Tuesday October 10, 2006
North Korea's nuclear test is only the latest failure of the west's proliferation policy. And it demonstrates the need to return to the proven methods of multilateral disarmament. Far from being crazy, the North Korean policy is quite rational. Faced with a US government that believes the communist regime should be removed from the map, the North Koreans pressed ahead with building a deterrent. George Bush stopped the oil supplies to North Korea that had been part of a framework to end its nuclear programme previously agreed with Bill Clinton. Bush had already threatened pre-emptive war - Iraq-style - against a regime he dubbed as belonging to the axis of evil.
double standard, hanging on to nuclear weapons for themselves and their friends while denying them to others. Like alcoholics condemning teenage drinking, the nuclear powers have made the spread of nuclear weapons the terror of our age, distracting attention from their own behaviour. Western leaders refuse to accept that our own actions encourage others to follow suit.
North Korea's action has now increased the number of nuclear weapon states to nine. Since 1998 India, Pakistan and now North Korea have joined America, China, France, Russia, Israel and the UK.
The domino effect is all too obvious. Britain wants nuclear weapons so long as the French do. India said it would build one if there were no multilateral disarmament talks. Pakistan followed rapidly. In Iran and the Arab world Israel's bomb had always been an incentive to join in. But for my Iranian friends, waking up to a Pakistani bomb can be compared to living in a non-nuclear Britain and waking up to find Belgium had tested a nuclear weapon.
East Asia is unlikely to be different. In 2002 Japan's then chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, told reporters that "depending on the world situation, circumstances and public opinion could require Japan to possess nuclear weapons". The deputy cabinet secretary at the time, Shinzo Abe - now Japan's prime minister - said afterwards that it would be acceptable for Japan to develop small, strategic nuclear weapons.
It was not supposed to be like this. At the end of the cold war, disarmament treaties were being signed, and in 1996 the big powers finally agreed to stop testing nuclear weapons for the first time since 1945. The public, the pressure groups and the media all breathed a great sigh of relief and forgot about the bomb. Everyone thought that with the Soviet Union gone, multilateral disarmament would accelerate.
But with public attention elsewhere, the Dr Strangeloves in Washington, Moscow and Paris stopped the disarmament process and invented new ideas requiring new nuclear weapons. A decade ago, Clinton's Pentagon placed "non-state actors" (ie terrorists) on the list of likely targets for US nuclear weapons. Now all the established nuclear states are building new nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration made things worse. First, it rejected the policy of controlling armaments through treaties, which had been followed by previous presidents since 1918. Second, it proposed to use military - even nuclear - force in a pre-emptive attack to prevent proliferation. This policy was used as a pretext for attacking Iraq and may now be used on either Iran or North Korea. More pre-emptive war will produce suffering and chaos, while nothing is done about India, Israel and Pakistan. So we are left with a policy of vigilante bravado for which we have sacrificed the proven methods of weapons control.
Fortunately, there is a realistic option. Max Kampelman, Ronald Reagan's nuclear negotiator, has proposed that Washington's top priority should be the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction on earth, including those possessed by the US. At the ongoing disarmament meetings at the UN, the vast majority of nations argue for a phased process to achieve this goal. They can point to the success of the UN inspectors in Iraq as proof that international inspection can work, even in the toughest cases. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that removed the missiles from Greenham is an example of an agreement no one thought possible that worked completely. This, and other legacies from the cold war, can and should be applied globally.
A group of Britain's closest allies, including South Africa and Ireland, are trying to broker a deal on global disarmament. Tragically, Britain won't be helping. Political parties and the media are deaf to these initiatives. The three main parties all follow more or less the US approach. They know that no US government will lease the UK a successor to Trident if London steps out of line on nuclear weapons policy. The media almost never report on UN disarmament debates. Disarmament has become the word that dare not be said in polite society.
Do we have to wait for another pre-emptive war or until the Japanese go nuclear before the British political class comes to realise that there can be a soft landing from these nuclear crises?
· Dan Plesch, a fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies and Keele University, is the author of The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace