Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why is the Islamic Bomb So Slow in Development?

This is probably a naive question. Maybe someone can answer it quickly for me.

The Manhattan Project started in 1942 and in 1945 the United States detonated three nuclear bombs, including an enriched uranium bomb and a plutonium bomb.

Fast forward sixty years: The Iranians have been allegedly working for several years on developing a nuclear bomb but are, by some projections, still years away from being able to produce one (leaving aside the ability to deliver it).

What is going on here?


Anonymous said...

Well... let me start off by saying that I completely disagree with the first commentor. I don't think home forclosures or bathroom lighting has anything at all to do with why the Iranians are having trouble producing a viable weapon.

Next, I can't say that I have any difinitive answer to this other than to say that precision and education are very difficult to achieve without the right amount of freedom and encouragement.

I'll start with the education bit first. While they have nuclear technicians likely educated in Russia and/or Pakistani nuclear classrooms, the independent thought has probably not be inculcated in the Iranian education system. Like many other Islamic/tribal societies, independent thought is highly frowned upon.

When you live in a society that as recently as 30 years ago the students rose up and installed a theocratic autocracy which then eliminated the educated elite as threats to that theocracy. It is unlikely you will find too many who are willing to stick their necks out when developing something like a nuclear weapon.

This suppression of independent intelectual thought is one of the main reasons I suspect for this. The other being closely related and that is precision.

The bomb itself is easily enough made. You can find plans for a crude nuclear bomb (air dropable) at the public library, on the internet and at your local Pakistani black market arms dealer. That is not the real issue. The real issue is getting ahold of and refinning the materials needed to make it actually go boom.

As we recently saw with North Koreas Nuclear test, getting the fissible material to act the way you want it too is not the easiest thing in the world to do. It has to be processed properly and then assemble with a level of precision that requires highly sophisticated machinery and experience. Otherwise it just doesn't work.

Can they obtain the natural raw materials? Its possible (I haven't researched it) that it can be mined from their own mountain ranges. But then you must build the precise machinery to refine it. No one will sell (above board) the precision machinery, so it must be manufactured at home. Do they have the education to build the production capability to produce the machinery needed to refine the materials? That is one major hurdle for a country like Iran. They have a hard enough time, due to their econmic and cultural isolation from the rest of the world, affording to build crude machinery let alone precision stuff.

Another big hurdle is the delivery vehicle. If we assume a suitcase nuke is their intent, its likely to be easier to build, but then they'd have to be able to build many of them and withstand the international scrutiny (and possible military action) when the first one is caught being smuggled across any border.

When America (Russia/China/GB.. et al) built thier first nukes they were all air dropable. Iran and the like don't exactly have that capability. How likely would it be that Iran/Syria/NK would be able to fly a bomber with a "Little Man" or "Fat Boy" style nuke beyond thier own borders let alone over a target country.

So their only likely delivery vehicle is surface-to-surface missiles. While they have some, and some that may have significant ranges (possibly reaching Europe and parts of North America)... these are few, not exactly dependable (again pay particular attention to North Korea's vaunted missile test this past July) and the accuracy is rather lacking (again due to the precision thing).

As an aside however, I think a good question would be, do countries like Iran want nuclear capability so that they can use the nuke? Or so that they can use the threat of the nuke? Or so that they can use the membership card of the nuclear club as a negotiating tool at the international table?

If these countries want to try and develop a suitcase nuke and take the chance of smuggling it in to a target country by terrorists that's one thing. If they intend on overtly using a nuke against a target country... well, I don't think they are dumb enough to not realize that it would be a death sentence at the hands of the entire international community.

If that is the case... then the years of bolstering during the development process may be the key piece they are looking for and not the nuke itself... therefore they may be in no hurry to actually develop a device.

But then... there is always the whole Pakistan-v-India issue... so who knows!!

Anonymous said...

Given that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has tested the bomb, I don't believe it's slow in development.

Anonymous said...

America should totally reduce our dependence on middle east oil. Spend billions on renewable energy, goverment subsidized solar,wind,whatever for everyone. Then seal our borders tight,spend tons on star wars technology and let them Islamic fools kill themselves. They are so stupid. Nuke em or let em cut each others throats..who cares anymore about a bunch of dirty middle easterners.