Saddam and the Lessons of the Cold War

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK ALMOND

THE Cold War ended barely a decade ago but already its lessons are forgotten. The truth is that peace between the superpowers was preserved for more than 40 years thanks to the policies of nuclear deterrence.

Yet today, that strategy, which saw the world survive even the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, is increasingly being derided in Washington and Whitehall.

Once, there was a consensus on a robust policy of deterrence supported by presidents from both Democratic and Republican parties and backed up by British prime ministers of Left and Right.

Now, a motley crew of Dr Strangelove-style 'first strikers' and ex-CND activists is urging war with Iraq as the only solution to the problems posed by the rogue state and its maverick dictator, despite widespread opposition here and in America.

Yesterday, we learned that Tony Blair is to hold 'crisis' talks with U.S.

President George Bush. His aim is to persuade Bush to work on generating more support globally for an attack on Iraq.

Meanwhile, Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith jumped on the 'hawks' bandwagon and said: 'We can choose to act preemptively or we can prevaricate.' But is this really the only choice? If vigilant and robust deterrence saw us through the Cold War against the Soviet superpower, why drop such a strategy against a vastly weaker Iraq?

What evidence is there Saddam would ever launch an attack that would force the West to retaliate in kind?

Mr Duncan Smith backed up his argument by claiming that Saddam Hussein was prepared to starve his own people in order to continue with his weapons building programme, and has invaded his neighbours to satisfy his territorial ambitions.

There is also evidence that the Iraqi leader attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Serbia as recently as three years ago, and Mr Duncan Smith says that intelligence sources suggest he has been working with North Korea to increase the range of his missiles.

We've been here before. Both Stalin and Mao murdered millions of their subjects, inflicted great suffering on millions more, built up their armies and weapons arsenals and invaded weak neighbours (such as Finland and Tibet).

But even when they had 'the Bomb' they didn't risk war with the West.

Saddam, like Stalin and Mao, is not a suicidal maniac. Back in 1991, when he had a vastly bigger arsenal of chemical and biological agents, and Scud missiles galore, he didn't release a single drop of poison gas on to either the U.S. forces in the Gulf or even on Israel. He has only victimised those weaker than himself.

Even in his provocation of nuclear-armed Israel, Saddam has kept within bounds.

Although he pays bounties to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, he has held back from giving them poison gas.

He knows that if he did so, then Israel would annihilate him and Iraq in revenge and so he respects the balance of terror.

But the one thing that could actually change the situation is a U.S. attack intended to destroy him and his regime.

In recent days, too many Washington hawks, such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have been trying to sound 'Churchillian', as if Saddam had the power of Hitler's Germany.

But such hawks ought instead to be looking back in to history to see how presidents - from Truman to Reagan - guided the West to victory in the Cold War without pushing us into conflict. …