Not Amused

The Financial Times reports this morning that:

Jacques Chirac, France’s president, has threatened to use nuclear weapons against any state that supported terrorism against his country or considered using weapons of mass destruction.“.

According to the FT Chirac’s actually words were:

“The leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” he said. “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.”

Now these words were not just any words, and the speech was not just any speech, since as the New York Times indicates, the Élysée Palace explanation is that M. Chirac’s speech reflected changes that had been adopted as part of a routine review of nuclear doctrine, a review which is carried out every five years. So not only is this a policy statement, it was also

the first time that a French president had publicly spelled out the possibility of nuclear retaliation for state-backed terrorism. In the past, France has said nuclear weapons could be used if its “vital interests” were at risk, while deliberately refraining from identifying those interests.

“In French doctrine, nuclear weapons are meant to deter attacks against ‘vital interests,’ to create uncertainty among potential attackers about what these interests could be,” said François Heisbourg, special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “But here, things get defined. That’s a change.”

Not only could this change of policy not have come at a more sensitive time in view of what is currently taking place in Iran, it could not, in my opinion have been more barbaric, since (and surely M Chirac must know this) the victims of nuclear attacks are not states, but people, normally innocent ones, and if he doesn’t know this he should try asking the relatives of the former inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hopefully such threats will never be acted on (which doesn’t do anything to rescue the ethical standing of those who issue them), but the more immediate potential economic consequences that upping-the-anti with Iran in this crude fashion could have are outlined both here and here.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

53 thoughts on “Not Amused

  1. “Do you realize how arrogant this sounds? The enlightened Europeans pulling the Iranians out of the Dark Ages.”

    I think, Rupert, you’ve missed the point. I don’t think Europe was pulling anyone out of anything. Internal dynamics inside Iran itself were doing this. We were, if you like, using carrots rather than sticks. Up to last summer visible progress was being made.

    Indeed Iranian government policies in and of themselves were working this way. Take public education, particularly for girls.Iranian girls were spending far more years in school in 2004 than they had been 20 years earlier. The sex ratio of university students changed significantly during the 1990s in favour of girls. In 1998, around 52 per cent of university students entering government universities were girls. This figure increased to 57 per cent in 1999, to around 60 per cent in 2000, and then to around 62 percent in 2001. This process was having a considerable impact on the improved social status of women (something similar can be observed in Turkey btw). Indeed, a central feature of the process of social change in Iranian society was the fact that girls were staying in education longer, delaying marriage marriage, and taking more responsibility for their own reproductive decisions, and obviously as a result having less children. Far less than Iraq for example. Modernisation was occuring. Having democracy work in Iran was a viable project (something which I doubt it is in Iraq: incidentally wouldn’t the extensive US personell in Iraq and Saudi be put to much better long-term effect promoting an increased circulation of condoms?).

    In Iran many such policies were working, nudged along, if you like, by our patient prodding and diplomacy. And then bang, someone somewhere-else got impatient, became arrogant, and dreamed up a huge social engineering project to destabilise an entire region.

    Now we all have to face the consequences.

    How does the gambler’s song go?

    Now ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
    Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
    ’cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
    And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

  2. In Iran many such policies were working, nudged along, if you like, by our patient prodding and diplomacy.

    Bluntly spoken, so what? By going democratic Iran will not stop wanting to dominate the gulf. You are operating on the false presumption that having nuclear weapons and controlling the world’s largest oil producing region is an outlandish project pushed through against national interest and popular will by a deranged dictator.
    Democracy is not a magic cure.

  3. Edward, you know better than I do that fluctuations in the price of copper do not precipitate recessions. It’s not just nutters who think that Gulf (and possibly some Russian) oil being invoiced in Euros would have a significant impact. If oil importers were to start holding larger reserves of Euros and fewer dollars as a result, I think it would inevitably exacerbate the downward pressure on the dollar. There’s an interesting article on the subject here

    You’re right that there’s a symbolic element : it was after all the switch from pounds to dollars as the oil-invoicing currency that marked sterling’s effective demise as a world reserve currency; but that came after the fact, not before.

    Washington’s freedom to exchange dollar notes for oil-imports while running ever-increasing deficits is not a fact of nature. And this time, should another oil price-hike precipitate recession, there’s no guarantee that recycled petro-dollars would provide a cushion for the US economy.

    I don’t buy the idea that Iranian popular sentiment was gradually moving towards the West; that’s the hope we entertained before the recent elections. Iran may be more polarised now, but that doesn’t mean that the liberals are winning.

    Bentegeat is right about the insanity of a nuclear attack on Iran. As for incapacitating the hardened, dispersed, defended, redundant sites in Iranian population centres, I think our conventional technology can cope (the GBU-28 for instance). Sure, the economic repercussions would be dramatic, the cost in terms of Islamic hearts and minds would be huge, and there’s a very widespread feeling amongst westerners that it would be completely unjustified.

    But let’s be frank and admit we’re talking about an act of war to preserve our longer-term ability to bully oil-producers, (rather than being bullied by them) and ask ourselves how essential that ability is to the prosperity and well-being of our children. But when we do so, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of national leaders whose duty it is to protect the national interest.

    A no-win situation? Looks that way. I just don’t see how the US can tolerate an Iran with a nuclear deterrent.

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