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Gaming an Iran contingency

  1. Feb 11, 2006 #1
    I've been thinking about this one and am not quite sure about the answer. Here's the question and scenario:

    What happens if Iran were to pull a North Korea and announce rather unexpectedly that they did, indeed, have nuclear weapons, made and on the ready?

    To jog memories, about a year ago, the DPRK announced that they indeed possessed nuclear weapons. They did not say how many nor did they say if or where they were deployed, but they did make a clear announcement that, yes, they did in fact have nuclear weapons. This caught a lot of people by suprise because until then the basic operating assumption was that the North Koreans were operating nuclear facilities and were certainly moving toward nuclear capabilities, but that they were not in possession of true atomic weapons. Until then, the dynamic in the negotiations was one of how to entice the DPRK to return to NPT guidelines and the previously agreed upon ROE I think worked out under Clinton (which they violated). But when they announced that they had nuclear weapons, the discussions changed from more a semi-militant tone (were DPRK to not come around) to an almost purely diplomatic framework. Of course, the DoD maintains (however crudely) contigency scenarios even for these circumstances, but once the DPRK announced that they were in fact in possession of nuclear weapons, the side-jabber and "leaked" remarks about a military solution were markedly toned down, which make sense because everything became more serious. But the interesting thing was that the RoK said that yes the DPRK claim was plausible. But that's a little strange of a confirmation since until then everyone (at least seemed as) was operating under the belief that DPRK had not yet made that leap. In short, the move worked out almost expertly for the North Koreans. It elevated them from a problem-child to a legitimate player.

    What would happen were Iran to make a similar claim?

    Here's what I've come up with so far:

    The claim would be greeted with far more skepticism since among other things the Iranians have ostensibly been operating in the open with the IAEA (meaning that everything was by the book, even the demand that the IAEA remove its monitoring equipment, etc.). So for a claim like this to be believed, they would almost be forced to disclose more details, either where or how they'd constructed a bomb without the world knowing and/or display or demonstrate some aspects (not necessarily decisive proof though) of a claimed bomb. Yet it would still be possible.

    However, the claim would most likely change the framework of the discussion in a way different from the DPRK situation, simply because they'd be a new and contentious player in a very rough neighborhood (with three or four nuclear superpowers, Iran, Israel, the US, and possibly Pakistan) in the neighborhood. The Israeli interest is clear, albeit their reaction is not. For instance, do they treat the claim as an act of war, chance it, and launch against Iran. Or do they simply rely even more fervently on diplomatic talks that have become exponentially more serious and rest with the assurance that Iran would of necessity yield to the deterrence that is an assured nuclear destruction (from NATO and the US) were Iran to launch a first-strike. I almost certainly think the second situation goes one hundred percent in the face of Israel's military (and indeed fundamental national) posture, and would thus be completely unacceptable - it'd be akin to the US putting their hopes of a Soviet launch not happening in the hands of the Canadians: outsourcing the fundamental existence of your nation.

    The US would be equally threatened, as a significant portion of our armed forces would lie within range of a nuclear Iran. Well, this point is debatable on some technicalities, depending on one's assesment of nuclear-tipped Iranian missile range. Nevertheless, the US would have ample foundation to, much like Israel, view this as an act of war (nuclear war, no less) by Iran.

    If it came to it, and Israel was going to launch, the US would probably launch instead, for several reasons. It'd allow Israel to maintain plausible deniability. And, more importantly, the US is most likely better equipped to do it.

    Still, all hell'd break lose - even were Iran to not have nuclear missiles. The word tactical strike would be non-existent in this context.

    But the realities of international media must not be underestimated. If Iran were to come out and say something to the effect like "yes we have nuclear weapons - however, under no circumstances would we use them preemptively" then the US might really be in a pickle. It might be enough to come right up to, but not overstep, the int'l supported US line for a near-unaminous consensus that this was indeed an act of war.

    But most crucially, it'd be very unlikely - and probably a large gamble - to operate under the assumption that, having made this announcement, that the Iranians were bluffing.

    Anyway, I ask for your take on, were this to happen, what would realistically follow.

    And in all respect, I do not mean for this to be a repeat of the "would the US use nuclear weapons against Iran thread". The assumption, whether you buy it or not, is that the US would follow through with their nuclear posture which states in no uncertain terms that it is prepared to meet a nuclear act of war against it with an equal or more devastating nuclear response. So let's go with that assumption for now...
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 11, 2006 #2


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    Why do you assume Iran will go with nuclear warheads?
  4. Feb 12, 2006 #3
    This is so much speculation and hypothesizing that I don't see what purpose its serves to even discuss this matter.
  5. Feb 12, 2006 #4
    well, as an Iranian!, and a person who was working on a research project in Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, I believe that there is no atomic weapon production in Iran. everything is just peaceful.
    Many people in Iran believe that, it is just a scenario from USA. In fact, they want to do the same, as they did in Iraq.
  6. Feb 12, 2006 #5
    That smells like Government propoganda to me. Are you being monitored?
  7. Feb 12, 2006 #6


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    It's a very strange post.
  8. Feb 12, 2006 #7


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    Everything smells like government propaganda to you, doesn't it? :tongue2:
  9. Feb 12, 2006 #8
    Hmm. Well, first and foremost, I've got no clue whether any of these things are likely, etc. and am presenting this post purely as a question of strategy. But let's look past all that for a sec and game the hypothetical.

