Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea and Iran

Although I'm still not wholly convinced North Korea detonated a nuclear bomb yesterday -- if it was a nuclear bomb, evidence suggests it was pretty teeny, and I don't exactly trust the truthiness of the North Korean military -- let's assume, for the sake of this blog post, that they do. The world will now have its first official "madman with a bomb" scenario -- and the only rational, logical response will be to diplomatically and economically isolate North Korea and hope for the best. We will have to stop worrying and learn to love the policy of containment.

That's why I think a nuclear North Korea makes a nuclear Iran much more likely too. Once we respond diplomatically to one madman with a bomb, the argument for responding to all future madmen (or in Iran's case, mad religious regime) with diplomacy will be strengthened. It's a shitty situation, to be sure, but one we will increasingly come to accept as inevitable. Indeed, the case could be made that the world has, perhaps blindly, already accepted two rogue nuclear states in India and a nuclear Pakistan -- two countries that go to war against each other every couple of years.

Sadly, the number one threat to humanity's existence is not global warming. It is not overpopulation. It is global thermonuclear war. And today, the world seems to have moved one step closer to that horrific possibility.


Blogger Robert Boyd said...

North Korea acted rationally. We have demonstrated that we will invade countries we think are developing nuclear weapons and that we define as "evil." Since North Korea has been working on a bomb for decades, they had reasons to believe that we might invade them as we did Iraq. However, once they explode a bomb (and, of course, they may not have succeeded in doing so), the cost of an invasion by the U.S. increases markedly. North Korea can reasonably guess that the price for the U.S. is too high.

The risk here is that if they have failed to explode a nuclear weapon, that might give special urgency to the U.S. to react.

In any case, I don't see their actions as mad at all. The test was a risk, but perhaps not as risky as not testing.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Although I think it's highly debatable whether North Korea acted rationally by acquiring a weapon that will almost surely result in complete and total diplomatic and economic isolation, my point was not that it was mad to acquire such a weapon. Instead, I believe that Kim Jong Il is, in fact, insane, and he now may have nuclear capabilties. Given the tendency of North Korea to sell its weapon systems -- *all* of its weapon systems -- on the global black market, we should be concerned.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Oh, I agree with you that it is a very very bad development. I think the black-market technology sales is the worst likely outcome of this, and some less likely outcomes (shooting war on the Korean peninsula, for example) are even more horrific to imagine.

Kim may be a nut, but I seriously doubt he can just push the button himself. I just don't think that he can convince his military to commit suicide. At least not easily. That requires either superhuman charisma on his part or a military that is exactly as insane as he is. I think any order by Kim to, say, attack South Korea would be Kim's last order given.

I think NK has painted itself into a terrible corner that is bad for us and bad for the whole world. But if you or anyone were in that corner, it would be better for you to have a nuke than not (from NK's perspective--not the world's!).

You can look in the past and say it would have been wiser for NK not to paint itself in that corner in the first place, just like we can look back and say it might have been better for the U.S. to engage NK for the past 6 years instead of stoking NK's well-known paranoia. But we can't undo our mistakes or theirs.

What is the best possible outcome? I dunno, but I think China has to take the lead now. I think China needs to convince Kim that he can be a Deng now. In other words, with a nuke to prevent invasion, he can start to liberalize his economy, step by step, as China and Vietnam have done--while still keeping his monopoly on power.

Is this what we want for NK? No, but it's the best possible outcome I can see.

(By the way, considering the failure of his missile test and the possible failure of this atomic test, Kim will have to sell his military tech at bargain prices!)

2:33 PM  

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