Chirac has a transient dishonesty malfunction

Everyone’s now blogged about Jacques Chirac’s unexpected remarks about Iranian nuclear weapons.

But I think there may still be some angular momentum to be had. Chirac stated that, should a hypothetically nuclear Iran launch a nuclear weapon, Tehran would be destroyed before it had gone 200 metres. This is a pretty basic statement of nuclear deterrence, with the further point that in a sense, having one or two nuclear bombs makes you weaker than having zero nuclear bombs but the capacity to make them. Once you fire the one bomb, you have no further deterrent, and you’re definitely going to be nuked.

Quite a range of powers have credible deterrence against Iran – there’s the US, obviously, Israel, obviously, but less obviously France, Britain, Russia, India, China, and Pakistan. So, Chirac argued, the real danger wasn’t so much from a North Korean-style couple of bombs, but that this would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt also rushing to obtain nukes as a counterdeterrent. (In yesterday’s Libération, Francois Heisbourg, the director of the IISS, restates this point adding Jordan to the list of presumed possible proliferators.)

He was of course right. Saudi Arabia has been quietly and consistently making noises about nuclear bombs for years, and it has close military-to-military ties with Pakistan. Some say Saudi money financed the Pakistani bomb project, and alone among nations they are in a position to actually buy the bomb. Egypt would probably see a Saudi bomb as unacceptable, and start using its own considerable scientific-technical establishment to work on going nuclear. (Chirac saw this differently – he suggested rather that the Saudis would finance Egyptian efforts – but I doubt this due to the historic competition for Arab leadership between the two states, and the Pakistani option.) Gah.
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Chirac goes nuclear: addendum

This post serves as a small addendum to Edward’s post Not Amused about Chirac’s threat to use nuclear weapons if necessary. This addendum will hopefully broaden and continue the discussion his statements generated. I won’t be talking about the possibility of nuking Iran or other rogue states here, that element has been covered extensively by Edward’s post, especially in the comments section.

As to Chirac’s nuclear threat, yesterday’s Ouest France suggested Chirac made the statement to reaffirm France’s position as a serious player after having lost credibility with the EU constitution referendum. After the non-vote several commentators suggested that France had been demoted to a second-degree country. From Ouest France:

Jacques Chirac entend ainsi montrer qu’il dispose encore d’un atout européen, alors que la France est l’un des deux pays membres responsables de la panne actuelle de l’Union. Au demeurant, plus que par des nécessités stratégiques, le discours de l’île Longue est dicté par la volonté d’un président affaibli d’exercer son autorité jusqu’au terme du quinquennat. En réaffirmant le seul pouvoir que personne ne peut lui ravir : la maîtrise du feu nucléaire.

Short summary/interpretation: Politically weakened Chirac is reminding himself and the French that they still have balls. He is also repositioning France as a first rate power in Europe.

Furthermore, he also used the threat to justify the costly maintenance of France’s nuclear arsenal. By stressing the overhaul of the arsenal, focussing on smaller weapons, he did away with the WMD threat as its sole raison d’être. Smaller nukes on submarines can target terrorists instead of complete nations, hence: ”We still need nukes, but different ones. We are adapting to new circumstances.” Or, if you will: “We can turn Tora Bora into a nuclear wasteland if we want to.”

Another possibly very important thing about Chirac’s speech:

Par ailleurs, le chef de l’Etat élargit la notion d’intérêts vitaux aux « approvisionnements stratégiques » et à la défense des pays alliés. La dépendance énergétique de l’Europe, révélée par la crise gazière entre la Russie et l’Ukraine, explique, pour une part, cette évolution.

France’s vital interests are being extended to include « strategic reserves » and the defence of allied countries. Europe’s energy dependency, as exemplified by the gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine can explain, at least partly, this development. Dear commenters, fire away!

Suspicion and divided loyalties

Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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