Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Nightmare Scenario

Given that Iran already has the bomb, an Iranian ship or submarine, or an Iranian-financed ship from some third country, if it gets within 1,000 miles of the east coast of America, can fire two KH-55 nuclear tipped cruise missiles programmed to fly beneath our radar horizon. The missiles can reach New York City and Washington D.C. in less than two hours. Struck by the equivalent of 12 Hiroshima bombs, each city and its suburbs will be leveled.

To the best of my knowledge, we have no defense against such an attack. Our Patriot anti-missile system is designed to shoot down high-flying ballistic missiles, not low-flying cruise missiles. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Patriot system was defeated by a relatively primitive CSS-C-3 Silkworm cruise missile.

If the attackers scuttle their ship in deep water and commit suicide, we will not know for sure who hit us. (Such martyrdom is an ingrained feature of Iranian Shiite culture.) If we don't know who hit us, we may fail to counterattack, or worse, attack the wrong country. With all or most of our corporate, government, and military leaders dead, our ability to respond quickly will be compromised. With our two most vital hubs gone, we could begin to starve in weeks.

I see no reason why this attack could not take place today.

Iran Has Nuclear Weapons

For the past seven years, President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other officers of our federal government have been saying that we must prevent Iran from obtaining or creating nuclear weapons. This rhetoric is now pointless: Iran has the bomb. The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. It is so specific that we can even estimate the number of warheads that Iran has produced to date. That number is at least 75.

The evidence is both plentiful in quantity and various in nature:

1. It makes no sense for an oil-rich country to have nuclear reactors. Yet Iran has at least six. Due to construction problems, the big twin reactors at Busheir have never produced any electrical power, nor are they likely to for several years. However, the construction difficulties are in the part of the facility that generates electricity, not in the reactors. Almost certainly, one of the reactors has been operating since 2004: It takes a powerful reactor to produce polonium-210, and we now know that Iran has been making this substance since 2004.

2. The type of nuclear fuel that Iran is producing at other sites cannot be used by the reactors at Busheir. Yet the Busheir reactors are the biggest in Iran. It makes no sense to produce nuclear fuel that cannot be used at Busheir: this Iranian-produced fuel is either for small reactors or for nuclear weapons.

3. Iran has been caught lying to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) repeatedly. If Iran's nuclear program were for the production of electrical power alone, no lying would have been needed.

4. Iran has rejected an offer by the Russian Federation to supply Iran with nuclear fuel and to cart away its nuclear waste. This program would have supplied Iran with uranium that is not pure enough to make a bomb. It also would have removed any plutonium or polonium-210 produced by the reactors; both are used to make nuclear bombs.

5. Iran has more than 50 nuclear-related facilities. They are too plentiful for a domestic electrical power production program. On the other hand, nuclear weapons require a large number of finely-machined parts, extremely pure metals, and extremely pure explosives. If Iran is mass-producing nuclear weapons, then 50 sites might well be necessary.

6. These nuclear-related facilities are needlessly dispersed instead of conveniently centralized. By dispersing them, Iran has made it difficult for an attacker to disable them all simultaneously.

7. They are owned and managed by officers of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,) a uniformed branch of the Iranian military. If these facilities were related only to the production of domestic electrical power, the military would not be interested in them.

8. Increasingly, these nuclear-related facilities are being moved underground. Typically, a nation buries only its most vital weapons and weapons production facilities, because they must be protected at all costs.

9. Iranian officials have openly threatened Israel by calling it "a one-bomb country." Only a nuclear bomb has the capacity to destroy all of Israel.

10. Many of Iran's ballistic missiles are over 50 feet in length. It makes no sense to fly a multi-million-dollar rocket thousands of miles only to knock down a few buildings with conventional explosives. These are nuclear missiles.

11. From 1986 through 2003, Iran was repeatedly visited by agents of Abdul Qadeer Khan's clandestine nuclear sales network. Dr. Khan, Pakistan's top nuclear expert signed a consulting agreement with Iran in 1987. He sold to the Iranians as much as 18 tons of materials, including drawings, components, and P-1 centrifuges for enriching uranium to weapons grade. In 2005, IAEA inspectors in Iran found documents from A.Q. Khan that show how to cast uranium metal into hemispheres. The only known use for a uranium hemisphere is to trigger a nuclear explosion.

12. The Mobarakeh steel factory in Isfahan is producing maraging steel, which can be used to build centrifuges, missile components, and casings for nuclear weapons.

13. In March 2004, American IAEA officials discovered that Iran has been producing polonium-210. Polonium-210 is the most toxic and dangerous substance known to mankind. Trace amounts exist in nature, but substantial quantities can only be produced in a nuclear reactor, like the ones at Busheir. Polonium-210 has only one use: to act as a neutron source in order to trigger a nuclear explosion. (Polonium-210 gives off so much heat that it was once used as a heat source in unmanned space probes. It was also used recently to poison a former Russian KGB agent in London.) It makes no sense to produce polonium-210 without putting it into a nuclear warhead; that would be like a gunsmith constructing a trigger without also constructing a pistol.

14. In November 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed that Iran was working on an interface designed to couple a nuclear warhead to a missile. There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" nuclear warhead: warheads have particular shapes. They can't simply be placed inside a rocket: they have to be bolted in place. The bolts on the warhead have to match the holes in the missile, or vice-versa. The missile and warhead must also be wired together with sensors, controls, and fail-safe devices. An interface is an intermediate structure that binds to the missile on one side and to the warhead on the other. It is not possible to construct an interface without first constructing both the missile and the warhead.

15. In January 2005, Ukraine announced that an earlier Administration had illegally sold 6 or 12 Soviet KH-55 “Granat” nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. The KH-55 can carry a 200-kiloton warhead; equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs. The Iranians have reverse-engineered the missile and are now mass-producing copies of it at the Khaibar missile base in Karaj.

