With a first step. North Korea tested its first nuclear weapons-grade device.
Granted, the test -- of what the North Koreans advised China was a 4-megaton device -- failed miserably, yielding about 25% of the force a 4-megaton device should capably provide.
But we're not talking about an air conditioner, a vcr, or even a car engine; talking in degrees of output in a nuclear weapon is akin to describing a new handgun's output being capable of only going through 12 inches of steel instead of 18. Any time we're talking degress of nuclear yield, we should expect to hear the experts toss about terms like collateral damage, limited civilian casualties, contaminated area, number of affected blocks, size of nuclear cloud -- and that doesn't even begin to address the US response to a "minimal" or "containable" weapon sponsored by a nuclear North Korea on an American city.
I'm the last person who should be counted among the "Sky is Falling" crowd. I'm not nervous about this latest escalation in the nuclear war of words between North Korea and the West, or as North Korea sees it, the People's Glorious Democratic Republic of North Korea and the United States. There are some reasons for concern, however, and I'd have my head buried in the sand if I even suggested otherwise.
Back when I was a wee college student whose mind was shaped by underpaid, badly-dressed, liberal-minded thinkers we call professors, I gleaned -- both from these individuals and the texts by which they verified their teachings -- that the Cold War, ie the build-up of weapons between the US and the then-Soviet Union -- was an example of nuclear proliferation. That is to say, the more nukes on the planet -- whether they sported stars and stripes or a hammer and sicle -- was a bad thing because eventually, someone might get around to putting some, if not all of them, to use.
Problem is, as much as I agree in theory that the more nukes, the not better, the issue wasn't so much the quantity of nukes but the question of how many buttons, and under whose control, were those nukes. Were those nukes in the hands of old men who basically wanted a bigger, badder Lincoln than their next-door neighbor, and did these old men actually intend to ever use them? The answers to those questions are readily, and obviously, apparent. Neither the US nor Russian side, aside from a little episode known as The Cuban Missile Crisis, really intended to actually use their nukes. I actually presented a paper some time back at the US Naval Academy called "Power As Its Own Deterrent" about the notion that despite the huge build-up, these weapons, and the finality thereof, basically insured that any sane person who had said weapons at his/her disposal would never use them and, therefore, a non-violent solution would eventually be realized. In the case of the Cold War, I, luckily, guessed right. Now, however, with Kim Jong Il scooting about his Republic with a reduced-output weapon, therein lies the rub.
The one caveat to any discussion about nuclear proliferation, and the control and limit thereof, is the notion that whoever is controlling these weapons is sane. There's no way to know if Kim Jong Il is quite all there, and sometimes it's more unlikely than likely he's playing with a full deck.
For argument's sake, however, let's assume Kim is not nuttier than a hooker standing naked in Red Square in the middle of winter. Let's assume his problem is that he wants desperately to be recognized and respected on the world stage. Firing up a nuclear weapon -- whether in an underground test or somewhere a few miles from Japan's border -- is one way of getting him a seat at the adults' table, across from the US. "So, Mr. President, you won't give us subsidies and allow me to appease my people with food, heating oil and Levi's jeans -- I'll build a nuke with technology I bought off some Pakistani nuclear engineer and then you won't be able to ignore me or keep me at bay like some petulant child."
Put in a slightly different manner, Kim Jong Il having at his disposal a nuclear device that could hit Japan, if not the US, is akin to a 15-year-old kid in the inner city realizing the power he wields when he, one day, buys a gun and brings it to school. Suddenly, when you have your finger on the trigger, people -- or nations -- perceive you in a slightly different manner.
