Friday 27 January 2012

Iran: Would it really risk war?

Following on from lessons of history -Keynesian Economics, comes lessons 2: War.

So many good comments in the last thread. History doesn't repeat. {but the lessons do ..just they may not be the lesson that was thought it was going to be}. History can't be used to parallel modern society- its just too different {absolubtely true. In our grandparents day a cause for a celebration could be having saved enough to buy a new hat. Not something likely to even warrant a text nowadays. But causes and effects can be looked at. And politics and military history change much more slowly.}
And, what we could look at in light of Iran is, as EK said, World War Two was inevitable.

It certainly wasn't. But an awful lot of events had to go differently for it not to have been.

The main reason for all three of the Axis powers in declaring war was time. All three had got the drop on their enemies. They had a comfortable margin of superiority in some arms {tanks/planes} in the arms race. {Not so Italy which was always inferior. But it had shrunk the gap.} The Nazi regime had expanded its arms to the point where it could use the military to dominate Europe, if not by war, but by fear of war. And this worked better, and for longer, than anyone expected. But the very success was unsustainable.

The Germans had built a war machine larger than their ability to maintain. All those troops needed barracks. All those planes needed hangars and airfields. All the factories needed raw materials. The German's 2:1 superiority in aircraft, that so frightened European politicians in 1936/37 had to be sustained for their policy of fear to be successful. Once the Allies started rapidly increasing their own arms the Axis also had to expand theirs, at a time when they were already at their peak, if they were to maintain their numerical advantage. They were ahead because they started first. Not because they were better at production. Only the USSR was out producing the UK in aircraft in 1940. The Luftwaffe never did.
So Hitler's biggest fear was that war wouldn't come soon enough. That's why he took the gambles that shocked his own military. Because he thought, rightly, that Germany was in a good as its going to get position, so it might as well fight sooner, rather than later. Relative strength was only going to decline.

The exact same was true of Imperial Japan. The resources used to build a military and a navy were even more unsustainable. Steel and oil had to be imported. Mostly from the USA.{80%} By the time Japan felt strong enough to threaten appeasement was seen to have been a failure. And so the Americans refused the Japanese demands for metals and aviation fuel. They ended up with an even smaller window than Hitler's. They were already at war in China, had lost a war against the USSR and had a maximum of six months reserves.
Despite being unwinable, they decided on war.

Here comes the Iran thought:
Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Has been for ages. Similar to Nazi Germany building an illegal airforce in the '30s. Its been found out and threats have been made. So Iran can either call off the project. Pretend to call off the project. Or delay, hope that its almost ready, so they can produce it and forestall an attack.

This is the politics of the fearful fascist economies. And Iran is making the same mistakes.
The ww2 strategic material embargo of 1941 led directly to America's involvement in WW2 and is a conspiracy theory favourite. The President signed and approved strong sanctions on Japan, cutting off aviation fuel and aircraft parts and machine tools, knowing what the consequences might be. But as has been said, appeasement was out. Standing up to bullies was in. Germany had a tiny chance to win WW2. Japan had none. Yet both went to war.

Iran has its window. America's preoccupation with Iraq has let Iran get away with supplying arms, stirring trouble and building nuclear missiles. Now President Ahmadinejad in the same position as the Axis powers were. If the allies apply real sanctions now, his regime might not survive them. As he waits the west uses more and more subversion and funding of opponents and builds a coalition against him.
Iraq is currently heading for the long expected civil war. That must be good news for Iran. Keeps the Americans out. Leaves a potential neighbouring enemy unable to attack or even offer safe haven to Iran's enemies.
America is financially weak. Its run out of war money. There is no appetite for any more foreign wars. The military budget must be cut. But in a few years, who knows what the situation might be?

