October 11, 2006

THE HIGH COST OF NOT NUKING STALIN:

North Korea Tested an Atom Bomb; Now What?: Four potential scenarios—all bad. (Fred Kaplan, Oct. 9, 2006, Slate)

The combination of Kim Jong-il and a nuclear arsenal is a nightmare. It doesn't mean he's going to fire A-bombs at the United States or, for that matter, at South Korea or Japan. Kim may be a monster, but he's not suicidal; his top priority is the survival of his regime, and he must know that a nuclear attack would be followed by obliterating retaliation.

But what nuclear weapons do provide is cover for lesser sorts of aggression. The "club" of nuclear nations is a sort of mafia. The bomb provides protection, and thus a certain swagger, whether the other club members like it or not. [...]

Sunday's nuclear test has four other potential, dreadful consequences.

First, Kim Jong-il could churn out more bombs and sell at least some of them to the highest bidders. North Korea is dreadfully short of resources; his scheme to counterfeit American money has run into roadblocks; nukes might be his new cash cow. During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush rallied domestic support by invoking the image of Saddam Hussein selling A-bombs to al-Qaida. It was a highly improbable scenario; even if Saddam had been building A-bombs, he would almost certainly have kept them under tight control. Kim, on the other hand, is a guerrilla-anarchist; he maintains his power not by trying to shape, or seek greater influence in, the international system but rather by throwing the system into a shambles. He's much less likely to have qualms about trading bombs for hard currency, regardless of the customer.

The second possible consequence of a nuclear North Korea is the unleashing of a serious regional arms race. The Japanese have long had the technical know-how and the stash of plutonium to build atomic (or possibly even hydrogen) bombs. They've foresworn that route because of moral qualms stemming from their own militarism in World War II. They also cite their security arrangement with the United States. But it's an open question how long these 60-year-old qualms would endure in the face of a clear and present danger. Just last month, a Japanese think tank run by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone published a study calling on the nation to "consider the nuclear option." North Korea's nuclear test can only fuel these temptations. [...]

Third, it's a fair bet that the Iranians will be closely watching the coming weeks' events. If the world lets tiny, miscreant, destitute North Korea—the freaking Hermit Kingdom—get away with testing a nuke, then who will stop the oil-rich, leverage-loaded, modern-day Persian Empire from treading the same road?

For many reasons, then, the world's major powers and organizations—if they have any capacity for coordinated action—must take actions to punish Kim Jong-il for what he has done, not to pound him with airstrikes (for better or worse, an impractical option), but to make his regime suffer in all other ways, to let those around him know that his actions are the cause of their suffering.

However, this leads to a fourth risky scenario that Sunday's test has set in motion: the danger of escalation and war.

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War is certainly the best option for precisely the reason that Mr. Kaplan accidentally cites, so that folks like him, Kim, and Ahmedinejad will realize that nukes provoke an attack, rather than deter it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2006 12:00 AM
Comments

Nuking Stalin would have saved the lives of many tens of millions, and saved a half-dozen unique cultures in central europe that were obliterated by russian occupation. The soviets did far more damage to europe than the mongols. But, better late than never, I say.

Posted by: lebeaux at October 11, 2006 5:47 PM
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