Monday, August 02, 2004
Chomsky vs CY posted by Richard SeymourExplananda are phenomena that require explanation. Explanans are the things that do the explaining. And, in Carl Hempel's formulation, there is always an implicit or explicit nomological rule involved in the deductive process. (That's too simple, but I'm not going to go get my revision notes for the sake of a blog.)
The thing that requires explanation in this case is Chomsky's blog post from a while back:
Not reported but quite important is the dispatch to Israel of 100 F16-I's, advanced jet bombers, with the very specific announcement that they can reach Iran and return, are updated versions of the F-16s that Israel used to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 (thereby setting off Iraq's nuclear weapons program, though that part of the story, though pretty well confirmed, is avoided), and are equipped with "special weapons" (according to the Israeli Hebrew press).
This prompts the following from Chris:
Uhhhhhh, pardon? I've read a bit about the Israeli strike against that nuclear reactor and this is the first time I've seen anyone claim that the strike set off Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
Now, I'm actually a big fan of the idea that you can make crazy people crazier than they already are by provoking them. (E.g., it wouldn't surprise me much to discover that North Korea stepped up its nuclear weapons program after Bush made his "Axis of Evil" speech. On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that it hadn't.) So it's possible that the Israeli strike convinced Saddam Hussein to get a move on with the whole nuclear weapons project. But the main effect appears to be that it convinced Iraq that it needed to be a lot more savvy about hiding its nuclear program than anything else.
Does anyone know otherwise? I would be delighted to hear from you.
There is a lot of subsequent wrangling which I invite you to check out by pursuing the main link at the top of the page. To summarise, Chris answers his readers, e-mails Chomsky and is not particularly convinced by the reply. Well, Chomsky answers hundreds of e-mails every day, and he often comes across as quite curt in his replies because, as he once protested, you communicate differently over the e-mail than you do face to face. In this case, I would guess he has been obliged by time to refer to his book Hegemony or Survival and hope Chris is willing to visit his local Borders.
I think Chris is on a road to nowhere with this one, partly because how you view Chomsky's assertion depends to a great extent on which evidence you accept and how much weight you attach to it, but mainly because I think he's wrong. For example, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested in its September 2002 dossier that:
'Following the Israeli raid...Iraq's nuclear weapons programme went underground. The establishment of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons programme dates from...May 1982.'
Indeed, it does appear to be the case that the clandestine nuclear weapons programme was initiated following that strike. Prior to that attack, Osirak had regularly been inspected, and the IAEA saw no evidence of any attempt to construct a nuclear weapons programme. It seems that it was after that episode that Jaffar Dhia Jaffar, (who was the deputy minister for industry and is believe to have subsequently become the head of the nuclear weapons programme) convinced Saddam that it would be both possible and desirable to build such nukes clandestinely and remain within the NPT.
Recently Dr Imad Khadurri, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist (who subsequently joined the IAEA), suggested the same thing:
Dr Imad Khadduri, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist who was the head of the scientific experimentation group before the Israeli air strike, confirmed to the Power and Interest News Report, "Indeed, in 1981 all of our work was centered at the Tuwaitha site." In order to prevent such attacks from occurring in the future, Baghdad took prompt action after Israel's successful air strike. Khadduri explained, "We began to disperse our nuclear facilities to end up with eight or nine sites for production, processing, enrichment design and research."
In addition to the operational difficulties in destroying Iran's nuclear research program, there are also serious political risks involved. In 1981, when Israel attacked Iraq's Osirak reactor, Tel Aviv's move caused Baghdad to accelerate its quest for nuclear arms. By demonstrating Iraq's military weakness in its failure to prevent an Israeli air strike, Tel Aviv's decision merely caused the leadership in Baghdad to believe even more strongly that they needed nuclear weapons to shield against future aggression from hostile states. By acquiring nuclear arms, states are able to increase their defense capabilities since other states are hesitant to take military action against a nuclear-armed rival. As Khadduri writes in his recent book describing Iraq's nuclear research program, after Israel attacked the Osirak reactor, "Saddam took the political decision to initiate a full-fledged weapons program immediately afterwards."
Reuters reports that:
At first, the program focused mainly on the use of nuclear energy for power generation. Khadduri said that changed in 1981 after Israeli jets destroyed the country's Osirak nuclear reactor.
Now, Chris' view is that:
The story of Iraq's drive to develop nuclear weapons is an extremely complicated one, involving all kinds of regional, international, domestic and psychological causes.
That is true enough. Geopolitics is rarely pure, and never simple. However, I'm afraid it won't do as a rebuke to Chomsky who, if the above evidence is reliable, only repeated what the good inspector said: Iraq's clandestine nuclear programmes were indeed "kicked off" by the Israeli attack. This does not involve the suggestion that Saddam Hussein would have remained fission-free indefinitely in the absence of such an attack. Who knows? My educated guess would be that given the opportunity and encouragement from appropriate quarters, Saddam could well have developed an actual nuclear programme in the absence of Israeli aggression. But what seems relatively clear is that if there wasn't any intention to build nukes before the bombing of Osirak, that attack ignited the desire. And if there was such an intention, however thwarted by inspections, this attack precipitated the move from conception to action.
Now, before I finish, I have a treat for Chris and his readers. The passage from Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival which deals with Osirak is available online , as indeed is most of the book. I quote the relevant passage:
A more far-reaching example of establishing norms was Israel's bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq in June 1981. At first the attack was criticized as a violation of international law. Later, after Saddam Hussein was transformed from favored friend to unspeakable fiend in August 1990, the reaction to the Osirak bombing also shifted. Once a (minor) crime, it was now considered an honored norm, and was greatly praised for having impeded Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program.
The norm, however, required the evasion of a few inconvenient facts. Shortly after the 1981 bombing, the Osirak site was inspected by a prominent nuclear physicist, Richard Wilson, then chair of the physics department at Harvard University. He concluded that the installation bombed was not suited for plutonium production, as Israel had charged, unlike Israel's own Dimona reactor, which had reportedly produced several hundred nuclear weapons. His conclusions were supported by the Iraqi nuclear physicist Imad Khadduri, who was in charge of experimental work at the reactor before the bombing and later fled the country. He too reported that the Osirak reactor was unsuitable for the production of plutonium, though after the Israeli bombing in 1981, Iraq took the "solid decision to go full speed ahead with weaponization." Khadduri estimated that it would have taken Iraq decades to obtain the required amount of weapons-grade material, had the program not been sharply accelerated as a result of the bombing. "Israel's action increased the determination of Arabs to produce nuclear weapons," Kenneth Waltz concluded. "Israel's strike, far from foreclosing Iraq's nuclear career, gained Iraq support from some other Arab states to pursue it."
He attributes these quotes in his footnotes as follows:
Richard Wilson, “A Visit to the Bombed Nuclear Reactor at Tuwaitha, Iraq,” Nature 302, no. 5907 (31 March–6 April 1983): pp. 373–76. Michael Jansen, Middle East International 691 (10 January 2003). Imad Khadduri, Uncritical Mass, memoirs (manuscript), 2003. Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), pp. 18–19.
Good on Chris for stirring up the debate, but I think he's misfired on this one.