Iran is making the same suicidal mistakes that a small country like Japan made. It believes that if it has enough military {nuclear} power, it will be immune from attack, and immune from constraints. It must look at North Korea and think that they can do as they please because they are powerful and have a bomb. Libya, on the other hand, was attacked by Nato, and Gaddaffi killed. Iran may only want a bomb so it can threaten Israel without fear of nuclear retaliation. To shore up failing popular support for the regime as the Argentina junta did in the 1980's. Or just to keep aggressors away. Who knows?

But for Iran the real lesson of WW2 must be that appeasement was a total failure. That sanctions early would probably have worked to prevent war at all.. A military response certainly would. And that even though sanctions and threats were very risky, in the end, the allies were fully prepared to back them up because they knew they would win eventually.
And Iraq forgets that its own fears cause fear in other nations. Israel is a real danger because unlike us, they have a bomb they might actually use.

Quiz question. - When Britain and France and the US government began to ask for military aircraft and tanks from the US aircraft manufacturers and car giants in 1938/9, they were met with a lukewarm response. Even though there were plant idle and there was a near record number of unemployed labour, and the governments were offering cash. Why would that be?


BrianSJ said... has much sense in it.

Nick Drew said...

an interesting thesis Mr Q

of course Iran is by no means united internally, which you hint at: this contrasts rather starkly with the cohesiveness of WW2 Germany, and Japan

(perhaps the West can foment Syria to the point where the Arab Spring spreads to non-Arabic Iran ...)

on the other hand, as I said in an earlier thread, my ME sources tell me Iran has already dispersed and hardened its nuke programme to the point where there is no simple, surgical way of taking it out: and further, that taking it out is now beyond Israel alone

the Iraq thing is a real problem for the West: there is more oil in Iraq than in Saudi, and it would be very easy (again, as you hint) for Iran to stir that one up to boiling-point - more than just a diversionary tactic

that's even before a direct Iranian action against ultra-vulnerable Qatar

there was a time when it might just have been possible for the US to erect a missile-screen to defend Qatar et al effectively. I'm guessing that those days are over, and that big, static, soft targets like LNG liquefaction plants are not ultimately defensible against Iran's current capabilities (let alone future nukes)

$200 ? and the rest ...

Bill Quango MP said...

Yes, I did spot the rather large flaw of trying to equate theocratic, Islamic,semi-democratic republic with a totalitarian, fascist dictatorship.

History can't repeat, times change.

The real point was that the democracies spent the late 1930's trying to manouever the dictatorships into a position from which they would have no choice but to understand that war and destruction was going to be the only outcome of their actions.

In the case of Germany/Italy/Japan this was wholly unsuccessful.

The allied leaders gambled that the Axis powers would change their warlike behaviour rather than knowingly have their regiemes destroyed in war.

The Axis leaders gambled that they could defeat the initial attacks of the democracies and make war too costly for their enemies to bear.

Perhaps a more recent and better example might have been Libya and Iraq.
Westerners could not understand why the dictators didn't pack it in when they had the opportunity or flee the country when offered the chance.
No sane person thought that either country cold resist NATO, let alone the USA as well.

In both cases the dictators thought they could.

Budgie said...

BQ, I would be very surprised if Iran thinks about this as logically as you suppose, or from the same world view as you (we) have.

To Iran the USA is the Great Satan, and the UK is the Little Satan. For the current Iranian elite it is visceral. It is also the standard way that political bullies use to keep their population in subjugation - fear of the outsider.

Nevertheless Iran's position has been undermined (for now) by China turning against them. It will not change the Iranian elite's views but it will, I think, delay them.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

They were lukewarm partly because debts from WW1 had not been paid by the UK & France and because they hated Roosevelt's tax/spend policies and saw him as a crypto-communist trying to embroil the USA in yet another European conflict, which they thought unnecessary from the US point of view. Can I have 5 points?

I missed the QT quiz so I need all the help I can get...

alan said...

I'm not convinced Iran is developing a bomb. The pretext for Iraq was knowingly false, why should this be any different (read Scott Ritter).

