Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How To Stop Nuclear Proliferation?

Remember back in early September (yah-dee-ah) when Israel bombed a target in Middle of Nowhere, Syria with seemingly no provocation? And remember how Syria responded with extremely muted outrage, remarkable because a) Arab countries display outrage at Israel for everything and b) Syria had been half-assedly trying to start a war over the Golan Heights for the entire summer? I suspected something was up, but now we have confirmation - it was an extralegal nuclear reactor.

The reactor was years away from producing anything. But this raises an interesting question - if you know a country has an illegal reactor, and you know they're trying to keep it a secret, and you're the first to find out about it, should you make a stink and employ diplomacy or just bomb the fucker?

Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The bombs-away method is nice because the country trying to build the bomb has no recourse to fight back without revealing their nuclear program and creating massive problems for themselves. It sets the nuclear program back significantly, and frightens the nation pursuing the extralegal reactor. It also avoids the possibility of a situation like the one we currently face with Iran, where their clearly illegal nuclear program is allowed to proceed because diplomacy allows them to play for time.

However, diplomacy is not without its advantages, and force not without its disadvantages. A botched bombing could cause real damage to civilian targets, creating a huge pretext for the reactor-building country to go to war/stage diplomatic pressure without revealing anything. And as UN non-proliferation czar Mohammed ElBaradei points out at the end of the Post article, the use of force will lead to countries hiding their reactors better, thus leaving the non-proliferation regime with little ability to stop the program. Diplomacy seems to have (finally) worked in the case of North Korea, where a draw-down of isolation was offered in exchange for the dismantling of the Yongbyon reactor. And diplomacy leads to the most permanent solution - in a diplomatic solution, a regime agrees never to pursue nuclear weapons, whereas force can only send the pursuit of weapons back to start.

There's good arguments on both sides, and it's probably best that this debate be taken on case-by-case. In this case, it's tough to fault Israel for carrying out a low-risk (the nearest town was 8 miles away) attack on a nuclear reactor in a neighboring country, especially given how the Iran situation has turned out.

1 comment:

Michael said...

It's also important to understand how the opponent views diplomacy.

Like any fascist state, Syria and Iran view it as a sign of weakness. And as you've pointed out, look where it's gone with Iran.

Syria, however, does not have nukes, won't have nukes, and will have an interesting time convincing their North Korean suppliers that the investment is a sound one.