Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Word is Flat, says North Korea

The nuclear bomb cycle has turned a full circle, or at least almost, with North Korea exploding a plutonium device on October 9.

The first test explosion of an atom bomb was at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The US used it on August 6 the same year over Hiroshima and three days later over Nagasaki to end World War II. The Soviet Union also got its hands on it and the world lived on the brink of a full-scale nuclear war for four decades.

In the eighties, President Ronald Reagan of the US and Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev ended the Cold War during which mercifully N-arms were not used but many smaller countries waged conventional war on behalf of the Big Two.

The end of Cold War left only the Big One on the scene and the field opened out for others to proclaim leadership and power. “If you can have it, why can’t we?” that’s the simple question the US is asked about nuclear weapons. The US reply mostly is: “Quietly we will accept you, if you are a responsible and well-behaved nation.”

It’s on this principle that the US and the UK have been saying that it is okay for India to have nuclear weapons but not Iran or North Korea. Implicit in this is India’s transformation.

In the international comity of nations there is this division of “good guys” and “bad guys”. Of course the parameters have always been set by the US. We were really “bad guys” in spite of all our good credentials till the 1990s. With the same credentials, today we have been shifted (by the US) to the “good” side of the divide. And the shift has brought with it a number of troubles too for us. That’s a different matter altogether.

The real power of a nuclear weapon is not in its explosion, but in its use as a device to bargain, to blackmail and to threaten. India realised this with lot of discomfiture in the May to July 1999 conflict in Kargil and in the build-up of troops on the border following the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament. Pakistan bluntly said it would use the nuclear bomb if India attacked it. India had no answer.

Israel can attack the Hezbollah in Lebanon, because Hezbollah or Lebanon or Palestine doesn’t have a nuclear bomb. The US attacked Iraq because Saddam Hussein didn’t have a nuclear bomb. Iran is possibly developing nuclear weapons capability as a protective measure. Now, North Korea is cleverly using the bomb trick. And the rest of the world is left scratching their heads, and wondering if the many little villains scattered across the globe also get hold of this bomb.

Probably this is also North Korea’s way of telling Thomas Friedman that The World is Flat not just because of information technology.


  1. Good post. The division of responsible vs. irresponsible guys looks like a good idea in theory, but since the parameters are not set, this becomes perceived threat to US as the guiding principle. Actually the NPT could have been drafted in a way that there is a way to measure the "responsibility" in terms of inspections and guidelines and allow them to develop. The three countries that did not sign NPT are nuclear now. And they are all blessed by the US - India, Pak and Israel!
    (The only country that used Atom Bomb is the US and the only country that went for aggression after WW is the US too. I am not being anti-US.)

  2. What you have mentioned is very true. Yes, NPT could have been restructured. The desire of the US to keep the nuclear club as an exclusive one has been dashed. They set it up, and now they only will have to dismantle it.