We do know Iran is developing nuclear fission power for peaceful purposes. Iran is also involved with cutting edge fusion research which can only be used for peaceful purposes.

Iran's energy consumption has been rising quicker than energy production, 10? 20? years time Iran's could be a net oil/gas importer. Killing a major source of income. If Iran can meaningfully reduce consumption (via nuclear energy) it will help extend oil/gas exports.

MAD still exists. If Iran did nuke Israel, the celebrations in Tehran would be short lived as a large part of Iran would be turned to glass less than an hour later.

Nuke warfare has radically changed, or rather civilian technology has radically changed and is very vulnerable to nuclear blasts. A single regular nuke exploded at high altitude would destroy all electronics (computer chips) an area the size of Europe (EMP). Cars, ATM's, TV, Radio, All Phones, all industry, everything except hardened military technology.

Nukes arent bad, they are worse. Which ups the stakes. So just the suspicion of Iran developing nukes might be enough justification for invading.

The US has been meddling in Iran's affairs since the 1950's. (Google operation Ajax). Owning a nuclear weapon could be attractive, even if the intention is to never use the bomb, to limit US aggression towards Iran.

Pakistan have been an al-qaeda hot bed for some time. The ISI have repeatedly shown to have strong al-qaeda links. Apart from the occasional black ops missions, the US has been decidedly friendly with Pakistan. Because Pakistan owns nuclear weapons?

Saudi hate Iran and are deeply worried about Iran developing a nuclear weapons programs. Saudi are fast tracking a peaceful(?) nuclear program and have recently signed a contract with China to further that aim.

The Oil sanctions by the EU/US were a strategic mistake. Iran will become a major supplier of oil/gas? to China. If the US/UK invades Iran, it will hurt China disproportionally. Potentially dragging China into any conflict involving Iran.

China's involvement might be positive persuading Iran into abandoning any nuclear weapons programs.

At best it puts China in a very difficult position. With heavy reliance on Iran oil China would be more inclined to veto any UN resolutions tabled against Iran.

rwendland said...

BQ: Let's get the basic facts straight and precise. It is not true that "Iran is building a nuclear bomb." as you say.

Only a few months ago even U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it plainly: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us."[*]

What Iran is currently trying to do is build up capability short of taking the step of deciding to build a bomb. Essentially to get to a similar position to that Japan is currently in, with "civilian" supplies of fissile material (Japan has 4.7 tons of plutonium and an enrichment plant) and the background technology, and suitable missiles, where they could choose to start an under-two year weapon program if provoked.

Iran could not match Israel's nuclear position even within 20 to 30 years, so there is not a great deal of point trying that. Israel has enough fusion (hydrogen) nuclear weapons on missiles to flatten every other capital in the whole middle east, and tactical nuclear weapons (including "neutron" bombs) to blunt even major land attacks.

What Iran wants is enough distributed general nuclear capability that would mean no attacker could knock out enough to be sure to prevent Iran squirrelling away enough to build a bomb quietly somewhere, even after a major attack, and retaliate a year or two later. ie enough of a deterrent against a major attack upon it. It would effectively limit the freedom of action for the U.S and Israel to utilise conventional military forces against Iran, so reducing their leverage on Iran. Basically Job Done without crossing the red line of starting building a nuclear weapon in advance of need, staying just within the limits of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so limiting international political consequences.

[*] NB The other authoritative statement is in the latest IAEA report on Iran: the weapons-research program "was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order’ instruction issued in late 2003". Before that Iran was doing some naughty small scale experiments. Other countries have also done naughty small scale experiments and similar, but without major political repercussions: Taiwan and South Korea in the 70s to 90s and Japanese "mislaid" plutonium in the bottom of glove-boxes found by inspectors. The Japanese nuclear program is so large that if they had the intent to syphon of material into a secret military cache, it would be very hard to spot them. Strangely enough the UK has helped Japan into the plutonium world by supplying them with a dual-purpose UK Magnox reactor, which eventually helped get them into the spent fuel reprocessing game which produces plutonium, and leads into MOX fuel manufacturing which gives you all the plutonium handling equipment and skills that a "virtual nuclear state" would want.

