Nuclear Proliferation: A Neo-Con Goal?

While it has been discovered that former President Bill Clinton had made preparations for a military strike, during the last 5 years the American government has largely stood by and passively watched, and thanks specifically to Mr. Bolton’s efforts, North Korea has been both largely free and indirectly encouraged to reprocess rods from Yongbyon.

More recently the rhetoric of Mr. Bush and the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have continued to undermined those actively seeking diplomatic solutions to this problem even as North Korea plans for its first nuclear weapons test. The recent Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review also offered a chance for the American government to demonstrate its resolve in preserving a nuclear weapons free world. The collapse of this most recent review and efforts to change the NPT were not unique, as this has happened before. What was new was the complete lack of effort and deliberate lack of diplomatic pressure from Washington to try and salvage the treaty or make any needed changes. Such lack of action echoes Mr. Bolton’s similarly deliberate failure to curb North Korean nuclear ambitions.

Some assumed the policies of Mr. Bolton were an aberration or work of a maverick. However, if this were true, it would seem strange to reward a maverick operating outside of administration policy with a new U.N. post. The administration also couldn’t be blind to the fact that reprocessing was occurring unabated at Yongbyon during these 5 years where diplomacy was clearly failing. Finally, given the similar actions of Ms. Rice and the deliberate lack of action by the American government at the NPT review, one is left to presume a nuclear armed North Korea and nuclear proliferation represents the desired outcome of the Bush administration.

Let’s consider what the benefits are to the Bush administration if North Korea conducts a successful nuclear test and nuclear proliferation becomes the norm rather than the exception it remains today?

First, it blunts the anti-war movement in South Korea, where in past times students often violently protested against the presence of American troops and tactical nuclear weapons. South Korea is also very useful as a forward deployment point should war with China become necessary. By contrast, if or when the government in Pyongyang collapses and a unified Korea finally emerges, it is very likely to be one that desires full demilitarization and complete withdrawal of American forces and bases.

Similarly, a nuclear armed North Korea will encourage further militarization of Japan. This will make it even easier politically to forward deploy missile defense resources on the Japanese home islands. It will likely lead to a re-arming of Japan, which, given the shortage of American troops in the world today, would offer a new resource. While it could be argued that the Japanese home islands are already the largest carrier in the American pacific fleet, this would complete the process of creating an Asian Britain and a well armed counterweight to China.

The value of Japanese troops in any future land war in Asia cannot be understated. The United States today finds itself in much the same position as Britain at the end of its empire. Like Britain, it is likely the US will never again arm and train millions of conscript soldiers to fight a land war to maintain its empire. 

Like Britain after the Great War, the US depends on superior kill rates and training to make up for a lack of numbers. These remain effective against nations even with much larger but poorly trained armies. However, as Britain found in Dunkirk, this does not help when facing a military power with similar levels of training or superior tactics, and which also possesses a much larger number of such troops. Perhaps in as little as one decade, the Chinese will be able to deploy such a large scale and equally well trained military if it so chooses. Secondly, while the rather small US military is able through high kill rates and superior tactics to achieve effective battlefield victories, it lacks the numbers needed to effectively occupy and control nations it can easily defeat. This is most apparent when facing asymmetric insurgencies, as Iraq well demonstrates. Like occupiers of the past, the US has chosen to use fear and terror to make up for a lack of troop strength as the primary means to suppress insurgencies and maintain control.

One solution to the problem of maintaining imperial control would be nuclear weapons. Our ability to deploy such weapons with pinpoint accuracy on population centers anywhere in the world is unrivaled and unmatched. While we have a powerful and unique legacy, even threatening nuclear terror against unarmed population centers for the purpose of maintaining American hegemony would be unthinkable today. Now imagine a world where its plausible thanks to American proliferation efforts that countries like Egypt or Kurdistan could posses a small arsenal and a few missiles, representing a publicly perceived and plausible threat. Imagine in this new world where sometimes unstable small nations, now able to easily obtain nuclear weapons, demonstratively do use them in their conflicts as well as test them. Would it then be as unreasonable to threaten nuclear destruction, should such any small nation choose to interfere or hinder the flow of oil or American corporations?

If we consider the goal of the administration is nuclear proliferation, then the trillion dollar investment in a worldwide nuclear weapons shield for the United States makes considerably more sense. Even if built and deployed to its full potential, such a weapons intercept capability might at best be able to successfully handle and intercept a nuclear strike of less than a dozen missiles. Even China may have sufficient nuclear capability sufficient to saturate and overwhelm such a system. The only state in the world today, and, if the NPT were successful and made effective, perhaps the only state such a system would have been needed for and effective against for the remainder of the 21st century, is North Korea.

Given the size of the investment, it does seem a bit much to invest over a trillion dollars to protect the US from mighty North Korea. Certainly, if the fear of a North Korean threat to the US was so great that it requires a trillion dollar investment, there are and remain other far more direct and incredibly more cost effective means to deal with it.

If, on the other hand, we conclude, that rather than preventing North Korea and other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology enabling many nations to acquire a few nuclear missiles, instead the Bush administration’s goal is to facilitate nuclear proliferation so to enable our ability to leverage our own nuclear arsenal in future conflicts, then such a world-wide shield investment makes an excellent sense, given the large number of similarly armed nations that could be expected to appear in the world.

Furthermore, if using nuclear proliferation as a means to enable securing American dominance through terror by leveraging our nuclear ballistic missile capabilities are indeed the strategic goal of the Bush administration, then it is equally important to assure we remain the only nation with such broad strategic capability. Control and full militarization of space is critical for this purpose. It is interesting then, in addition to a long term trillion dollar investment in missile defense, the current administration is seeking to initiate similar long term investments to militarize and control space.

When taken in the context of desiring nuclear proliferation, other administration actions become easier to understand: the decision to terminate funding for a program that purchased and removed nuclear materials from insecure and unsafe storage in former Soviet Republics; the decision to not secure known Iraq nuclear materials storage locations, even as considerable efforts and resources were made available and effectively used to secure vital locations in Iraq’s oil infrastructure. Finally, there is the strange case of Dr. Khan, whose nuclear proliferation network was permitted to operate over a number of years, and who is now kept under house arrest in Pakistan with access explicitly denied to the IAEA, which would normally be the institution primarily involved in investigating nuclear proliferation.

While nuclear proliferation may be in the long term a strategic interest of this administration, by far the most valuable and immediate fallout from a successful North Korea nuclear test itself are right here at home for Mr. Bush. Should we ever make the mistake of actually capturing Osama, and people begin to suspect that the war on terror is just something cynically used to keep the population in fear and doubt and to pass laws offering ever tighter control over the American public by a fearful ruling elite, well now the administration and those elites behind it will have a brand new threat to use, perhaps one delivered just in time to assure that a fearful American public makes the correct choice again in 2008. This is an administration that rules by fear and intimidation, and those behind it wish to keep it that way.