Everybody else is nuking it, so why can’t we?

The Korean Central News Agency may have announced a nuclear test that “brought happiness to our military and people” (interesting to see the order of priorities) but it’s made the rest of the world highly uneasy. It’s too early to say whether they’re telling the truth, or the detected blast was conventional, but Kim Jong Il has certainly upset lots of people – including some South Korean protesters who were so incensed that they made a doll of him that looked exactly like the puppet from Team America. So if even the world’s most terrifyingly wacky regime is now a nuclear power, why shouldn’t Australia cobble together a few nuclear weapons as well? All the cool kids are doing it.

Iran’s thought to be very close to developing nuclear weapons as well, so this could mean that both the remaining rogue states that comprise the Axis of Evil will have the bomb. (The third, Iraq, seems to be doing perfectly well at killing US troops and civilians with good old fashioned conventional bombs.) Combine that with Pakistan, which everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten is a military dictatorship since General Musharraf renamed himself President and started helping with Al Qaeda, and there are several countries who non-nuclear powers like ourselves would really rather didn’t have the bomb.

Why have these countries rushed to develop the bomb? Like so many dumb things in recent years, it comes back to Iraq. With President Bush devoting enormous resources to a fairly foolish exercise in regime change, and backing it up with a “Bush Doctrine”, if you can credit anything he the man says with such a high-falutin’ title, based around spreading democracy/chaos everywhere, no self-respecting dictator can afford to rest on their self-awarded laurels. North Korea is using the idea of a potential US attack to justify its bomb, but really, it has good reason to believe it might be targeted. After all, although Kim Jong Il loves rattling his sabre, Bush is the one who’s actually launched a nutty invasion.

The great thing about nuclear weapons, of course, is they pretty much guarantee you won’t be invaded. Only the loopiest leader – or perhaps one who perceived himself as the instrument of the Apocalypse, shall we say? – would countenance invading a nuclear power. So their recent acquisition by India and Pakistan has probably quietened things down in Kashmir, bizarrely enough, because both parties know they can’t risk a full-scale war.

In Korea, though, the equation isn’t changed too much by Kim having nukes at his disposal. His border with South Korea is already the world’s most heavily fortified. Seoul is very close by, and has always had dozens of conventional rockets pointed at it. This has prevented an invasion of North Korea for decades. So for the South, the nukes are basically just yet another reason to be freaked out.

But what this will do is escalate the regional arms race. Japan is North Korea’s other major enemy, and they may well want their own nuclear battery. Other nearby countries, like the Philippines and Thailand, might well decide that they too need the capacity to obliterate an opponent. So the “Pax Americana” that has prevailed for decades, where the region’s stability has been guaranteed by American strength, could be at an end.

Will every tinpot dictator have nuclear weapons soon? And if so, how long until they start holding the rest of us to ransom? It might mean some North Koreans got to eat for once, admittedly.

So, if this is the logic of security in Asia, if this is the only way we can stay secure, shouldn’t we get some nukes of our very own? You know, just in case Indonesia, PNG or New Zealand gets frisky. Can we really trust America, with its twin tendencies towards isolationism and improper interference?

But we shouldn’t stop there. Sure, there isn’t open war between Australia’s states at the moment, but can we really trust those sneaky Victorians? They’re already at boiling point because they haven’t had a team in the AFL Grand Final for years – would a third consecutive Swans appearance next September spark off a military reprisal? And Western Australia’s always wanted to secede – they even voted in 1933 to leave the rest of us. If they got the bomb, we wouldn’t be able to stop them.

Lots of gun nuts – sorry, special guest from America – have recently been arguing on this blog that personal firearms are essential security. By the same token, shouldn’t we install a battery of missiles in all of our backyards? That’ll make the neighbours think twice before they let their trees grow over our back fence.

North Korea is probably the most perversely awful country in the world, where citizens starve but the state develops high-priced weaponry. It really would be great to get rid of Kim Jong Il. But we can’t. In fact, we’ve never been able to, really. So we’ll simply have to go on waiting for the regime to implode. What a wonderful world.

Dominic Knight

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