Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nukes, navies and national pride

The recent adoption by the UN of sanctions against Iran for pursuing its nuclear ambitions (whatever those are) got me thinking about the whys of nuclear power.

I suppose that I should stipulate that, not withstanding its protestations to the contrary, it seems to me that Iran would very much like to have nuclear weapons.

They live, after all, in a very dangerous neighborhood, with Israel's nukes the worst kept secret in the region.

But other reasons exist for Iran's desires to pursue nuclear capabilities, chief among them, and the reason Iran's leaders continue to have popular support on the issue, is simple national pride.

Modern day nukes are, in several ways, the equivalent of 17th-20th century navies.

The development of naval power was both a cause for the development of nation states like England, France and Spain, as well as an instrument for their further expansion.

Why? Because navies cost a lot of money. And since ancient Athens, were affordable by only those conglomerations of individuals we call states.

By the 17th century, using England as an example, a navy sufficient to protect its growing commercial interests could not be funded by royal revenues alone, but required national taxes granted by parliament.

And so it went, the need to protect commerce required bigger navies. The bigger navies encouraged the further development of commerce, both because the seas were safer and because the taxes required to pay for the navy needed more commerce.

And so on.

But regardless of strict economics, a nation's navy became the source of its national pride:

Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

Britain's empire was a direct result of the dominance of its navy, the destruction of which, in WWs I and II, a major reason for the dissolution of that empire.

And while navies continue to provide a major way for a nation to extend its power, the real action in the 21st is, and apparently will continue to be, nuclear weapons.

If it has nuclear capabilities (e.g. Israel, North Korea), even the smallest nation can become a significant world actor. Even if it does nothing with them, just possessing nuclear weapons makes the rest of the world, even a superpower, take notice.

And Iran, through its long history, oil reserves (and the west's continued need for that oil) is already far from a minor player.

Since the overthrow of the Shah, a US puppet, and the fall of the Soviet Empire, Iran has increasingly taken on the role of the US' great enemy, fighting proxy wars of sorts in Israel/Lebanon/Palestine, and now in Iraq.

The Ayatollahs have, of course, always seen it that way.

But only recently, through the ongoing series of foreign policy failures that characterize BushCorp™, has the US needed to see it so as well.

No wonder then that Iran will not give up its nuclear ambitions.

Would Queen Victoria have given up her navy?

[Naval history courtesy of Love to Know]

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