The news that North Korea has exploded an atomic bomb is easily the worst we’ve had since the end of the Cold War. Any hostile power with atomic weapons is orders of magnitude more dangerous than anything Al Qaeda can throw at us, and of course increases the likelihood that AQ will end up getting access to bombs. It also seems very likely that Iran will soon have its own bomb.
There’s no easy way this could have been stopped, but a bit more attention from the Bush Administration might have helped.
The biggest problem though is the general acceptance, which has emerged in the past 10 to 15 that any major power that wants nuclear weapons is entitled to have them, unless it’s a ‘rogue state’ like North Korea. Of course, in these circumstances, everyone excluded from the club is more eager than ever to join. More importantly, getting a serious co-ordinated efforts to stop proliferation, since no one really takes the Non-proliferation Treaty seriously any more. We’re about to undermine it by exporting uranium to India, and in doing this, we’re only recognising the realities. India and Pakistan, among others, are less blameworthy than the existing nuclear powers, which have made it clear that they have no intention of fulfilling the commitments they made, under the Non-Proliferation treaty to eventual disarmament. Particularly for Britain and France, doing so would have no strategic consequences, but would entail an admission that they are, and have been for decades, middle-sized countries of no particular importance, and not Great Powers. How can represenatives of these countries keep a straight face while pointing to the dangers of proliferation?
All that said, there are some hopeful signs. The only way to bring any real pressure to bear on the North Korean government is through China and, for the moment, the rhetoric coming out of Beijing suggests that they might do something.