Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Accept North Korea into the nuclear club or bomb it now

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | Accept North Korea into the nuclear club or bomb it now: "So what now? North Korea is the fourth, possibly fifth, state to have rejected the 1970 non-proliferation treaty and proceeded towards a nuclear arsenal. The others are India, Pakistan, Israel and perhaps Iran. That makes five states in the old nuclear club (America, Russia, Britain, France and China) and five in the new one. The appropriate relationship, diplomatic, military and moral, between the two clubs is now a consuming world obsession.

There is no easy answer. If strategically secure countries such as Britain and France want nuclear missiles as an ultimate line of defence, why not Iran and North Korea? Pakistan is an unstable dictatorship that has sold nuclear technology and harbours terrorists. Yet it is embraced by the west. So is India, which is about to enjoy American nuclear cooperation. Given a nuclear Israel, not just Iran but conceivably Turkey and Egypt are pondering a bomb. Japan may similarly react to the North Korean test.

Britain's bomb did not deter Argentina from invading the Falklands, nor was America's massive arsenal a deterrent in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia or Iraq. Possessing such bombs is largely a matter of status. It is also reasonable to wonder whether the present crisis might have been avoided had George Bush not wrecked President Clinton's mild engagement policy towards North Korea and opted instead for belligerence and rhetoric.

Ask Castro, Gadafy, Saddam and the ayatollahs. The North Koreans are poor beyond the power of economic squeeze. The proposal that China devastates the country by cutting its power would merely generate starvation and mass migration. Sanctions are cowards' wars, cruel and counterproductive. In this case they are anyway too late.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, estimates that some 40 countries are on the brink of being able to make nuclear bombs.

Sophisticated air power, useless in counter-insurgency, has a role in the "coercive diplomacy" of non-proliferation. Israel used it effectively against Iraq's nuclear plant in 1981 and the US repeated the exercise with Operation Desert Fox in 1998 (though Bush and Blair later refused to believe it had worked). If Kim is the unstable menace he appears, his bomb-making capacity and missile sites should be removed at once with Tomahawk missiles. Fewer people would die that way than with any other pre-emptive response."

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