Monday, September 8, 2008

Here's a wrinkle about Iran I hadn't thought about

This article about how we're about to sell a $7 Billion anti-missile system to The United Arab Emirates caught my eye. I've been so blinded by all the talk about Iran threatening Israel that I've tended to forget that an Iranian bomb also threatens a whole bunch of other people. Iranian Shiites may not hate Sunni Muslims quite as much as they hate Jews and Americans; but they hate them plenty much. There's going to be a lot of money in selling anti-missile systems to all the oil rich countries that are going to want to have a chance of stopping an Iranian missile. Figure on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia being next up to bat to pay several billion for such systems, and there is only one country that can supply them.

It's nice that there's money to be made by our aerospace industry. But don't get me wrong. I think it will be a very, very bad day for the world if Iran manages to develop a nuclear weapon. And it will be an even worse day if Iran manages to develop compact nuclear weapons that can be delivered with ballistic missiles. Iran already has missiles which can reach the other oil producing states in the Middle East, and also Israel, which is "the little Satan" in the eyes of the Muslim fanatics who run Iran. And Iran is working on missiles able to reach most of Europe.

Note that this is not a panic thing. This is a long run risk thing. I'm no expert on these weapons; but I do know there is a big difference in difficulty between developing unwieldy two ton nuclear devices like the bombs dropped on Japan, and developing a few hundred pound device which is shaped to fit into a missile reentry nose cone. It took the U.S. and the Soviet Union several years and dozens of nuclear tests to develop reliable warheads for missiles. With more modern computers to do modelling and all the information that is out there in the public domain it will probably take Iran less time; but it will still take a couple of years minimum from the time of the first test explosion to the time they can have a short range missile ready to launch with a reliable warhead.

Figure at least a couple of years before Iran tests a bomb, then at least a couple more years before they can put a bomb on a short range missile, then at least a couple more years before they can put it on a medium range missile, say one that can reach Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, India, and a lot of other nearby countries. That means it's at least five or six years before things will get really dicey.

But five or six years isn't very long if you're thinking about how to defend against such missiles. Just installing and testing one of these anti-missile systems is probably a several year affair.


Anonymous said...

What worries me is that all too often the technologies that we sell to these countries ends up coming back to bite us in the arse.


Sully said...

There are some controls on technology transfer, but it's probably impossible to do more than slow it down.

The most important thing is for us to stay as free as possible and thus keep advancing so fast technologically that the bad guys can't catch up. That's been the case so far.

Repressive countries keep trying to stifle their populations' freedoms without stifling technical advancement, but I think that's probably impossible.

China is an interesting ongoing test. I think China's economy and technological progress will stall out if it maintains it's repressive government, but I've read a lot of stuff by a lot of folks who don't hold that view.