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March 4, 2018

The Threat, North Korean and The Other

Reuel S. Amdur

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North Korea's Kim Jong Un shows no sign of curtailing his nuclear ambitions. His nasty rhetoric displays an attitude that makes him a threat to the whole world. Atomic weapons constitute such a threat. However, we should not overlook where else the threat comes from. Just for starters, there is Donald Trump's equally belligerent rhetoric, noting that his nuclear button is "much bigger" than Kim's.

The larger picture is one in which nuclear weapons are the military insurance that nations rely on. 

The United States was the first to successfully develop—and its case, to use—them.  The Soviet Union followed, then France, then Israel.  Courtesy of Canadian assistance—for power generation—India entered the race, followed naturally by Pakistan. 

Efforts at reining in nuclear capabilities have had at best limited success.  The United States and Russia have had sputtering on and off negotiations to try to curtail stockpiles, but they want to maintain their nuclear insurance.  Trump has made it clear that nuclear weapons are an essential part of his military strategy.  The US and Russia continue to develop new systems, so that any reduction in stockpiles largely entails elimination of obsolescent and depleted weapons.

Currently, the pressure is on Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons capabilities.  One of the most vociferous countries demanding Iran’s halt to going nuclear is Israel.  It wants to maintain its nuclear advantage in the region.  Not surprisingly, Iran does not necessarily agree, though economic pressures have at least temporarily prevented it from going full steam ahead.

North Korea sees the bomb as its equalizer.  It is well aware of what happened to the Ukraine.  When the Soviet Union imploded, some nuclear weapons materials remained on Ukrainian soil.  A 1994 accord, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, guaranteed it against threats to its territorial integrity and independence in exchange for giving up its nuclear materials.  The full guarantee was signed by the US, Russia, and Britain.  We all know what happened to that guarantee, and so does Kim Jong Un.  He wants some of that insurance.

Yes, North Korean nuclear developments are a threat to the world, but so are those of other nations, particularly the US and Russia but also France, Israel, India, Pakistan, etc.  We need to have drastic de-escalation, with rapid movement to zero and leadership to that end by the US and Russia.  It is not about to happen.

As an example of how change needs to occur, consider Mikhail Gorbachev’s unilateral de-escalation of the Cold War.  He didn’t wait for some unlikely agreement.  He just did it.  Trump and Putin are not made of the same stuff. 

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