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 at June 24, 2004 01:20 PM

The dangers of nuclear proliferation are not a matter of where the bombs are, but who controls them.

Pakistan is currently a legitimate player - mostly - on the world stage, and not a rogue state (yet); therefore the bombs they have may be acceptable if not GOOD: YES - GOOD; they may have already prevented a huge conventional war between India and Pakistan, as perhaps conventional war between the USA/NATO and the USSR was avoided.

The REAL issue is do we let rogue states who are part of the axis of evil get nukes - or ANY WMD.

Because they are evil rogues who cannot be trusted with any WMD.

So waht signals we send to other states in irrelevant: we must deal with the rogues now.

The very nature of the rogue states make them less trustworthy to deal with as NPT Treaty signatories, or as partners in ANY protocol with regard to any issue.

The real answer is overthrowing the rogue regimes - which are just as bad for their own populations as they are for the free world ( maybe worse!) and replacing them with democratic regimes which respect the rule of law at home, and internationally.

Scowcroft - like the other status-quoists you seem to ADORE - has never understood this because by definition a status-quoits cares more about stability than justice.


Status-quoists confuse a steady-state of affairs with balance; they confuse a stand-off with justice.

Status quoism delayed the Free World's victory over the USSR, and it has delayed our counter-attack against the Islamofascist/Jihadists since 1979 - if one wants to start with the overthrow of the Shah - or at least since 1989 and the end of the Cold War (WW3).

Since 1990 there has been NO EXCUSE for not confronting and defeating Islamofascism/Jihadism - a fact which illustrates why Bush 41 and Baker and Scowcroft - and POWELL (and all the other status-quoists)- were so WRONG not to complete the job in the first Gulf War - a job that 9/11 has forced GWBush to do - later and with more difficulty and more danger than if it had been done in 1991.

This effort is as "radical" and as "neo-con" as FDR's Four Freedoms speech and Eleanor Roosevelt's Declaration of Universal Human Rights. Which is to say it is a non-partisan and liberal program - a humanist program we should all support.

The hand-wringing and the longing for imaginary "lost stability" are actually just signs of timidity.

American History -and the destiny of the Free World - demand that we be bold, not timid.
Timidity never defeated evil once, never prevented war. or liberated a single human soul.

So Greg: take a deep breath and be brave.

Posted by: dan at June 24, 2004 02:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

dan is dead right. As I recall, Scowcroft didn't even want to invade Afghanistan, much less Iraq. Stability uber alles.

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