To wit -- and this is where I lead you, dear reader -- the real concern today is not North Korea. Despite the fact that any nuclear device, no matter the yield, is a legitimate concern, North Korea is at least a decade away from being able to put that power -- again, no matter the yield -- into practical use. Granted, whether a North Korea-manufactured nuclear weapon could destroy three square blocks of midtown Manhattan and all its occupants or thirty, the concept is still troubling. But I'm withholding my concern regarding North Korea, at this point, anyway, because I remember the Hyundai Excel automobile. It was a $4,995 cavalcade of substandard parts, plastic, metal, and glass. It was a piece of shit. It ran, it was sufficient to be used for brief transportation, and it worked. But not efficiently, and not effectively, and certainly not over a long-term period. I also remember a company called Goldstar. Goldstar manufactured TV's, VCR's, toaster ovens, computer parts, tape decks, etc. -- and all of the stuff rolling off the Goldstar factory in South Korea was crap. It looked, smelled and sounded a lot like its Japanese counterpart items -- stuff made by Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and later Aiwa -- but it was crap, through and through. Hence why Goldstar is out of business. Or are they? Actually, they are now Samsung. Samsung, today, makes some of the best, most respected, highly sought-after electronic stuff on the market.
The point is: the Koreans, whether they reside above or below the 38th parallel, are quick learners. But for the time being, we have time.
Meanwhile, the real concern is Kim's apparent heir in the "New Kid On The Nuclear Block" succession: namely, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran and its "Supreme Leader" (think this guy's got a small-dick complex or what?) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are now ploughing straight ahead into the "we've got nukes" club as well. The combined governments of the Middle East have failed to complete or succeed in anything without Western assistance for the past century; let's face it, they've wanted to obliterate Israel (Ahmadinejad specifically) for 50+ years and they haven't managed to do so. So why would anyone worry about what a bunch of backward-thinking imbeciles want with a nuke?
Specifically, the Arab governments might be dumb, but they're not stupid. If left unchecked, Iran will eventually achieve devices with nuclear yield; they may very well be able to one day produce a missile that could reach Israel. And since Mr. Ahmadinejad has indicated that destroying Israel is one of his goals, our concern over his threat is and should be immediate. The difference, however, between North Korea's recent nuclear test and the rhetoric coming from Tehran is this: if Kim Jong Il might be a little insane, then Ahmadinejad is a fucking lunatic.
The simple, if one can categorize this as such, solution to the problem is to destroy Iran's nuclear factory. Sure, it will inflame Iranian opinion against America and Israel and will further heighten Arab distrust in general of the West. However, considering the recent outcry against the Pope -- the POPE! -- due to some quasi-unflattering material he quoted -- QUOTED -- it seems to me that worrying about Muslim distrust and/or hatred of America and Israel isn't something we really need to worry about. It's there, it will always be there, and as long as we -- Americans, Israelis, Jews, what have you -- are still breathing, there will always be a fire burning in the hearts of every radical Muslim dumb enough to heed the call for Jihad, so long as that call involves them blowing themselves up in honor of Mohammad the Prophet and to get those 50 virgins once they die (despite the fact that their sexual pleasures while on Earth were confined to camels and goats). No, my main concern isn't North Korea's test, but Iran's path; allowing a country that advocates the destruction of another country -- publicly -- and whose nation has consistently lied, sponsored terrorism, suicide bombings and overtly flaunted its disregard for the world community as a whole, is not a nation with which should be allowed to wield nuclear weapons.
Again, to return to my college days, I once asked a professor, foolishly, why the US doles out so much in aid to Russia and other nations, when it barely bothers to look after its own poor, homeless and starving people. My professor replied, dryly: "The US government doesn't have to worry about half of the population of the Midwest starving, rallying, and overtaking nuclear silos in the middle of nowhere and holding hostage nuclear weapons. The Russian government faces that possibility every day. So we send the Russian government money and food to insure their population is content and doesn't feel the need to go hunting for misplaced or unguarded nuclear weapons."
Problem is, the Iranian government makes it a habit to rile its people up, starve them, treat them like shit, and then point their fingers at the Israelis and the Americans and convince them that we're to blame, and that they should blow themselves up to kill as many of us as possible.
That doesn't sound very sane to me. And that's not the kind of entity that should be permitted to possess nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong Il just wants a seat at the Adults Table.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rest of the government in Iran, and their successors, don't much care about the Adults Table.
They just want to blow it up.