There’s no better time to float a war scare than during inauguration week. Thus, the stories in the papers about stopping cold the Iranian ambition to weld nuclear weapons. This gallant devotion to non-proliferation synthesized well with the Presidential challenge to spread freedom anywhere except in those places specified in the small print (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Venezuala, Liberia, Angola, All Arab peninsula states, all former Central Asian Soviet Republics, and any other recipients of American military aid hereinafter to be known as de facto democracies). Yes, the heady ozone of freedom coming out of Bush’s mouth does have a few holes in it – but this is an administration that rather likes holes in the ozone, so it all makes sense.
Meanwhile, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a nice little historical piece on the (apparently aborted) South Korean effort to manufacture atomic weaponry. The article’s authors (Kang, Jungmin; Hayes, Peter; Bin, Li; Suzuki, Tatsujiro; Tanter, Richard) even advance the speculation that the nuclear ambition of the South (which has resulted, outside of the military sphere, in “19 power reactors generating 16.7 gigawatts of electricity--one of the biggest nuclear programs in the world” may have triggered the North’s own ambition:
“If North Korea was aware of the South's uranium enrichment research activities in the 1990s (and its intelligence capacities in the South should not be underestimated) then the South's activities may have helped motivate the North to acquire enrichment capacities of its own; in 2002, the United States alleged that the North began an enrichment effort in about 1998.”
We find the article interesting for two reasons. One is, the U.S. pursuit of an asymmetrical enforcement of non-proliferation ignores the fact that nuclear material, at this stage, is relatively easy for a determined state to acquire, along with the technological know how to make the bomb. Every time the U.S. ignores an ally’s nuclear build-up, it will reliably trigger, at some point, an enemy’s countering build up. Not that the U.S. countenanced South Korea’s nuclear ambitions. According to the article, presidents from Nixon to Carter scolded and threatened South Korea about secret nuclear programs. Furthermore, the Americans kept the Koreans from having a reliable supply of plutonium.
The second ponderable point is that the politics of nuclear weaponry and the politics of democratization are entangled to an extent that seems to have escaped both Western liberal international theorists as well as their cousins, the international interventionists. In Crooked Timber this week, there was a post about the Iranian nuclear program that made the point that the same protesting students who have become the mascots of various right wing groups in this country are the same people who strongly want a nuclear Iran. The blog quoted a talk by Ray Takeyh, from the Council on Foreign Relations :
“He had some interesting thoughts about how nuclear weapons are quickly becoming enmeshed in Iranian nationalism and identity. They quickly become too popular to give up. When he was teaching in Pakistan, he had students give him keychains shaped like nuclear missiles as token gifts. He saw clock radios shaped like nuclear missiles in Pakistani stores.
Furthermore, like any big program, it attracts a constituency of scientists, contractors, and so on, who have a direct interest in its continuation. He noted that Candidate Clinton campaigned against SDI, but President Clinton funded it every year. He thinks that, if Iran hasn’t already hit the political point of no return, they will very soon.
Someone asked if the liberal Iranian student movement might lead to disarmament. Just the opposite; the dissident students are big proponents of nuclear arms. They’ve conducted multiple demonstrations in support of the nuclear programs. He mentioned a conversation with one of the student leaders, who said that he hated the mullahs, he hated their character and their rules, and he was afraid that they were going to trade their nuclear program away.”
Which corresponds, approximately, to some parts of the South Korean case:
“And from the mid-1980s on some maverick intellectuals associated with the security (but not the nuclear) establishment in the South argued openly that it should obtain its own nuclear weapons, especially after the South Korean military dictatorship was overthrown in 1987. One even stood for parliament on a "nuclear nationalist" platform.”
Obviously, if the U.S. had operated with the same regard for regional balance in the Middle East as it did in the Korean peninsula, punishing those in the U.S. who supplied Israel with nuclear materials (probably the most criminal act ever committed by that Ur-monster, the CIA’s James Angleton) and cajoling Israel into giving up its nuclear commitment, we would have a much stronger hand to play in the Middle East today. To say nothing of Reagan’s tolerance of the Pakistani nuclear program.
The end result of this history is that the U.S., whatever its policy towards Iran, is burdened from the beginning by a lack of credibility that does not leak through the U.S. press at all.
Some blog notes. You’ll notice, we changed our motto. Yes, we are quoting ourselves – something we came across due to a google searcher who came to our site looking for “midget” +president. And as to those of you wondering when the interminable preparations for the great LI donation-a-thon will start, well, materializing – our sense is that most charitable contributions in January are naturally heading tsunami-relief-ward. The truth is, LI would rather you did contribute your pence, at the moment, to the tsunami relief charities. But we promise, like a mosquito, we will soon be coming back to beg for tiny bits of your blood.