What Will the World’s Tyrants Learn from the Libyan War? Get Nukes!

Summary:  Events in Iraq and Libya show the two-tier nature of the 21st century geopolitical system.  First tier nations are those with nuclear weapons, or are so large or powerful as to be almost immune from conventional attack.  Everybody else must ally with a great power, or avoid angering them.  As the march of technology makes nukes (and other WMDs) ever easier to use, we can look forward to the next Axis of Evil being far more dangerous.  They’ll devote whatever resources necessary to retain their sovereignty.

From Libya’s Lessons for North Korea, Jeffrey Lewis (Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, Monterey Institute of International Studies; bio here), Arms Control Wonk, 21 March 2011:

Hey, remember when Bush Administration officials tried to convince Kim Jong Il that he could get the same denuclearization deal Bush gave Qadhafi? Yeah, the last couple of days might explain why Kim didn’t think it was such a great idea.

From the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK, 22 March 2011:

A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Tuesday as regards the U.S. military attack on Libya:

… The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson. It was fully exposed before the world that “Libya′s nuclear dismantlement” much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one′s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world. The DPRK was quite just when it took the path of Songun and the military capacity for self-defence built up in this course serves as a very valuable deterrent for averting a war and defending peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Strip away the trappings and we see an unfortunate but true insight.  The more often we overthrow governments, no matter how fine our motives, the greater the incentive for nations to either ally with a great power — or get nukes (and, as technology evolves, other WMDs).   Saddam would be in power today if he had nukes.  The Libyan rebels would be fighting with little or no western aid if Gaddafi had bought a nuke.  Iran would be more secure today if they had built nukes.  North Korea’s rules are, in this sense, the smartest of the Axis of Evil.

To understand this better Lewis recommends that we read “Non-proliferation and the Dilemmas of Regime Change“, Robert S. Litwak (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; bio here), Survival, Winter 2003-2004 — Excerpt, discussing Iran and North Korea but of wider applicability in the 21st century:

Yet because of the administration’s conflicted attitude toward the two goals of regime change on the one hand and reassurance on the other, Washington continues to send a mixed message.  The source of this confusion is the policy tension between the long-term US aspiration for regime change (or profound regime evolution) and the near-term imperative of diplomatic engagement with both countries on the nuclear issue.  In managing this tension, a major challenge is ensuring that the deterrence and reassurance components are in sync, so that military moves for purposes of deterrence do not undercut the message of political reassurance and thereby provide a further incentive to two countries to cross the nuclear threshold.

For more information about atomic weapons

  1. New articles of interest about Syria’s nukes, 27 April 2008
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 February 2009
  3. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009
  4. Jeremy Hammond explains why Iran’s New Nuclear Site is Much Ado About Nothing”, 30 September 2009
  5. Stratfor debunks myths about nuclear weapons and terrorism, 8 October 2009
  6. Follow-up on America’s latest wetting our pants episode: Iran’s secret atomic facility, 13 November 2009
  7. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 20 January 2010
  8. Stratfor discusses the Jihadist WMD Threat, 14 July 2010
  9. Conservatives oppose the new START treaty, as they opposed even the earlier version negotiated by Ronald Reagan, 24 July 2010

Originally published at Fabius Maximus and reproduced here with permission.