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Is it Better to Attack or Let It

Crumble?
In Sarah Kreps and Matthew Fuhrmanns Attacking the Atom, Kreps and
Fuhrmann investigate whether military attacks are successful in delaying a target
countrys nuclear program. Kreps and Fuhrman argue that attacks during time of
peace are moderately successful, but are illegitimate, while wartime attacks are
largely unsuccessful and sometimes counterproductive. Jacques Hymans claims that
unsuccessful nuclear programs will crumble from within regardless of outside
military efforts. Hymans claims this is one of the reasons why nuclear proliferation
has slowed over the last 40 years.

Peacetime Attacks
First, Kreps and Fuhrmann discuss the different ways a nation can affect a
target states nuclear weapons program. There are four main ways they discuss:
physically destroying the nuclear facilities, altering the target states enrichment
process, weakening the assistance the target state receives, and provoking more
IAEA inspections.
Kreps and Fuhrmann claim that peacetime attacks are only moderately
successful, according to the criteria they described. The targets of these attacks are
often in their infancy1. However, these attacks are unwarranted and illegal in
international law.
The first example they use is the Israeli attacks on Osirak in 1981. Israel completely
demolished the facility setting back the program by four and a half years 2.
Furthermore, France was unwilling to rebuild the reactor, which also helped push
Iraq toward the uranium path3. This attack affected Iraq program in three of the four
ways, and it was successful because it was able to delay the Iranian nuclear
weapons program.
The second example Kreps and Fuhrman use is the Israeli attack on a Syrian reactor
at Al Kibar in 2007. The attack successfully destroyed the reactor and set back the
program at least six years4. The attack also prompted IAEA inspections, which
brought to light the Syrian nuclear program. Furthermore, North Korea ended its
1 Kreps & Fuhrmann page 179
2 Kreps & Fuhrmann page 170
3 Kreps & Fuhrmann page 171

assistance with Syrias nuclear program. This attack affected Syria in three of the
four ways and was successful in delaying the Syrian program.

Wartime Attacks
Conversely, however, wartime attacks are often unsuccessful and even
counterproductive. During wartime, leaders put an emphasis on their nuclear
programs. When a state attacks a country focused on developing nuclear weapon
technology, it puts the target state further in the in-danger mentality,
accelerating the focus on nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the attacking state will
often times have poor intelligence on the nuclear program, leading to botched
military attacks and unsuccessful strikes. Kreps and Fuhrmann use several
examples to illustrate their point.
The first example used in the Allied attack on Germans nuclear weapons
program during the Second World War. The allies launched several attacks on the
Norsk-Hydro heavy water reactor. The first attack failed miserably, leading to
heightened defenses. The next several attacks were successful in destroyed or
interrupted operation5. However, the Germans were able to quickly rebuild the
facility. The attack ended up hardly slowing operations, and the first unsuccessful
attack actually made further attacks more difficult.
Kreps and Fuhrmann then discuss the Iraqi attack on the Iranian nuclear weapons
program during the 1980s. The initial raid on the Iraqi reactor at Bushehr attack
failed miserably and prompted later raids. After 3 years of raids, the attacks
eventually forced the facility to be rebuilt, but took several attempts and many
years to be successful, which may not have been a worthy effort.

Slowing of Proliferation
Jacques Hymans claims in her article Botching the Bomb that nuclear
proliferation has been slowing over the last four decades. Technical know-how of
nuclear weapon production has spread over the last forty years, according to
Hymans6. However, since 1970 only three countries have achieved the technology
for the nuclear bomb. Pre-1970, seven countries had achieved nuclear bomb
technology7. The average time for a country to develop nuclear technology pre1970 was seven years; post-1970 the time is 17 years 8.
4 Kreps & Fuhrmann page 173
5 Kreps & Fuhrmann page 175
6 Hymans page 1

Much of the slowdown can be attributed to international efforts. The Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT) has prevented a cascade of new nuclear states by
creating a system of export controls, technology safeguards, and on-site inspections
of nuclear facilities. The NPT created obstacles that slowed potentially nuclear
states from achieving the bomb. Also, military strikes on infant nuclear facilities
have slowed the growth of rogue state nuclear programs, such as Syria 9. The
military strikes, however have both slowed and increased proliferation.
Lastly, the countries that have most recently been advancing towards nuclear
weapons have been from the developing world. Developing worlds have fewer
resources to dedicate towards their program10. However, Hymans claims that
resources are not the most important factor; she says that poor management of is
doomed to fail at nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Program Management


The last key theme in Hymans article is that a dysfunction bureaucracy is likely to
produce a dysfunctional nuclear weapons project 11. Hymans claims that by poorly
managing a program, the program will fail on its own and will crumble from within,
regardless of outside efforts. Well managed projects employ mutual respect
between the scientists and leaders and participating members need to be
motivated. Conversely, poorly managed projects employ coercion and bossing
around the scientists. This often leads to resentment and a sense of alienation
between the scientists and the leaders12.
One example of poor management is the Iraqi nuclear program, run by Saddam
Husseins son Kamel. Kamel employed the coercive dictatorship over the nuclear
program. He would set unrealistic deadlines hoping to reach the bomb faster. He
would have scientists redo work or completely negate previously completed work,
leading to inefficiencies and exhausted workers. Scientists lost motivation to work
and the project crumbled from within.
7 Hymans page 2
8 Hymans page 2
9 Hymans page 2
10 Hymans page 2-3
11 Hymans page 3
12 Hymans page 3

Critique
Both of these articles gave me new insight into how nuclear states work.
Kreps and Fuhrmann discussed a counter-intuitive and paradoxical idea I found
actually really interesting. I previously had not thought about the indirect affects
that military effects could have.
Hymans idea that poorly managed programs will fail on their own is also a
unique idea, but it is a bit worrying. Hymans claims that the best way to prevent a
rogue state from developing the nuclear bomb is by just leaving it alone (if it has a
poorly managed project). This sounds quite worrying as you are relying on the
country to fail. What if the country doesnt fail? At that point, youve let a nuclear
weapons project mature in a state not willing to negotiate (because it already
outside the NPT). Hymans idea makes sense on paper, but I would be worried if
enacted.

Predicted Irans Failure


I think that Hymans idea and application towards Irans program has helped
me better understand Irans current situation. According to Hyman, Irans regime
has tended towards the less successful, coercive technique 13. By her analysis, Iran
should fail on its own. She also backs this up with the fact that since the 1990s, the
US has continuously incorrectly guessed when Iran would reach the bomb. Hymans
idea has so far correctly evaluated the Iranian program 14.

13 Hymans page 6
14 Hymans page 6