The American Interest

In Praise of Nuclear Proliferation

Much nonsense has been spewed following North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12.  Outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta declared that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are a “serious threat” to the United States.  “I don’t know how you come up with a more dangerous scenario than this,” Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, warned on FOX News.  “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace,” President Obama argued.

The implied notion that North Korea’s bomb can or will be used as a means of blackmail to alter the regional balance of power, let alone to threaten a superpower, is not supported by experience.  The United States, Russia (previously the Soviet Union), China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel have possessed nuclear weapons for decades.  But this reality did not affect the outcome in Korea in 1953, or the Suez in 1956, or prevent the two superpowers’ defeats in Vietnam and Afghanistan, respectively.  It makes no difference to China’s stalled efforts to bring Taiwan under her control.  South Africa had developed her own nuclear arsenal in the 1980’s—it has since been dismantled—but this did not enhance her government’s...

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