sufficient for lack of space. Even though thousands of Christians would be punished severely and publicly for following Christianity, that did not prevent the further spread of this new religion. And later the Roman empire itself converted to it.  Germany was not deterred by numerous losses after the First World War either.

[xviii] A. Bejan, Advanced Engineering Thermodynamics. 2nd ed. (Wiley, New York, 1997).

[xix] Rāhula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. Vol. 641. Systematic Printers, 2006, p.87

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid, p.88

[xxii] Dick Cheney, after all, changed his opinion on same-sex marriage only after his daughter coming out to him as a lesbian.

[xxiii] Although the term ‘nuclear deterrence’ did not exist, the U.S. bombarded Japan with nuclear weapon first, and this was an instance of deterrence, i.e. terrorizing by nuclear means, even though Japan did not have the ability to launch an adequate military response.

[xxiv] Two tribes, Sakyas and Koliyas, were to engage into battle over the problem of the waters of the river Rohini. Buddha, the tradition says, prevented the bloodshed in person. On another occasion king Ajatasattu was dissuaded from attacking the kingdom of the Vajjis by him. The most prominent example, however, is that of a mighty ruler, king Ashoka the Great. The latter renounced his policies of aggressive conquests. He did this while being at the zenith of his power, after successfully annexing the kingdom of Kalinga, an event which left hundreds of thousands killed, wounded and tortured. Later he publicly wished ‘all living beings non-violence, self control, the practice of serenity and mildness.’ Source: Rāhula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. Vol. 641. Systematic Printers, 2006, pp. 87-88

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Greiner, B. (1990). The Soviet View: An Interview with Sergo Mikoyan. Diplomatic History, 14(2), 205-222.

 

Bibliography

Alagha, J. (2007) The shifts in Hizbullah’s ideology: Religious ideology, political ideology, and political program. Leiden: Amsterdam University Press.

Bejan, A. (1997) Advanced engineering thermodynamics. 2nd edn. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Greiner, B. (1990) ‘The soviet view: An interview with Sergo Mikoyan’, Diplomatic History, 14(2), pp. 205–222.

Rahula, W. and Demiéville, P. (2006) What the Buddha taught. Oxford: Systematic Printers.

Sagan, S.D.D. and Waltz, K.N. (1995) The spread of nuclear weapons: A debate. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

About the Author
Albert Hayrapetyan received his MA in Political Science and International Affairs from the U.S.-accredited American University of Armenia (AUA). His research interests include the issue of alliances, ethnic conflicts and global hazards.
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