16. In April 2006, Iran announced that it has been conducting research into nuclear fusion for at least five years. Nuclear fusion can only be used for two things: producing electrical power and making a thermonuclear warhead. But no one has yet succeeded in making cost-effective electrical power via nuclear fusion. This means that Iran is building a hydrogen bomb.

17. According to an Iranian dissident, 31 miles southwest of Natanz, the IRGC has built an underground complex, which is protected by a blast door 20 feet tall and 60 feet wide. The complex divides into six blast-hardened bunkers that contain two Shahab-3 ballistic missiles on mobile launchers, a centrifuge cascade capable of refining uranium to weapons grade, and 15 nuclear warheads.

Given all of this data, it is impossible to believe that Iran's 27-year drive to produce nuclear weapons has not yet succeeded.

Either the reactors at Busheir alone, or Arak alone, or Natanz alone can produce 25 nuclear warheads per year. If only one of these facilities has been operating continuously since 2004, then Iran presently has at least 75 warheads.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Nature of Modern Nuclear War

In 1945, we used the atomic bomb twice in order to end World War II. Had we not used it, almost certainly hundreds of thousands more people would have lost their lives needlessly, including many American soldiers. The bombs were dropped from airplanes. A necessary precondition for this attack was to first secure the airspace over Japan so that Japanese air defenses could not shoot down the bombers. But before American forces could secure Japanese air space, they first had to get close to the Japanese coastline. This effort, alone, cost us hundreds of thousands of lives.

The next time a nuclear warhead gets used, things will be very different:

The United States will no longer be the only nation on earth possessing nuclear weapons.
Among the 202 sovereign countries of the world, 30 have either begun or completed their own development of nuclear weapons or have purchased such weapons from some other state. Of these nations, 10 are known to possess nuclear fission warheads, and 6 are known to possess nuclear fusion warheads. Only 188 countries have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; of these, three, including Iran, are known to have broken the treaty.

As the number of nuclear-armed countries goes up, it becomes more difficult for us to counter them all. Furthermore, should we be struck by a nuclear missile, it will be correspondingly difficult to ascertain who launched it. (During the 1950's, that calculation was easy: only the Soviet Union could strike us.)

The preferred delivery vehicles will no longer be airplanes.
Securing the airspace over a defending nation is costly in lives to the attacking nation. A nuclear missile minimizes the loss of life among the attackers. Therefore, in today's world, the inexorable logic of combat almost insures that nuclear missiles will be used.

The logic of combat also dictates that expensive weapons will be used only where they will inflict the most serious harm upon the enemy. Nuclear missiles are very expensive. Therefore, they are mostly designed to be city-killers. Launching a nuclear missile at open farmland makes no sense. The only notable exception to this rule is a nuclear missile specifically designed to break open a hardened bunker. Such redoubts are used to hide the defender's most valuable assets; typically, these are the defender's own nuclear missiles and nuclear production facilities. These tend to be hidden underground in rural areas.

The devastation will be greater.
The yield of the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to the explosive force of 15 thousand tons of TNT. Today, a large fusion warhead delivers the equivalent of 50 million tons of TNT.

We will be much more vulnerable.
During the 1960's, disabling the United States would have required the attacker to launch thousands of nuclear missiles. Today, because so many of our vital networks pass through New York and Washington, two missiles may be all that is needed to cripple us. The roads, railways, air routes, and telecommunication lines that pass through these key cities will be disrupted. Essential goods and services, most especially food, will take much longer to reach us.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The term “weapons of mass destruction” was first used by the White House in 2002. It is a shorthand way of saying “chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons.” Such verbal shortcuts are common in vernacular English, and are essential for rapid communication. However, they are easily misused. Furthermore, they can confuse not only the public, but the government itself.

Both radiological and nuclear weapons release subatomic particles that can kill many people. But a radiological weapon, or dirty bomb, creates neither a shock wave nor intense heat. It is more like a poison than a bomb.

It is right for us to work toward the destruction of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. Nuclear weapons, however, pose a much more serious threat to American lives. As we have already seen, the logic of war is dominated by the psychology of the adolescent male mind. (This is not an indictment of men. There are deep evolutionary roots to this psychology. It serves the survival of the human species.) The mentality of the sandlot does not like subtlety; defeating a rival by poisoning him does not establish dominance as thoroughly as does a public beating. Hence, aggressor nations and terrorists alike have a preference for explosives.

An explosion is more easily targeted and more easily controlled than an indiscriminate poison. It also sends a strong message of dominance. The bigger the explosion, the stronger the message, the more firmly the dominance of the aggressor over the victim is demonstrated. Hence, in the world of explosions, bigger is better.

The psychology of militant Muslim men, especially Arabs and Iranians, is driven by shame: The defeat by tiny Israel of the combined Arab armies three times in the last century is shameful to Arabs. The fall of the Persian Empire at the hands of the Greeks is shameful to Iranians. The fall of the Arabian Empire, after a hegemony of 1,300 years, is shameful to Arabs and Iranians alike.

If a Muslim nation decides to strike America, it will want to do so through one or more giant explosions; nothing less will staunch its shame. If, in addition, this Muslim nation aspires to seize the leadership of all Islam, a big explosion is even more desirable; nothing less will establish its dominance.

Therefore, it would be better for America to focus on the threat of nuclear missiles, rather than on the combined threat of weapons of mass destruction. Without the proper focus, our government may fix upon the wrong enemy. For example, in 2003, a risk assessment of dangerous regimes in the Middle East based upon nuclear missiles rather than upon weapons of mass destruction would have identified Iran as our most important target instead of Iraq.