The Duck of Minerva

Nuclear umbrella

21 April 2008

Last week, in the much-maligned Democratic debate in Pennsylvania, Senator Hillary Clinton said that she would greatly expand the US nuclear umbrella in the Middle East:

Well, in fact, George [Stephanopoulos], I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.

You know, we are at a very dangerous point with Iran. The Bush policy has failed. Iran has not been deterred. They continue to try to not only obtain the fissile material for nuclear weapons but they are intent upon and using their efforts to intimidate the region and to have their way when it comes to the support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere.

…we’ve got to deter other countries from feeling that they have to acquire nuclear weapons. You can’t go to the Saudis or the Kuwaitis or UAE and others who have a legitimate concern about Iran and say: Well, don’t acquire these weapons to defend yourself unless you’re also willing to say we will provide a deterrent backup and we will let the Iranians know that, yes, an attack on Israel would trigger massive retaliation, but so would an attack on those countries that are willing to go under this security umbrella and forswear their own nuclear ambitions.

I was very surprised to hear about this statement — and puzzled that it did not lead to a followup question.

Obama’s line on this was somewhat more ambiguous — but still remarkable:

I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them [Iran] from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region.

The questioner and the candidates seem to have forgotten that the latest NIE (2007) says Iran abandoned its nuclear program in 2003.

Where’s the media frenzy about this topic? It is potentially a hell of a lot more important than some of the personal stuff and verbal gaffes that have dominated the campaign in recent weeks.