Category Archives: Nuclear Weapons

Question of the Day: Who are we to tell Iran (or any country) that they can’t have nuclear weapons?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

For the record, I find nuclear weapons, for any imaginable purpose, including self-defense, to be abhorrent. I don’t want there to be nuclear weapons, and I certainly don’t want Iran to have them for all the obvious reasons.

My problem with the repeated demands we have made has to do with the integrity of our position. My rule about telling other countries what to do is simple. Don’t expect them to acquiesce to demands that we wouldn’t agree to ourselves.


The Last Laugh Hypothesis: An Alternative Foreign Policy for North Korea

Thursday, June 25, 2009

North Korea, however reprehensible its government, has the same right to have weapons, nuclear or other, as we do. If, let’s say, Denmark decided it wanted nuclear weapons, would we be threatening economic sanctions and forcibly boarding their ships? Of course not. We don’t like North Korea, but that we don’t trust its government is no excuse for telling it what to do. Lots of countries don’t like or trust our government. Do we tolerate them telling us what to do? Do we really even care what they think? The fact is, we pick on North Korea because we are big, strong, wealthy and we can get away with it.

The fact is, we have no moral ground to tell North Korea to stand down. Our nuclear arsenal is huge. We have the technology for delivering those weapons over vast distances and with incredible precision. And we are the only country to have ever used one, twice. Where exactly do we get off telling another country that it can’t have the weapons we already have in abundance, and refuse to dismantle?

Unfortunately, in the process of throwing our weight around with characteristically impatient foreign policy, we have created a world in which tough talk and threatening to build nuclear weapons is a way to get our attention. The more they pound their chests, the more we pound ours which may work for gorillas and adolescents on a school playground. As foreign policy, however, it’s a counterproductive waste of time, money and, quite possibly, lives.

Let’s try something very different. Instead of punishing the North Korean people for their government not behaving the way we would like, why do we just step back and let its government build whatever weapons and suppress its people as it sees fit. Let’s put aside the guiding principal that no country whose government that isn’t democratically elected has quite the same sovereign rights as one whose government is. Instead, let’s open our economy to this rogue nation, avoiding only certain high technology sectors for now.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that we offer economic assistance, or cooperation which is really what I have in mind, as a reward for not developing nuclear weapons. That would just be encouraging bad behavior. No. What I’m suggesting is that we stop talking about nuclear weapons and make an unconditional offer of open, bilateral economic development with the United States and other western nations. “What can our economy do to work with your economy? …No strings attached.”

The objective is to link their economy to ours and do everything we can, through our private sector and without US government assistance, to improve the quality of life for the North Korean people. It will take time, years, but the magic of economic development will eventually have its effect, gradually at first, but then increasingly so. Over time, government leaders will come and go, overseeing an increasingly open North Korean society that serves a growing class of entrepreneurs and business and other professionals who demand the freedom to enjoy the benefits of their labor and creativity.

And one day, the North Korean government we once distrusted, rightly so, will have made the transition to democracy which Capitalism demands, and will no longer care about the nuclear weapons we once feared they would build. Why? Because, to put it simply, people with stuff will do their best to take care of it and acquire more stuff – which doesn’t give them the time or motivation for warmongering.

One thing’s for sure. Whatever we’re doing now isn’t working. Why not give economic development a chance? The current regime in North Korea will think it has won, has made its point, oblivious to the irrepressibly infectious capitalism we spread to every economy we touch. Fine. It is a victory without substance, of rhetoric we can easily tolerate, without the sticks and stones which are our real concern. Years from now, when the current government is history and North Korea is the new South Korea, we will have had the last laugh.


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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.


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Why Iran has every right to develop nuclear weapons.

“The moral high road to which we pretend to subscribe turns out to be something we live by on a highly selective basis.”
Wednesday, September 23, 2008

This is one of those pieces I almost didn’t write on the odd chance that someone who counts might actually read it and find my simple argument convincing.

I don’t like the government of Iran. I believe its leaders are reckless, dangerous people who pose a real threat to our friends, Israel in particular, in the region, to Western interests everywhere, and especially to the United States. I believe they have too little to lose, and way too much to gain from developing the technologies of terror. My fear is not so much that they would would use such weapons themselves, but that they might advertently or inadvertently disseminate their technology or the weapons themselves to others who would.

So on what basis do we, the United States, have the right to tell Iran that it can’t develop nuclear weapons? The obvious rationale would be that they represent a “clear and present danger” to our nation and its people in response to which we have every right to take preemptive action to defend ourselves. Neither common sense nor the law require that you wait until after you’ve been shot before protecting yourself, before preventing the shooter from pulling the trigger. But by what standard does Iran’s development of nuclear or any other weapons constitute a clear and present danger?

If, I don’t know, let’s say the Netherlands decided to develop its own nuclear weapons, would that constitute a clear and present danger? Would the international community demand that they cease and desist? Would we insist on humiliating them by inspecting their nuclear research facilities to make sure they were strictly for peaceful applications of nuclear technology? I doubt it, because we trust the Dutch, because they’re one of us. Developed. Western. Civilized, by our standards of course. Nice people. Tulips. Great tasting Amstel Light.

Suppose you’re, let’s say, black or Jewish, gay or, heaven forbid, all of the above. Despite laws which allow people in your state who have no criminal history to own guns, you have none. Guns make you nervous, and you’re opposed to them on moral grounds. Your next door neighbor, however, has no such misgivings. To make matters worse, he’s known to be an active member of some group that finds people of “your type” offensive and a threat to his own way of life. He has no compunction about expressing his dislike for you openly and aggressively. He hasn’t explicitly threatened you because there are laws against that, but he’s made it clear how he feels and plays with your fears with his rhetoric and body language at every opportunity, particularly in the presence of his friends who share similar beliefs. You’re understandably concerned, maybe even afraid. Maybe he won’t harm you himself, but there are people he knows who might, people he might encourage and support.

All that having been said, do you have a right to stop him from buying a gun, from exercising his legal, I dare say “sovereign” right to bear arms just because you find his beliefs and behavior objectionable, even scary? Perhaps you want to become an advocate for universal gun control, including preventing even you from owning a gun, but under what specific circumstances can you single him out, deprive him specifically and others sharing his points of view of their right to protect themselves against what they perceive, however misguidedly, as a danger to their way of life?

The moral high road to which we pretend to subscribe turns out to be something we live by on a highly selective basis. We have megatons of nuclear weapons ourselves and an arsenal of the highest tech conventional weapons on the planet – more than enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone, particularly a country like Iran that’s inclined not to trust our motives and knows we don’t like them. But they can’t have any. We pick who we defend and who we don’t – Georgia, for example, which Russia recently invaded – depending upon who they are and who we are defending them against. We basically do whatever we can get away with, based on the assumption that our judgment is generally infallible, and that ours is the only point of view that matters.

I’m not defending Iran and, believe me, I really don’t want them having nuclear weapons. For that matter, I don’t want anyone to have nuclear weapons, but that’s dreaming and off the point. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claims, on behalf of his country, to have the sovereign right to develop nuclear or any other weapons they believe they need to defend themselves. I don’t want to, but I have to agree with him. In the absence of any hard evidence of a clear and present danger, why doesn’t Iran deserve the same right to bear arms that we reserve for ourselves as a nation, and individually? And if there is such evidence, then aren’t we compelled to take tangible, hard defensive action immediately? The fact that we don’t, and that even Israel for which the threat is close at hand hasn’t, would suggest that evidence doesn’t exist.

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