16 January 2011

Civilized warfare

I have long held that Iran's nuclear-weapons program must be stopped by whatever means are necessary, regardless of cost; given the ideology and rhetoric of the mullahs' regime, there is an unacceptable risk that nuclear weapons in their hands would be used against Israel in what would fully qualify as a second Holocaust. (There's also an unknowable risk of the regime, or elements within it, supplying nuclear weapons to terrorists.)

Like most, I've always assumed that the only effective way of stopping the program would be an airstrike. This attack would need to not only destroy the nuclear program, which is dispersed all over Iran in well-defended sites, but also destroy most of Iran's conventional military establishment as well, to prevent retaliation against Israel, Gulf shipping, or US forces in Iraq. Such a massive strike would inevitably kill and injure great numbers of innocent Iranians, especially if nuclear materials were released into the environment, and would trigger all kinds of obvious international consequences. Only the need to prevent a second Holocaust could justify (indeed, mandate) such a horrific action.

Thanks to modern technology, we may be able to escape that terrible dilemma.

Word is starting to trickle out about the "Stuxnet" computer worm which, we now know, has been in action inside the uranium- enrichment centrifuge complex at Natanz. The program was a very sophisticated one. Not only did it cause the centrifuges to spin out of control for long periods, ruining their mechanisms beyond repair; it also caused the instrument panels to display false readouts indicating normal operation, so that the scientists had no idea that anything was going wrong with their equipment. By the time they finally discovered what was happening, about a thousand centrifuges had been wrecked, setting back the nuclear program several years -- and some experts think Stuxnet may still have more damage to inflict.

No one has claimed responsibility for Stuxnet and nothing has been officially confirmed, but this New York Times piece tells a convincing story. Stuxnet was a joint US-Israeli project, with some help from Germany and Britain. Its development was launched in the last months of the Bush administration and accelerated under Obama; with so much at stake, partisan differences vanish. Israel even built copies of the Iranian centrifuges so that Stuxnet could be tested on them before deployment.

It might be objected that the nuclear program has only been delayed for a few years, not stopped; but in those few years, the theocracy might fall -- or further viruses targeting other parts of the program might be deployed, creating still further delay or eventually stopping it entirely.

And so it seems that the mullahs' nuclear ambitions have been thwarted and the threat of a second Holocaust has been averted -- by a weapon which did no harm to any human being or to any civilian infrastructure. It's a cliché to claim that "civilized warfare" is an oxymoron, but this surely qualifies.


Blogger Nance said...

I need all the good news these days that I can possibly get. This qualifies!

16 January, 2011 10:54  
Blogger The Heathen Republican said...

I agree, and thought military action was going to have to come into play eventually. I've been following George Friedman at StratFor, and it was starting to sound like there wasn't ever going to be a good solution to the Iran nuclear problem.

I was very happy to read about Stuxnet. I assume that Israel launched the virus, but if this is a plan from the Obama administration, they deserve a lot of credit.

Based on what I've heard about the complexity of the virus, it's probably been planned for a few years as a joint project between Israel and the U.S., but I'm just speculating.

16 January, 2011 12:48  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

The story reminds me of an old Star Trek episode where they visited a planet with two warring populations. the war, however, was fought on computers... whereby victims were told to report to execution chambers.

The reality of the history of armed conflict is there is never a weapon system that cannot ultimate be defeated by a stronger one. That, and any defensive weapon can be used offensively.

Recently I heard that Pakistan is now considered the most potentially dangerous country on this planet. The secular government is falling to to the pressures of Islamic Extremists to the point where moderate voices are afraid to speak out least they be targeted for death.

The effectiveness of the cyber attack on Iran was that it was never anticipated; a surprise attack. Now that it's been done, potential targets will now be more vigilant for similar tactics.

16 January, 2011 14:03  
Anonymous rita said...

WoW! & I heard it here first. :)

16 January, 2011 19:54  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nance: Definitely!

HR: According to the NYT, it seems that both the Bush and Obama administrations -- and Israel -- were involved.

RtS: History shows that technological superiority in weapons is a formidable advantage. People who use bows and arrows when the other side has rifles, or people who use rifles when the other side has machine guns, will be in trouble. The Iranian theocracy is struggling to build something that was the high-tech weapon of the day -- 66 years ago. Today, Stuxnet is a cutting-edge weapon. Of course it will be surpassed by something else -- but medieval theocracies and rigid oligarchies are unlikely to be the countries that invent that something else.

