Umbrella Of Deterrence
By Big Tent Democrat
Speaking for me only
One of Hillary Clinton's best moments in the Olbermann interview (ironically, Olbermann revealed the limitations of his abilities in his discussion of the answer later in the program with Richard Wolffe, he has no knowledge at all of deterrence theory), was her answer about the "umbrella of deterrence" against future potential Iranian attacks, especially nuclear, against its neighbors. (Here is a Harvard Middle East strategy article discussing the theory.) I am borrowing the Countdown transcript from this dkos diary (which also reveals stunning ignorance of deterrence theory):
Well what we were talking about was the potential for a nuclear attack by Iran, if Iran does achieve what appears to be it's continuing goal of obtaining nuclear weapons, and I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times, we used it very well during the Cold War when we had a bipolar world, and what I think the president should do and what our policy should be is to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel. In addition, if Iran were to become a nuclear power, it could set off an arms race that would be incredibly dangerous and destabilizing because the countries in the region are not going to want Iran to be the only nuclear power. So I can imagine that they would be rushing to obtain nuclear weapons themselves. In order to forestall that, creating some kind of a security agreement where we said, 'No, you do not need to acquire nuclear weapons if you were the subject of an unprovoked nuclear attack by Iran the United States and hopefully our NATO allies would respond to that as well.' It is a theory that some people have been looking at because there is a fear that if Iran, which I hope we can prevent, becoming a nuclear power, but if they were to become one, some people worry that they are not deterrable, that they somehow have a different mindset and a worldview that might very well lead the leadership to be willing to become martyrs. I don't buy that, but I think we have to test it. And one of the ways of testing it is to make it very clear that we are not going to permit them, if we can prevent it, from becoming a nuclear power, but were they to become so, their use of nuclear weapons against Israel would provoke a nuclear response from the United States, which personally I believe would prevent it from happening, and that we would try to help the other countries that might be intimidated and bullied into submission by Iran because they were a nuclear power, avoid that fate by creating this new security umbrella."
(Emphasis supplied.) This is excellent strategic thinking, providing a great alternative to armed intervention in Iran and allowing for hard headed and rational diplomacy with Iran on the question of nuclear weapons.
Personally, I would LOVE to get a reaction from Barack Obama to this statement from Hillary Clinton. I expect he would have some favorable thoughts about it. I know that Keith Olbermann seemed unable to understand the answer, and his after comments with Wolfe were an embarrassment for him imo.
Here is a snippet from the Harvard article I linked to above:
The extension of American nuclear guarantees in the Middle East has been posed as a question of American guarantees to Israel. This is understandable given the intense hostility to Israel expressed by the Iranian regime. However, there is a broader objective that may be served by U.S. nuclear guarantees in the region. If the United States is not able to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran, its goal must be to prevent this development from destabilizing the region as a whole, and to prevent Iran from gaining any political advantage from its new capabilities. These twin aims are served by the extension of the American deterrent umbrella to a full range of U.S. allies.
Here is a less positive post about Clinton's proposal from Foreign Policy Magazine blog:
The concept of a "nuclear umbrella" has been around almost since the Cold War and the nuclear arms race began. At the most basic level, it involves a nuclear- weapons state promising to use its nukes to respond if non-nuclear ally is attacked with nuclear weapons. Cold War strategists hoped that "extending" nuclear deterrence like this would cement important alliances and, crucially, eliminate the need for those countries to develop their own nukes. A nuclear umbrella is thus a tool of both diplomacy and of nonproliferation.
The key question here is credibility. How, for instance, would you convince the Soviets that the United States really would risk New York to defend Paris? During the Cold War, U.S. strategists achieved this credibility in several ways (pdf). First, American troops were deployed heavily in allied territory, placing them in the way of any nuclear attack. Second, U.S. nuclear weapons were often deployed in forward locations and sometimes integrated into allied command structures. Third, the umbrella only got extended to countries with which the United States already had strong alliances.
Unfortunately, even in Gulf regimes that are friendly to America, all of these preconditions are weak or nonexistent (pdf) -- which does not bode well for Sen. Clinton’s proposal. In addition, Iran does not have the ability to project power globally like the Soviet Union did, making any direct threat to U.S. interests unlikely. I should also note that any Iranian nuclear weapon is still a long ways off, and attempting to deter the Iranians is premature at this point.
However, the idea is still worth exploring as a contingency plan, and new ways of establishing credibility and commitment might be possible -- for instance, extending a missile-defense "umbrella," even one that doesn't work very well yet. But although technical measures like these may be part of the solution to U.S. problems in the Middle East, they can't supplant a broader strategy that uses all the diplomatic, political, and economic levers at America's disposal.
And here is strong Obama supporter Matt Yglesias giving the thumbs up when Krauthammer discussed the diea.
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