The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Israel's nuclear deterrent

In his latest talk, Professor John Mearsheimer analyses the costs and benefits of the Israeli nuclear deterrent.

He argues that since Israel's conventional military forces are superior, no neighbour would dare attacking it. Hence, the nuclear deterrent has no added value.

I tend to disagree. The 2006 war with Hizbollah in Lebanon did indicate, that asymmetric militias can pose a serious challenge to conventional forces. Israel will probably make sure that the next round in Lebanon will not end in a similar defeat by changing training, tactics and equipment. However, proliferation of advanced weapons systems can turn a strategic inferiority of irregular forces into a tactical superiority. In 2006 Hizbollah managed to do so when it lured Israeli tanks in an ambush and destroyed several of them.

I would argue that the current military dominance of Israel is not guaranteed forever. Therefore, it is simply good statesmanship to maintain a nuclear deterrent.

Mearsheimer also points out that the posture of Egypt has changed profoundly since the 1950's and 1960's and today is no more a hostile state. Israelis tend to agree but argue that nobody knows what will happen next in Egypt. I concur with this assessment. To speculate that Egypt will remain friendly and, therefore, one main reason for the need of a nuclear deterrent became redundant, would not convince me, if I were Israeli.

I would argue that the situation in the Middle East is much too volatile for Israel to get rid of its nuclear weapons. There are the ultimate defensive weapon and hence necessary in the armoury of every country that feels threatened.

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