Sunday, May 24, 2009

North Korea Nuke Test: The Genie's Out of the Bottle

Odds are, North Korea tested a nuclear bomb today. The test is being reported as happening 'tomorrow,' but that seems to be an International Dateline thing: It's getting close to midnight, here in central North America.

North Korea also experienced a significant earthquake 'tomorrow.' (CNN)

It's possible that North Korea's leaders have claimed a naturally-occurring earthquake (the center seems to have been 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, down) as a nuclear test. If so, the earthquake came at a very convenient time for North Korea.

My guess is that, since North Korea seems to have all the materials necessary to build a nuclear bomb, and a variety of reasons for building and testing one, it's likely that there really was a nuclear explosion under North Korea.

The BBC put together an interesting timeline of North Korea's nuclear efforts. Some of them, anyway:
  • Oct 2006 - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test
  • Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
  • June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
  • June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
  • Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
  • Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme after a US decision to suspend energy aid
  • Jan 2009 - The North says it is scrapping all military and political deals with the South, accusing it of "hostile intent"
  • April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
  • 25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test

Self-Defense? Kim Jong Il Might Really Believe That

North Korea's explanation for its nuclear program is that it's protecting itself from America and other mean countries. Kim Jong Il may really believe that.

On the other hand, North Korea's 'Dear Leader' has a history of stepping up weapons programs until he gets concessions from other countries. It's arguable that he isn't all that concerned about foreign threats: but knows that self-defensive over-reaction makes foreigners give him things. Assuming that's what 'Dear Leader' is up to, he's quite good at that sort of negotiation.

I'm not at all sure how sane and sensible Kim Jong Il is: and even less sure how securely fastened to reality his successor will be.

Reuters raised the possibility that Kim Jong Il is acting tough to help make sure one of his sons will succeed him as North Korea's leader. I gather that Kim Jong Il is dealing with a "hardline military" (Reuters), and that defying world leaders will impress them.

That could be so.

A concern I have is that whoever steps into 'Dear Leader's' shoes will believe the propaganda about foreign threats.

Ban the Bomb? Won't Happen

I can't remember a time when 'Ban the Bomb' wasn't either an actively-used slogan, or the idea behind some earnest and (I presume) well-intentioned movement.

I'll agree that nuclear weapons are scary. And, there's an emotional appeal to demonstrating against some technology.

But, nuclear weapons exist. That's the way the world is: and we have to deal with it. It's like the old stories about a genie and a bottle: The genie comes out of the bottle just fine. Getting it back generally doesn't happen.

Banning new technologies has been tried. The crossbow was high-tech weaponry, 870 years ago. The Second Lateran Council had a shot at banning crossbows. It didn't work.

We don't worry about crossbows today, because weapons technology has changed.

But: wouldn't it be nice if nobody needed weapons? I'll get back to that thought.

'North Korea's Just Protecting Itself' - What's the Harm in That?

Reuter's lead paragraph summed up quite well what North Korea claims to be doing: "North Korea said it successfully conducted a nuclear test on Monday, a move certain to further isolate the impoverished state which argues it has no choice but to build an atomic arsenal to protect itself in a hostile world...."

So: Kim Jong Il and North Korea's "hardline military" say they're making nuclear bombs to protect themselves. The North Korean official news reported that " '(North Korea) successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way,'..."

Weapons systems as deterrents, self-defense. That all sounds fairly sensible.

I'd like to live in a world where everybody was nice, and all countries were run by people who were nice, and that all the world's leaders wanted nothing but nice things for everybody.

That's not the way it is.

Like it or not, there are people who are quite distinctly not nice. Some of them wind up leading nations. That can be trouble.

Even 'self defense' can be a threat. Let's take a hypothetical case: one relying on some common stereotypes from American culture.
Bubba and the Revenuers
'Bubba,' a stereotype redneck, lives at the edge of the swamp. He insists, loudly, that he's real peaceable. All he wants is to be left alone.

Bubba inherited a sincere loathing and fear of revenuers. Unhappily, he regards mail carriers, large dogs, and (after about the second six-pack) traffic on the highway as "revenuers."

Since his policy is to shoot revenuers on sight, he's a homicide waiting to happen.
Back to North Korea
I've been over this idea before: "...Nations are Not All Identical" (April 5, 2009). Some nations safe neighbors. Some are more like the hypothetical 'Bubba.'

I hope that North Korea's 'Dear Leader' is really a crafty negotiator with eccentric personal habits. And, that the next North Korean leader doesn't believe the government's propaganda.

Unilateral Disarmament?!

I didn't notice this in today's news, but someone's almost certain to raise the tired old 'give peace a chance' idea: disarm; unilaterally; stop frightening North Korea, and then Kim Jong Il and company will be nice.

Nice as that sounds, I don't think it would be a good idea. Given the probable range of North Korea's missiles - which are presumably for launching communications satellites - I'm safely out of range. Even so, I'd hate to see Tokyo, Beijing, or Anchorage disappear in a bright flash.

It's hard to say just how likely it is that North Korea - or any other country - will launch a nuclear 'communications satellite' at a 'hostile' country. But, I think it's a very real possibility. And so, I rather hope that America and other countries continue to develop anti-missile systems.

Not that ICBMs are the only threat.

But, that's getting into another topic.

Related posts: In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.