The Problem With Telling North Korea (or Iran*) That It Can’t Have Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The term our media likes to use when it talks about North Korea is “rogue nation.” The point is that somehow, because they don’t behave according to our standards, they can’t be allowed to have nuclear weapons or other sharp objects.

Don’t misunderstand. I really, really don’t want them to have nuclear weapons technology. But, to be honest, I don’t want us to have nuclear weapons either.

Nuclear weapons are in a league of their own for the levels of societal and planetary destruction they can affect. They are extraordinary, literally and to say the least. I have thought long and hard over many years – since I was coached, as a child, by well-meaning teachers to hide under my desk in the event of a nuclear explosion – but have yet to conceive of a single circumstance under which I would advocate the use of these weapons by my own country. So generally devastating is their impact, I’m not sure they are appropriate to use even in self-defense. And I certainly believe in self-defense.

It’s not so much that I don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons, as much as it is that I don’t want anyone to have nuclear weapons, ourselves and our allies included. I see them as the explosive equivalent of a biological weapon. The very fact that they exist virtually guarantees their eventual use, by accident, by sociopaths regardless of their cause, not to mention by any one of the world’s most prominent and civilized nuclear powers. (What nation, regardless of its stature, that has nuclear weapons doesn’t have contingency plans to use them?) I fear their existence, but not in a mature and sobering way. They are for me, like their biological counterparts, the adult version of something that goes “bump” in the night.

My personal feelings aside, what do we do when a nut ball nation like North Korea, who we don’t trust not to use or irresponsibly disseminate nuclear weapons technology, wants a bomb of its own? The conceptually simple answer is that we – the entire world – need to pass a law, with rules and procedures for enforcement that makes it illegal, literally, for any nation – no exceptions – to have nuclear weapons. Wow. Breathtaking, isn’t it? In the meantime, we’re left with no option, if all attempts to negotiate with and bribe the offending government fail, short of destroying that country’s nuclear weapons capabilities. That’s an act of war. We may get away with it because we’re so big and strong, but it’s an act of war nonetheless.

There’s a problem with parents who smoke and then tell their children not to. With parents who take drugs or consume alcoholic beverages excessively and wonder why their children do the same. And there’s a problem with parents who, heaven forbid, use physical force to “control” their children, and wonder why those same children may exhibit violent tendencies themselves.

Yes, how to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a really difficult problem, and is not something we’re going to resolve any time soon. Pretty much never, at the current pace we’re going. (My guess is that it’s going to take a precipitant crisis, perhaps even an explosion, to get our collective attention in any meaningful way.) In the process, the one thing we need to do first is understand the negative example we and other nuclear nations are setting and revise our own behavior until we have the moral right to tell anyone else what to do.

*See “Why Iran has every right to develop nuclear weapons,” posted on the WordFeeder Wednesday, September 23, 2008.

-wf


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