The fact that two members of the “Axis of Evil” are rushing to build nuclear weapons shows that American and U.N. policy on proliferation is failing. The spread of nukes changes the international balance of power in ways that seriously jeopardize U.S. interests. So it’s time to face the big question: How do we deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran?
Two options most often mentioned are negotiation and the threat of military force. The problem with negotiation is that the political leverage that comes with being a nuclear power is simply too great. For a country such as North Korea, which is geopolitically isolated, a nuclear weapon can be a silver bullet that gives the poverty-stricken nation a way to bully resources from other nations, including more money than the U.S. would be willing to give away in regular negotiations. These benefits include the ability to keep the U.S. from invading and changing the North Korean regime, as well as newfound prestige for President Kim Jong Il, who created international headlines merely by testing a nuclear weapon.
For the fanatically driven Iranian regime, acquiring nukes has equal appeal but for different reasons. Nuclear power would give Tehran the means of raining destruction on its enemies, beginning with Israel, a nation the U.S. is absolutely committed to protecting. Iran’s lunatic leaders thus see having nukes as giving them a power more desirable than any monetary or diplomatic compensation the U.S. could ever hope to provide.
But does that mean America should use its military power against these rogue nations? The U.S. theoretically has more than enough technological and military might to defeat foreign aggressors in most conceivable scenarios. The problem is that over the last 40 years, many within the elite ranks of American leadership have demonstrated an avowed preference for avoiding unpleasant engagements, regardless of the consequences. This determination to avoid conflict at every turn and the inevitable unpopularity of conflicts we do engage in — such as Iraq and Vietnam — makes us less threatening to those who constantly seek to measure the depth of our will.
North Korea and Iran are therefore unlikely to believe our military threats, in spite of our technological capabilities, because they believe the U.S. is more bark than bite.
But what if a nuclear North Korea decides it wants to forcibly reunite with the South, or a nuclear Iran destroys Israel? Would we be willing to sacrifice New York for Seoul, Los Angeles for Jerusalem? Would the U.S. be better off if our allies in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, had nukes of their own so that we weren’t alone in defending them with our nuclear umbrella?
These are hard questions with no easy answers. But it’s time our leaders started hashing them out.