Anonymous said...

The challenge with nuclear Islamics is that MAD isn't a deterrent as they love death more than we love life. Pre-emptive strike is the only rational option in the War Room.

Steven_L said...

Iran are fighting back BQ! Today my local Waitrose was occupied by a dozen or so geriatrics.

What's wrong with these potatoes?

They're from Israel

Blah, blah, blah, they went on, before finally accepting an invitation to leave and set up camp outside.

I had been pondering over whether to weight in, and say something about their 'paymasters' in the 'axis of evil' or something, but I just bought a few ales and headed for the checkout.

Think about it though, some of these folk were 70 something, they could quite literally get away with murder if they wanted.

Electro-Kevin said...

There wasn't MAD in the run up to WW2. Too many world leaders were uncompromising.

We are told that the Iranians are suicidal fanatics and that MAD doesn't apply but is this really true ?

In the previous post I said that we are headed towards world war. I wasn't referring to Iran being the catalyst.

I'm thinking sometime before the US finds itself on the cusp of being surpassed.

The religious fundamentalism which isn't really spoken of is Christian fundamentalism in the US.

To them theirs is the Holy land. Proud and steeped in righteousness.

As ever the real issue is control of resources.

If there wasn't oil in the ME no one would really give a fuck about any of this.

Electro-Kevin said...

My money's on America starting it either intentionally or by over-reaction to some event or other.

James Higham said...

It has to be seen in the context of all the little pots boiling - Falklands, Kosovo can reappear, Syria and so on.

Israel is the interesting one as said above here - they really would push the button but again, the word "they" is too broad in Israel - there are diametrically opposite factions at work there, differing concepts of what Israel is even about.

Electro-Kevin said...

Israel ?

The first war they lose is the last they'll ever fight so of course they're a serious presence.

They are also prepared to strike out at the west as our paratroopers once found out.

I thank the God that I don't believe in that Al Quaeda aren't anything like as formidable or clued up as Mossad.

Dick the Prick said...

As per the quiz question - didn't FDR campaign on non participation in Europe but I guess that's only the wrapping on the strategic toffee.

I'm more worried about the rhetoric at the moment - there's an increasing level of inevitability about this and not from Ayatollah Khomeini who seems to be getting increasingly irritated with Armani-Dinnerjacket but from 'our' chaps. Wee Billy 'I can't be gay, my wife's had a miscarriage dontcha know' Haigh and Hilary 'i'm no dyke cougar, I married the president don'tcha know' Trousers. Their sabre rattling, public pronoucements of adherence to a code that neither of them observe seems hypocritical at best and fucking dangerous at worst.

So what if Iran get the bomb? Seriously, so what? So we can't invade, we can't ravage their country with shock and awe and bomb them back to the 6th century. Why shouldn't they have defence when Israel just flouts every edict associated with it. I don't mean to be facetious, I love Israel but to use this as a cassus beli seems like bullshit when everyone knows the next hit is gonna be a dirty bomb sourced from Kazakhstan and this is just a side show to keep the generals happy in the arms making workplace.

Even if or when Iran gets the bomb the level of assymetry would prevent them from using it except in self defence and would be regulated by Russian geo-politics. And for Billy Haigh to talk tough just makes him sound like an idiot, talking to us as though we're idiots - it's FCO propoganda and he should learn to shut the fuck up occassionally.

May be wrong tho....

Bill Quango MP said...

Well: There's plenty of opinion.I'm no wiser.
But the point stands. Just because a nation should do the right thing, because its in its own interests, doesn't mean it will.
And just because doing the wrong thing might bring it ruin and destruction, doesn't mean it won't do that either.

Like people, nations are idiots.