The Axis of Mass Destruction

The revelation that the North Korean government, the second member of the Axis of Evil (and it seems pretty clear that Iran was only thrown in to make up the numbers) has been trying to build nuclear weapons has forced rethinking of lots of positions. At this stage, it appears probable though not certain that no bomb has actually been built and also probable but not certain that the Pakistani government gave assistance in return for missiles. What is clear is that the North Korean government has violated a range of agreeements it made with the US under the Clinton Administration.

The big rethinking is going on as various people try to adjust their positions on Iraq or use this news to justify their earlier positions. I’m in the latter category myself, and I suppose most others will be also, human nature being what it is.

The North Korean news indicates a need for a much sharper focus on weapons of mass destruction and the abandonment of the idea of regime change for its own sake. It’s clear, despite the Axis of Evil rhetoric, that the US Administration has no real desire to launch an invasion of North Korea, even though its (the Koreans, I mean) rulers are every bit as evil as Saddam. And despite the rhetoric of hyperpower, the idea that even the US can run wars on four fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Al Qaeda) stretches credulity.

What is needed now is a really serious focus on weapons of mass destruction everywhere, not just in Iraq. This means
(i) continuing the push for unfettered inspections and destruction of all weapons facilities in Iraq
(ii) demanding the same in N. Korea. Clearly agreements without verification are worthless. This should be pushed through the UN with whatever bribes are needed to prevent a Chinese veto
(iii) a really serious effort to denuclearise the fragment states of the former Soviet Union
(iv) pressure on France and the UK governments to abandon their nuclear weapons. These are pure status symbols with no remaining strategic role, and set an immensely bad example to prestige-seeking governments in the Third World
(v) more cuts in Russian and US arsenals
(vi) the US government recanting its opposition to germ warfare and other treaties (as I pointed out earlier the US objections are the same as those of Saddam
(vii) Pushing hard for a settlement of the Israel/Palestine dispute, then offering the Israelis incentives for nuclear disarmament

This is a long and dishearteningly difficult agenda. But step (i) is looking good and several of the others seem a lot more possible than they did when Reagan and Brezhnev were in office.

The biggest and most difficult issues relate to India and Pakistan. Someone in the comment thread referred to the idea that since S11, Americans focused on the ‘worst case scenario’, and that this justified an invasion of Iraq. But the most plausible worst case scenarios I can think of involve Pakistan – beginning either with a nuclear war between India and Pakistan or with Pakistan’s bombs getting into the ‘wrong’ hands (worse than those they’re already in, that is). If someone could persuade India and Pakistan to take $100 billion apiece in return for agreeing to a settlement in Kashmir and giving up their nuclear weapons (or even scaling back to half a dozen apiece), it would be money well spent.

As an aside, I try when blogging to distinguish governments from the people they rule and, in some cases, represent. For example, I talk about whether Saddam* will comply with UN resolutions and how the Bush Administration will respond. On the other hand, an invasion of Iraq, since it is the country that will be invaded and occupied. This isn’t always a simple distinction to draw, and I haven’t been entirely consistent, but it’s worth remembering, particularly when we think about countries like Indonesia.

* I have formed the impression that ‘Saddam’ is the least respectful form of his name, and therefore use it at all times.