Rita: Always glad to be the bearer of good news.....

17 January, 2011 04:37  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I noticed that the arguement for folk's like Iran has been that they simply want to explore nuclear energies, and have heard the regime's official mouthpiece Armaninajad's (cant spell that without looking it up) great sales pitch to the world over this, of course I dont buy none of it though, but do think he's a good salesman about it, he's so well spoken and convincing, almost make's one want to break down in tear's. Nor do I feel their nuclear ambition's is purely to defend themselve's. But their arguement has been also a difficult challenge to dispute. This is one of the reason's I have been so opposed to extending at all nuclear anything. But not so much for folk's bombing each other either, but more for enviromental reason's ... I just feel that we have moved past that need and will find out in the future that we can get most of our energy need's from the sun, hydro, and wind's is all.

Despite folk's in this part of the world claiming they simply just want to defend their land's against the evil's of imperialist's or whatever like the Jew's, or just want to be enviromentally conscious and explore clean nuclear energies, etc ... no ... I dont buy a word of it, because many folk's believe that it's a type of religious duty to exterminate Jew's ... and Yes ... I believe alot of folk's want to.

Just my opinion .... Thanx Guy ....

17 January, 2011 05:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahmadinejad may be a good salesman, but aside from the lunatic-fringe element that embraces every enemy of America just because they are enemies of America, nobody seems to be buying his story that the nuclear program is non-military.

For energy, there are ways of making nuclear power plants safe from accidents, but I do worry about them as terrorist targets. If the 9/11 hijackers had thought to crash one of their planes into a nuclear power plant, they might have created a Chernobyl-type disaster.

17 January, 2011 05:51  
Blogger Ahab said...

I would certainly prefer cyberwarfare to carnage! Our history is too blood-stained, and alternative means of combatting opponents would be preferable to traditional warfare.

17 January, 2011 09:04  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

BTW ... I liked that title ... "Civilised Warfare" :)

17 January, 2011 12:00  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

...but medieval theocracies and rigid oligarchies are unlikely to be the countries that invent that something else.

I know that we like to think that, because of our freedom that our country has the corner on innovation and creativity. But past performance is not necessarily the best indicator of future performance and I believe we are riding now on our reputation. There are hundreds of PhD graduating in China for every one of ours. It is strongly believed that many of our secrets are now in their hands from various breaches in our security.

In a country where almost a majority rejects biological evolution and whose students math and science scores fall well below the civilized world averages, our reputation as leaders in innovation may eventually become just that... a reputation.

18 January, 2011 10:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

There are hundreds of PhD graduating in China for every one of ours.

Hundreds? Do you have a link to a source for that?

Stealing secrets is bad, but it's not the same thing as innovation. Most technological innovation still happens in places like the US, western Europe, Japan, and Israel -- places where the flow of information is relatively unimpeded.

In a country where almost a majority rejects biological evolution and whose students math and science scores fall well below the civilized world averages

Those things have been true for a long time, though, not just recently. Technological innovation is carried out by a small minority of society. How our average stacks up against another country's average is less important, for innovation, than how our best 5% compares with their best 5%. And don't forget the advantage we gain from the desirability of living here -- a lot of the smartest people from elsewhere immigrate here.

18 January, 2011 11:05  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

Well of course I don't have citations for every piece of knowledge rolling around in my head. but a quick search revealed: Watch out, Silicon Valley: China and India aren't just graduating bad engineers and stealing intellectual property anymore. They're fostering innovations that will shake the world.

China is now the world's second largest economy and growing... faster than ours. From Robert Reich: The Real Economic Lesson China Could Teach Us American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated – think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.

China's top universities could soon rival Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League, the president of Yale University has warned.

I continue to feel we are rolling on the momentum of our past reputation. Momentum is insufficient to hold us in a place of economic domination in the world.

20 January, 2011 12:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

But my question was whether you can provide a reference for the specific claim that there are "hundreds" of PhDs graduating in China for every one in the US. Frankly, I don't believe that.

Everyone knows that China is a large and growing economy, but establishing ten or twenty universities which are each intended to be equivalent to MIT doesn't mean much. Rhetoric about overtaking the West was common in the Soviet Union, too.

For what it's worth, here's the University of Shanghai's ranking of the top 100 universities in the world. Most are Western (55 of them American) and not a single one is Chinese.

20 January, 2011 14:14  

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