March 10, 2011

This is the way the world ends: Ron Rosenbaum and WWIII


Say you’re the Israeli captain of a Dolphin-class nuclear submarine cruising the Red Sea and you learn that Iran (or, to make things more complicated, an agent acting in Iran’s behalf) has nuked Tel Aviv, effectively obliterating the state of Israel. What do you do? You have a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead at your disposal with a range of 1,500 km. Do you retaliate and nuke Tehran, killing 15,000,000 people, most of them innocent?

Tablet Magazine has run an excerpt from Ron Rosenbaum‘s How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III in which Rosenbaum interviews Moshe Halbertal “one of the most widely respected thinkers on the moral and ethical dilemmas of modern warfare” and co-author of “the code of ethics for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.” Their conversation runs to morally excruciating places as Halbertal tries to tease out the complexities of the issue. Halbertal’s ethical calculus leads him to a strange conclusion: that nuclear retaliation is immoral (what’s the point in killing more innocent people after it’s too late?) but that preemptive nuclear strikes might be justified.

There might be a situation in which the only way to prevent a nuclear attack on Israel will be to destroy the Iranian state. By that I mean to destroy its capacity to act like a state. And here it would be a very strange thing to say, but it’s a case almost of a collateral killing of civilians. It’s not aimed at innocent civilians, it’s not Hiroshima or Nagasaki. It might be either aimed at nuclear laboratories, factories, reactors whatever they have. Or the state apparatus that is necessary for ordering and forming such a thing.

You are an Israeli nuclear submarine captain. Israel has been destroyed, most likely by Iran. What do you do?
Retaliate against Tehran, killing 15,000,000 people.
Do nothing.