    "Why do you assume Iran will go with nuclear warheads?"

    Not exactly sure what you mean here. If you mean that, having declared that they have nuclear weapons, that they might instead configure them for some sort of asymmetrical threat - the infamous suitcase nuke - it seems like they wouldn't make the announcement in the first place. However, I am not thinking that in the announcement they would state things like "we have configured missiles with nuclear warheads", but instead just leave it as an open question.

    But you make a good point. Any military strike aimed at destroying their ability to launch nuclear weapons is inherently operating under the assumption that they'd need a conventional command and control to launch, which asymmetrical configurations skirt around. Hmm.
  10. Feb 12, 2006 #9
    what is the point of all this speculation? You should discuss this with WarrenPlatt on a military strategy website.
  11. Feb 12, 2006 #10
    "what is the point of all this speculation? You should discuss this with WarrenPlatt on a military strategy website."

    There's really no point (as in ulterior motive or hoped-for result) I guess, but I find it interesting. It's certainly something that happens in our world. But if your point is that such things shouldn't be posted at all on the physicsforum website, I understand and will certainly bow to the wishes of the admin's et al, but I was under the impression that it was discussed and for now ended in previous recent posts.

    In defense, though, I'd add that strategy discussions like these (ideally) involve the same multi-faceted and reasoned calculus that you might find in a thought-out philosophical debate in a different forum. And one reason in particular that I enjoy talking about them in a place like this -provided there is a proper location to do so - is that the ratio of thoughtful intelligent responses to hijacked silliness or indiscretion has been in my short experience, lower - simply because most of the people here seem to think along the same lines, even if they don't agree about subject matter.

    That said, if this isn't a topic that I'm allowed to discuss here, I'm disappointed but understand. But as for politics and world affairs in general "war is an extension of diplomacy by other means", etc, etc.
  12. Feb 12, 2006 #11
    The problem with your post is that you are starting off with a premise that is fictitious, and further spectulated what governments and militaries of the world would do from there. I hope you realize that it serves no purpose to speculate based on a premise that does not reflect the reality of the situation in Iran. If Iran does as you hypothesized, then it would be appropriate to debate the issue.
  13. Feb 12, 2006 #12


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    It's better to plan for a possible scenario before it happens, rather than wait until after it has arisen.
  14. Feb 12, 2006 #13
    Hurkyl, next time you watch any politicial figure in the news, listen to what they say when they are asked about 'what if' scenarios (Rummy is notorious for this). They will tell you they cannot comment on 'what if's' because that would be nothing but speculation. Here, I don't see any merit in speculating on an argument that is based on a premise that is fictitious. Hypothesizing on a known premise and discussing the options would be a different scenario.
  15. Feb 12, 2006 #14


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    If this situation couldn't possibly happen, then there wouldn't (directly) be any merit in discussing it.

    If the situation could possibly happen, then there would be merit. (But it might still not be worth the effort)
  16. Feb 12, 2006 #15
    Another similar possibillty:
    Iran allies with NK and then NK decides to tell everone that they also have nukes.When Iran told not to
  17. Feb 12, 2006 #16
    Anything can possibly happen, do you see my point? What use does it do discussing an infinite number of possible situations? Maybe there is a revolution caused by external pressures from the United States. Is it possible, yes, is it going to happen, not likely. Is it a meaninful discussion, I say no.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2006
  18. Feb 12, 2006 #17
    I understand your point. However, for the sake of avoiding exactly these types of detours, I've asked that (if only for this one post) such philosophical concerns be suspended. If you find the original question unanswerable or absurd with such suspensions, then please simply do not reply. Your objection is a reasonable one and I'm sure you're not alone in holding it. But it has been noted, so please let us move on, even if our reasoning is fallacious.
  19. Feb 12, 2006 #18
    LOL He is now.
  20. Feb 12, 2006 #19
    DPRK got the US to back down by saying they had nukes. Questioning whether or not such a move would be benefitial to Iran at the moment seems pretty relevant to me.
  21. Feb 13, 2006 #20
    I am not going to waste my time hypothesizing on a ficticious premise, at least not this one. If you want to, have fun.
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