Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Remember the old Tom Lehrer song?
First we got the bomb, and that was good,
'Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Russia got the bomb, but that's okay,
'Cause the balance of power's maintained that way.
France got the bomb, but don't you grieve;
They're on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb, but have no fears;
They can't wipe us out for at least five years.
Egypt's gonna get one, too,
Just to use on you-know-who.
So Israel is getting tense;
Wants one in self-defense;
The Lord's our shepherd says the psalm,
But just in case, we're gonna get a bomb.
Luxembourg was next to go,
And who knows, maybe Monaco;
We'll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb.
Cute. Nice we could joke about it once, back when we were really only scared of the Russkies. The current nuclear club stands as follows:
Israel (undeclared, but not fooling anybody)
Here are a couple of other countries that might have the bomb or could have it very soon:
* South Africa (they say they ended their program. You sure they ain't lying?)
* Iraq (we believe they are still a couple of years away. Last time we thought that, they were within six months of completion of their first device.)
* Iran (they've been working on this since the days of the Shah. They'll have it soon, if they don't already.)
* Ukraine (they supposedly returned all nuclear warheads to Russia. You sure they did?)
* Kazakhstan (ditto)
* Lybia (feeling left out of the Axis of Evil, they're working furiously to catch up and re-establish their bonifides)
* Japan, Germany, South Korea (it's not like it would be hard for any of these guys to go nuclear, if they felt insecure or anything)
* Democratic Republic of Congo (that's right, the basket case in the middle of Africa, a country without a functioning central government and occupied by the armies of various neighboring states has a nuclear plant; who knows what they've been doing with the material from it?)
There's probably a bunch of other countries I've left out. The cat is out of the bag. He's running around the room clawing the drapes and peeing on the carpet. He's gotten into the trash and the houseplants. And he's keenly aware of all the other out-of-the-bag cats, particularly the lady cats in heat, and has been making frequent trips around the neighborhood to meet with all of said lady cats to increase the out-of-bag cat population.
So what are we planning to do about news like this?
Here's what I'm worried about. We're about to go to war with Iraq, a country we believe is just shy of developing the bomb. Let's assume this invasion goes splendidly, Saddam's air defenses are annihilated in the first 6 hours, his missile batteries are wiped out on the ground and the handful that are fired are shot out of the sky, his army is routed in the field and his chief bonbon maker slips him a cherry-liquer mickey and cuts off his head as a goodwill gesture to the advancing allied armies. One down. Half a dozen to go. Have we made the larger task any easier? Have we really made progress?
Well, if the Iranian army decides this would be a good time to take back their country from the mullahs, then my answer would be yes. But if not, it seems to me the answer might be no. After all, what kind of signal have we sent to the proliferators of the world? North Korea violates an agreement, builds nuclear weapons, and threaten us with nuclear war if we don't meet their demands. So far, we haven't met those demands. But we haven't come up with any other bright ideas for dealing with them either. Pakistan builds nuclear weapons, provides safe harbor for anti-American terrorists, and the United States relies on them as a key ally in the war on terror - and pressures their nuclear-armed neighbor, India, not to wage defensive war against them - because we can't afford to let their nukes fall into the hands of the real bad guys. It seems to me, the message to Iran, etc. is: work faster. Once you have the bomb, you will be able to dictate terms to the United States. Your regime will be secure. You'll periodically have to make gestures that enable the U.S. to save face, but basically there's nothing we can do to threaten you.
War on Iraq will be useful in a few ways. It will eliminate one regime that has declared the U.S. to be an enemy and seeks our harm and will soon be able to do that harm on a catastrophic scale. It will increase our maneuverability vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia. It will demonstrate American resolve to the region generally. If we are able to build a stable, reasonably free Iraq, that's a big bonus, an example that other Arab states might look to as a model rather than the current favored model of anti-American thugocracy. But unless we do something decisive about North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, I think part of the message that the Iraq campaign will deliver will be: the U.S. only wants easy kills. We can't let that message take hold. The stakes are too high.
I'm not sure what we do about North Korea. I don't think an Osirak strategy - a surgical preemptive strike to take out the nukes - will be effective, and it has to be 100% effective or the consequences are too dire. Which means we have to follow the Iraq model: build an international consensus that the country must disarm and let in inspectors to prove there has been disarmament, or face invasion. If North Korea threatens to nuke Seoul or Tokyo if invaded, explain that the entire population of North Korea will be incinerated if that happens - and wouldn't it be much nicer for the Dear Leader to spend his retirement in a villa in Tahiti or Monaco rather than being incinerated along with all his loving subjects? But that might not work either, and again, the consequences of failure are dire.
Iran is, in some ways, tougher and in some ways easier. There's a chance that the country "tips" politically, in which case the whole worry about proliferation becomes much less serious. We could probably bribe a friendly, democratizing state to end its nuclear program. But it's tougher for a bunch of reasons, a key one being that all our other wars in the area - against Iraq, against Afghanistan - have increased Iranian power. We can't go to war with Iran without a firm foothold in these neighbors. And an Osirak strategy is not likely to work in Iran either; some of their nuclear facilities are very well-hardened.
But the toughest is Pakistan. We are pretty sure that Pakistan helped the North Koreans build their bomb. We have been treating them so gingerly precisely because we're afraid if they get pissed off they'll just toss a nuke al Qaeda's way. Then we really have problems. They are nominally an ally, so we can't really threaten them at all, much less attack them. What's our leverage? How do we respond credibly if we think they are playing a double-game - helping Lybia, say, to get the bomb?
The acid test right now, though, is North Korea. Iran doesn't have the bomb yet, and Pakistan is nominally our friend. North Korea has the bomb, and is our declared enemy. If we don't do anything about that - if we let them slide like we did for the last 10 years - our deterrence is shot, no matter what we do in Iraq.