For reasons having nothing to do with anything except curiosity, a very thick book on the subject and a beach vacation during which to read it, I began my blogging career with a fixation on North Korea, e.g., here, here, here, here, here and perhaps most chillingly, here. I went on like that for awhile, simultaneously fascinated and horrified by a country without parallel on the planet… a true vision of hell for the vast majority caught in its maw. NoKo remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma and yet, ironically, far more predictable than most.
Thus I read with eagerness this piece by Nathan Hughes yesterday over at Stratfor over lunch just now. In it he outlines what 64 years of history teach us about how nuclear weapons change (or, more accurately don’t change) geopolitical and strategic realities, how incredibly hard they are to pull off, and what NoKo’s successful 20-kiloton-confirmed (i.e., Hiroshima-plus) test of a device might mean for the world.
Hughes categorizes nuclear programs into three types:
‘Legacy’, e.g., Britain, France… We can’t remember exactly why we thought we needed ‘em… and we probably don’t anymore… but why go to the trouble of throwing them away? (reminds me of most government programs…)
‘Peer’, e.g., India/Pakistan, US/USSR… programs borne of a specific rivalry that pre-dated the weapons and which continues under ‘MAD’ rules with them, and
‘Bargaining’, e.g., any number of states that have threatened and/or begun to develop programs
He goes on to note that Iran and NoKo each have something special in the way of conventional deterrence that enables them to pursue a nuclear program without serious threat of it being squashed in infancy (or later). In NoKo’s case that means conventional annihilation of Seoul within hours. In Iran’s case it means interfering with oil shipments and/or escalating a variety of lower-level conflicts across the region.
What Hughes seems to miss is a category of nuclear program (or rather, of objectives for such a program) that defies any such categorization. For lack of a better term, let’s call it Fear and Loathing. It is a mostly emotional motivation and thus does not fit into any neat strategic framework, from Stratfor or anyone else.
It’s a Hollywood-monomaniacal hatred for one specific enemy so immense that nothing else matters except the destruction of that enemy, even if it means your own destruction in the process. (In each case there is in place a framework for greater martyr-like glory). For NoKo that object is SoKo and, secondarily, the U.S., which supports it. For Iran it is Israel… and, secondarily, the U.S., which supportsed it. Anyone notice a pattern here?
Both are rooted in historical hatreds and humiliations so deeply felt by the hating party that they can scarcely be understood much less plumbed. These are the polar opposite, it should be noted, of brotherly love and forgiveness.) In each case, their perceived nemesis is at worst irritated and wary (Israel) and at best overwhelmingly forgiving (SoKo) of the megalomaniacal nuclear teenager threatening them.
Earlier in the article Hughes notes, appropriately, that “wars of immense risk are born of desperation”, going on to note that once the US-Soviet Cold War conflict had faded into history the “fear that the other side would engage in a war that was on its face irrational” proved to be unfounded. That’s reassuring, but it doesn’t prove that all future conflicts will be bounded by such rational calculation.
If we take this up a level, we know from scripture that satan’s days are numbered (and probably very short at this point), that he knows this only too well, and that the conflicts we see around us, both large and small, are really manifestations of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12):
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Even a cursory study of Kim Jong-Il makes it plain that if there is still a shred of a God-created man in there who is not yet controlled by satan, he is very small and very weak. Despite his rhetoric, KJI is a puppet of evil in virtually all aspects of his known life. It is also intriguing to contemplate Shi’ia Islamic prophecy about the 12th Mahdi and realize that he looks and sounds much like the Christian antichrist described in Revelation.
I.e., their coming-soon good guy is our coming-soon bad guy. Iran’s Ahmadinejad, as much as he may be shrewd, calculating and far more robust than KJI, is in satan’s box-seat cheering section, salivating over the prospect of surpassing Hitler with a six-minute Holocaust while the West turns its back on God’s land.
So where does that leave us?
With two regimes whose leaders do not subscribe to our notions of rationality and strategic calculation (because their over-arching objective is nihilistic, otherworldly, and specifically satanic). With two regimes whose behind-the-scenes choreographer is desperate to spread chaos and despair before Christ comes back. With two regimes who aren’t likely to look at the history books and the end-game scenarios for first-use of nuclear weapons and decide to them on the back shelf.
They differ, of course. Most fail to realize that Ahmadinejad means what he says about Israel and will pounce as soon as he is capable of doing so. Most fail to comprehend that, in KJI’s mind, the Korean war has always been ‘hot’ and that, like Ahmadinejad, KJI is restrained only by capability, not conscience. Where are those boats anyway?