Monday 8 June 2009

Uninventing the wheel.

I don't want Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It's just a bad, bad idea. But the thing about atomic bombs is that they are now sixty-year-old technology. As you'd expect, after sixty years, they're not particularly high technology either. Not like they used to be. Schoolkids can tell you how to make them. It's only getting hold of the materials that makes building them a bit tricky. And how long is that going to last?

Imagine if we decided to stop, say, the Mongolians from developing mobile phones, or microchips, or solar panels, or satellites, or lasers or holograms or any of a whole bunch of things which may have been around a while but are still far younger than atom bombs. Could we have done it? Indefinitely? Does that sound like a realistic project?

Even if we do stop today's psycho nutters from getting hold of the things (which would rather require Barack bloody Obama wanting to stop them), we're just putting off the inevitable. Soon enough, an extremist maniac will have a fission bomb, if we're lucky, or a fusion bomb if we're not.

So, for me, all this talk of whether the Ayatollahs and Kim Jong-Il ought to have nuclear weapons rather misses the point. Let's assume they will have them. What then?

All I can see are three options.

One, try Mutually Assured Destruction again. To be fair, it totally worked in the Cold War, and seems to have kept Pakistan and India merely at each other's throats rather than dancing around in showers of blood. But it requires two things to work. It requires both parties to be basically rational and want their people to survive. The Iranians used their own children to clear minefields in the Iran-Iraq War and are rather fond of martyrdom. Kim Jong-Il is batshit crazy. And it also requires a lack of deniability. As the Sudanese are all too aware, the world's powers have become so legalistic that all you need is the faintest hint that you might not be lying when you say "It weren't me!" and they'll refuse to act. Everyone knows how you destroy London: you put the nuke in a car and deny everything. Intercontinental ballistic missiles are traceable, and therefore passe.

Two, you can ensure that any countries that do get hold of nuclear weapons find their leadership class suddenly lacking in insanity. This can only really be achieved by getting rid of the insane ones. This is my favoured option, I don't mind saying, but just look at the fuss over the last few years over the US overthrowing a man who weaponised aflatoxin — aflatoxin, for crying out loud — and replacing his brutal murderous regime with the region's second-freest society. Fair to say, it wouldn't go down well.

And then there's option three: die.


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