Fallout from U.S. weapons policy

Nuclear nations have always held a double standard. Members of the nuclear club are permitted vast stockpiles for protection and deterrence while nations of the club’s periphery are denied the same weapons for fears of destabilizing the balance of power. As technology spreads, however, vulnerable nations are challenging this standard. The logic goes: If my neighbor has them and is threatening me, why then can’t I have them?

The most alarming case is North Korea. Perceiving a new belligerent attitude from the United States, reflected in President George W. Bush’s labeling of the country a member of an “axis of evil,” Kim Jong Il has initiated what he calls a defensive military policy in response to U.S. rhetoric. This policy includes removing international inspectors from North Korean nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These are the first steps toward what many believe is the creation of a nuclear weapons stockpile.

Saber-rattling aside, many North Korean experts have suspected Kim Jong Il initiated his new policy in order to force the United States to come to the negotiating table. For years the United States has refused to participate in direct talks with North Korea. In this view, Kim Jong Il’s threats of building a nuclear arsenal on the Korean peninsula is intended to force the United States to provide the North Koreans with a nonbelligerence pledge. Whether the gamble pays off remains to be seen. However, the might of the North Korean army and its probable possession of a nuclear weapon or two at this stage has caused the Bush administration to tread lightly when dealing with North Korea.

In stark contrast, the Bush administration hopes to topple Iraq’s leadership before its nuclear weapon program is sufficiently advanced. President Saddam Hussein’s aspirations for nuclear weapons – which by all accounts have so far been unsuccessful – have been met with a massive build-up for war.

The disparity in responses to Iraq and North Korea is concerning. The United States seems to be rewarding nations that possess nuclear weapons while moving to dethrone those who seek them. The message to ambitious rulers is clear: Build your nukes covertly and quickly and you’ll be assured a seat at the table. As U.N. nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said, “If you really want to defend yourself, develop nuclear weapons because then you get negotiations, and not military action.”