Global Trends by Martin
Monday 16 October 2006
Issues raised by North Korea’s nuclear test
Last week the condemnations
came fast and furious after North Korea’s nuclear weapon test. But
beyond the threat felt by its immediate neighbours, deep seated and
uncomfortable issues were raised.
The North Korean nuclear
weapon test has aroused condemnation from the United States, the European
Union and Japan. China has also criticised this “brazen” act and India
has also registered its concerns.
There is less agreement on
what actions to take against North Korea. Japan has announced its own
ban on North Korean goods and ships. The United States wants the United
Nations Security Council to take several retaliatory measures, but China
objected to some of them.
The North Korean nuclear
test and the responses of the big powers are laden with ironies.
Most of those countries that
were self righteous and loudest in their condemnation themselves possess
This raises the obvious issue:
If nuclear weapons are so dangerous, then the first countries to be
criticised should be those that have them.
The United States and Russia
have the most nuclear bombs, followed by Britain, France and China.
Israel is widely known to have them, although it does not admit it.
India and Pakistan successfully
conducted their own nuclear tests some years ago, attracting condemnation
also at that time. Now their nuclear status is accepted as a fact of
The Security Council’s permanent
members are the major players deciding on punitive measures to take
against North Korea. But they are themselves the biggest owners of
It is hypocritical for them
to condemn and punish others for wanting to own nuclear arms when they
themselves are keeping and possibly adding to their own weapons.
The international bargain
agreed to several years ago was that those countries owning nuclear
weapons would reduce and eliminate their stocks, while other countries
would agree not to develop nuclear weapon capability.
There would, in other words,
be a process of nuclear disarmament, to be matched by a commitment to
The disarmament process,
marked by negotiations and treaties between the United States and the
former Soviet Union, has come to a stop. Instead, some nuclear weapons
states are planning to build more weapons and new models.
The nuclear states have thus
little moral authority to demand that other countries not aspire to
have nuclear capability when they show no commitment to reduce and eliminate
their own existing weapons.
Moreover, there is selectivity
or discrimination in the attitude shown to others. One glaring example
is how the United States and its European allies ignore the nuclear
weapons that Israel already owns, but are painting Iran as something
of a criminal state for developing its nuclear power programme.
Iran has denied it intends
to develop a nuclear bomb. Hopefully it is not. It is important that
the region to be nuclear-free, with Israel getting rid of its nuclear
Just before the end of the
apartheid era, the then government of South Africa admitted it had nuclear
weapons, and eliminated them.
It is difficult to argue
why other Middle Eastern countries should be punished or bombed if it
should aspire to have nuclear weapons, when Israel is allowed to keep
and add to its nuclear arsenal.
It is hard to tell India
not to test a nuclear weapon when China owns some, or that Pakistan
cannot test its weapon when India has done so.
Most of all it is difficult
for the United States or the European Union or Russia to try to take
a high moral ground against weapons of mass destruction when they or
their members are the originators and the owners of most of the world’s
Another ironic lesson from
the traumatic events of recent years is that countries without nuclear
weapons can be subjected to invasion, massive bombing and occupation.
The pre-emptive strike by the nuclear-weapon states of America and Britain
against Iraq is the prime example.
Another shocking example
was the blanket bombing of Lebanon by Israel with the support of the
United States, while the rest of the world watched helpless.
However it seems that if
a country possesses nuclear weapons, it is taken more seriously, and
other countries would be foolish to try to bomb or invade it.
This gives an incentive for
countries to become new nuclear states, especially if they have enemies
with nuclear weapons.
Several analysts commented
in the media last week that North Korea’s nuclear test was a rational
act, as it gave it a protective shield against the threat of American
Whether this gamble is going
to work, or whether it will provoke actions that in the end lead to
a collapse of the North Korean regime (as some others predict) is left
to be seen.
If we are to progress towards
a safer world, the answer is not for more countries to learn from these
ironic lessons. The world does not need five or twenty other countries
aspiring to nuclear status to match their neighbours or to dissuade
the powerful countries to leave them alone.
The answer is to urgently
revive the processes of both disarmament and non-proliferation.
The failure in the United
Nations in the past two years to achieve even a small measure of success
in nuclear disarmament, and the doubts that are creeping in on the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty (now more strongly after the North Korean action),
represent major setbacks to peace and security.
A change in mindset is needed,
most of all from the major nuclear states. They should not continue
to treat nuclear weapons as the privilege of an exclusive few wanting
to retain their power while preventing others from joining the club.
The elimination of all nuclear
weapons and the commitment by all countries not to develop new ones
must go hand in hand, and urgently.
MAIN | ONLINE BOOKSTORE
| HOW TO ORDER