June 24, 2004

A Critical Moment in Nuclear History

Brent Scowcroft is right, of course.

We are at a critical juncture:

The absence of an effective international response to North Korean efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability may already have resulted in the entry of another country into the ranks of nuclear-capable powers. North Korea not only can be presumed to have reprocessed enough plutonium this year for an additional six to eight nuclear weapons, it reportedly also is working on a uranium enrichment capability to accompany its existing ability to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel rods.

Should Iran now be permitted to develop the capability to enrich uranium, it is almost impossible to imagine that other countries could be dissuaded from creating their own enrichment capabilities and consequently the capacity to produce weapons-grade material for nuclear weapons.

We are at a critical moment. Are we serious in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, or will we watch the world descend into a maelstrom where weapons-grade nuclear material is plentiful and unimaginable destructive capability is available to any country or group with a grudge against society?

Good questions all.

Similarly to North Korea, and despite the lack of material progress in forcing concessions from Pyongyang so far--we need to now present a very serious and united front to Iran consisting of a joint U.S., U.K, Russian, French and German position (well beyond ad hoc Euro ministerial troikas jetting about willy-nilly).

And we must de-link the issue of Iran's nuclear program from all the other (very important) aspects of our bilateral relationship with Iran (terrorism, Iraq, reform, etc).

The nuclear issue is simply too critical. Right now, we have to live with their trouble-making in Iraq and elsewhere and concentrate, like a laser, on the nuclear issue.

Also, of course, we need to deal with the Brazilian uranium enrichment issue that Scowcroft also mentions.

Why? The international community must understand that we (or, indeed, the above named concert of powers, perhaps with China and India added) are serious about not letting any other power develop nuclear weapons that doesn't already possess them.

Call it a nuclear domino theory.

For instance, if Iran goes nuclear, there will be a huge hankering for an "Arab" bomb (Egypt? Saudi?) to enhance the two "Islamic" bombs of Pakistan and Iran.

There will also be more movement in Asia (see Japan) to perhaps go nuclear given China and North Korea's capabilities.

Brazil (and, perhaps, Argentina) will then also be sure to pursue their nuclear programs with more alacrity.

A contrarian might think that we should replicate mutually assured destruction type nuclear parity (ie, U.S.-Soviet Union) through various regions (Asia: Japan/China); (Middle East: Iran/Israel); (Lat Am: Brazil/Argentina).

But there are too many terror groups out there and too many seepage issues--even assuming rational actors would always be at the helm of the governments of a materially larger nuclear club (an assumption that I wouldn't bet a dime on).

Let's also not forget that terrorists almost killed 20,000 people (at least, I've heard King Abdullah put the figure closer to 80,000) in a chemical bomb plot in Jordan recently.

They would, of course, kill millions in Manhattan or London the moment they could.

Keeping the nuclear club capped would be a major part of helping avoid such a horrific calamity that might throw the world into decades long turmoil--at least on par (and likely worse) than the horrifically bloody centuries of past.

As always, some will point to double standards (if Israel can have nukes, why not Brazil? Or Iran--especially if a democratic goverment were ushered in going forward?).

Ideally, we should have a WMD-free zone (ultimately including Israel) in the Middle East.

But Israel faces existential theats on varied fronts.

And, bottom line, history has marched on. It has nukes--period.

We can't reverse this development. Ditto Pakistan and India.

Israel could only be asked to pursue a nuclear disarmament move, in my view, pursuant to a comprehensive generalized mega-Middle East peace settlement--one presided over and monitored by the full range of fora of the international community.

And, needless to say, we aren't there by a long shot.

An aside. A British man recently touted to me the party line that Blair is lost and lonely because of Iraq. That history will simply remember him for kow-towing to Bush.

No, Blair will be remembered by history as the leader who, perhaps in a more intellectual, nuanced and pragmatic manner than Bush, realized that the threat of the 21st century is and will remain transnational terror groups getting their hands on WMD.

This concern, includes, of course, nuclear weapons that are, for instance, provided by disgruntled intelligence services of a country (like Iran, Pakistan, NoKo) that want to try to bring the U.S. or U.K. to its knees with a devastating blow to one of their major metropolises.

Scowcroft's op-ed reminds us (it's shocking, really, that we need reminding) again of these stakes.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at June 24, 2004 01:20 PM
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