Monday, June 18, 2012

Does EMP possibility justify "zero tolerance" on nukes for North Korea, Iran?

Should the United States and other western nations maintain intransigent positions on the possession of nuclear weapons (and components) by Iran, North Korea, and some other nations?

With Iran, there has been plenty of sabre rattling: threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and cripple oil supplies (maybe effective in the 80s, less convincing now), and talk that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike this spring (echoing 1981).

The New York Times has a recent topics page on just where the wiggle room remains, here The West might allow just a little HEU to lie around, under strict supervision.

With North Korea, which apparently conducted an underground test in 2006 and has been toying with missile capability, it’s even more ambiguous.  Back in 2002, former CIA director George Tenet had testified that North Korea was capable of lobbing a nuclear missile at the Pacific Northwest.  That sounds less credible now.  There’s a wiki summarizing all of this here

Next fall, NBC is going to air a series, “Revolution”, by J. J. Abrams, that appears to be predicated on the idea that a high altitude nuclear blast over the country (or many of them around the world) could knock out electricity forever.  The Washington Times has, in the past, speculated that terrorists could launch a Scud-like missile with a rogue nuclear weapon from off-shore.  TWT was specific in pointing out that the materials could come from Iran, but it’s obvious that they could come from North Korea, or even unpoliced waste left in the former Soviet Union or perhaps poorly secured today in remote parts of Russia.  The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), originally organized with Sam Nunn, has been warning about these possibilities. 

If one connects all the dots, it’s apparent that rogue states (especially North Korea) could still be more dangerous than decentralized terrorists.  That was Bill Clinton’s impression in the 1990s, and he could turn out to be right after all.

But this grim possibility certainly helps explain the reasons why the West wants “zero tolerance” on some states having any nuclear capability at all.  One day, the “Democratic Republic of North Korea” might have a trebuchet capable of reaching the US.  And Iran could, with an electronmagnetic pulse, wipe out Israel, but not without doing so to the West Bank and Arab neighbors (who are Sunni, though).

The pure Libertarian position, dating back to the days of Harry Browne, has been no intervention in foreign countries (isolationism) and perfect missile and ground "defensive driving". 

Picture: NSA, near Baltimore-Washington Parkway, 2009. 

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