The return of danger
A reader sends some additional thoughts on the consequences of nuclear proliferation, a subject discussed in an earlier post, especially in comments. He writes: "Mark Helprin considered the risk of a nuclear attack on Germany and how it would strain NATO in a recent article at the Claremont Review. Germany is of course a key ally of the US, but one of the few large prosperous countries that is not nuclear." Helprin described the vulnerability of rich, poorly defended European countries in these words:
Germany must fascinate the jihadists, too—not for displacing America as the prime target, but as the richest target least defended. Though it will never happen, they believe that Islam will conquer the world, and so they try. Unlike the U.S., Europe is not removed from them by an ocean, and in it are 50 million of their co-religionists among whom they can disappear and find support. ...
But more importantly, the variations in European attitudes and capabilities vis-à-vis responding to terrorism or nuclear blackmail are what make Germany such an attractive target. Unlike the U.S., France, and Britain, Germany is a major country with no independent expeditionary capability and no nuclear weapons, making it ideal for a terrorist nuclear strike or Iranian extortion if Iran is able to continue a very transparent nuclear policy to its logical conclusion. Though it is conceivable that after the shock of losing Washington or Chicago, the U.S.—or Britain after Birmingham, France after Lyons—would, even without an address certain, release a retaliatory strike, it is very unlikely that, even with an address certain, any nuclear power would launch in behalf of another nation, NATO ally or not, absent an explicit arrangement such as the dual-key structure during the Cold War.
Looking at Germany, then, Iran sees a country with nothing to counter the pressure of merely an implied nuclear threat. Jihadists see the linchpin of Europe, easy of access and inadvertently hospitable to operations, that will hardly punish those who fall into its hands, and that can neither accomplish on its own a flexible expeditionary response against a hostile base or sponsor, nor reply in kind to a nuclear strike. Thus the German government should be especially nervous about cargos trucked overland from the east.
Perhaps one of the most tragic outcomes of the soft approach towards rogue states is that it may unwittingly speed up the complete collapse of the nonproliferation regime and usher in its consequence, the re-armament of Europe. If Helperin is correct predicting that radical Islam's first targets will be the rich, undefended and politically correct societies of Europe, then one might ask how those societies will eventually respond to an existential challenge.
It is too early in the game to predict anything. But the diplomatic consequences of a breakdown in nonproliferation make an interesting subject for scholarly examination.
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