Skip to main content

Nuclear deterrence could restrain N. Korea, Iran

By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN
April 30, 2013 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight." In an undated photo released on November 28, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is seen on a field trip to see the airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. North Korean Newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Kim "guided a flight drill of pursuit airwomen of the KPA Air and Anti-Air Force. He went out to an airport's runway to learn about the plan for solo take-off and landing drill by women pilots of pursuit planes and guide their flight."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Barry Blechman: U.S. never attacked another nation to stop it from becoming a nuclear power
  • Blechman: Why does it seem that the U.S. has a different strategy toward North Korea and Iran?
  • He says if deterrence theory worked in the Cold War
  • Bleckman: Iran's and North Korea's supreme leaders will be deterred, just like the Soviet leaders

Editor's note: Barry M. Blechman is co-founder of the Stimson Center, a think tank that promotes international peace and security.

(CNN) -- Throughout the Cold War, the United States relied on the theory of deterrence for protection against nuclear attack. American leaders believed that so long as the U.S. maintained nuclear forces able to survive a first-strike and retaliate with devastating power against the Soviet Union, Kremlin leaders would be deterred from mounting a nuclear attack.

In retrospect, this arms race was incredibly costly, wasteful and dangerous. If war had started, the two superpowers would have destroyed each other and probably all of humanity.

But deterrence did work. And the U.S. never attacked the Soviet Union or any other nation to stop them from becoming nuclear powers.

So, why does it seem that the U.S. has a different strategy toward North Korea and Iran?

Is North Korea bluffing?
How to launch a nuclear weapon
Eased sanctions for Iran if ...

In response to North Korea's recent threats to launch nuclear attacks, the U.S. announced it would bolster missile defenses in Alaska and California and speed the deployment of missile interceptors to Guam. With respect to Iran, President Obama said as recently as March 20: "We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining the world's worst weapons.''

America currently has about 5,000 nuclear weapons. Even though it could retaliate against a hypothetical Iranian or North Korean nuclear attack and obliterate both nations while utilizing only 1 or 2% of its arsenal, the Obama administration is acting as if the theory of deterrence no longer applies. Why?

Nuclear weapons: Who has what?

It appears that the U.S. is treating Iran differently than other countries trying to go nuclear because it perceives Iranian leaders as aggressive religious fanatics willing to sacrifice everything for their goals. After all, Iran supports terrorist organizations, conducts assassinations and bombings, seeks to subvert neighboring countries, and makes fearsome threats against Israel and the U.S.

Similarly, the U.S. seems uncertain about North Korea's young and untested new leader. Pyongyang not only has a history of provocative verbal threats, but it has taken reckless military actions as recently as two years ago, when the North sank a South Korean naval vessel and shelled an island occupied by the South.

But wait -- didn't the Soviet spout dangerous rhetoric and take deadly actions? Didn't some of their leaders threaten to "bury" America and nuke London and Paris? And let's not forget that Leonid Brezhnev launched proxy wars against U.S. friends in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Yet the Obama administration seems to think that while Soviet leaders were deterred from using their massive arsenal, the Iranians and the North Koreans might not be deterred from using a nuclear force of no more than a handful of weapons at best.

North Korea's missile capabilities

But if deterrence theory is valid, then this double standard is invalid.

Both Iran's and North Korea's supreme leaders will be deterred, just as were successive generations of Soviet leaders. Both would not authorize the use of nuclear weapons, for fear of seeing their nations destroyed, their people wiped out, and their ambitions for themselves and their countries turned to dust.

If deterrence theory is no longer valid, the U.S. had better work harder to achieve President Obama's Nobel Prize-winning goal of a world in which no nation possesses nuclear weapons.

No one can say with great confidence what North Korea's Kim Jong Un will do. While the U.S. needs to be prepared for North Korea to act on Kim's threats of nuclear war, unless he has lost his mind, it seems doubtful that he would follow through and commit national suicide by inviting devastating nuclear retaliation.

Reaching an agreement with Iran seems possible. Such an arrangement would permit Tehran to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but not to build nuclear weapons. This is Iran's right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The question is whether Iran and the U.S. can get past decades of conflict, mistrust and suspicions.

But President Obama's threats to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons do not facilitate talks. They only reinforce Tehran's suspicions that America's real goal is to bring down the Iranian regime.

Opinion: North Korea endgame -- 3 scenarios

With a deterrent strategy in his hip pocket as "Plan B," a less threatening posture by President Obama might help him bring about a peaceful resolution in future negotiating rounds with Iran.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Barry M. Blechman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT