Recently, North Korea and Iran have been in the news for their nuclear disobedience. Undoubtedly, these are scary regimes, but they raise an interesting question: what are the limits on national sovereignty? On one hand, they are very much within their rights as sovereign nations to produce nuclear weapons, particularly given the neighbours each country has – N. Korea has China breathing down its neck, while Iran is sitting on a ticking time bomb with the Iraqi fiasco, the sectarian violence, Israel (from Iran’s point of view), and an awakened bully on the block, the United States.
In my mind, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is clearly not fair. Just like the United Nations, it is a relic of a previous era, institutionalising inequities in global power. Therefore, one might sort of sympathise with Tehran and Pyongyang along those lines. However, there are other factors at play here: Ahmedinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and Kim Jong Il is the leader of a nation that challenges to outdo the Taliban in the depravity it shows towards its people. Do we want such people to have access to weapons of mass destruction?
Of course, if we ask that of Iran and N. Korea, it might also be argued that we could ask the Soviet Union, China, and Pakistan the same questions. Stalin’s USSR was scarcely different from Mao’s China – both these leaders are in the top three of all-time genocidal maniacs. Pakistan, admittedly, is not Stalinist Russia, nor is it Mao’s China, despite the atrocities in East Pakistan in 1970. However, AQ Khan and his network has proven beyond doubt that his country cannot be trusted with the holy grail of weapons.
The Soviets have made some amends after Stalin…today, as bad as the situation might be in Russia, it is certainly not an Iran or N. Korea. China, despite its flagrant violations of human dignity, has also improved since the 1950s and 1960s.
The question for us now is, what do we tell Iran and N. Korea? Is it permissible for them to misbehave and disregard international opinion (India, China, and France have done this too), or do we clamp down on them hard? Surely, Tehran is eyeing Pyongyang already with envy – Kim has proven yet again that no one attacks a nuclear nation. No wonder Iran is pushing ahead desperately. Once Tehran acquires a nuclear device, we permanently forego our ability to threaten the Iranian leadership.
It is my belief that we need another Operation Babylon (Ofra, Opera) against both, Iran and N. Korea. This is not a matter of legality or sovereignty but of threat perception. Iran is a danger for its neighbours as is N. Korea. No nuclear power has ever made a threat against another nation (except China, which goes to underscore my suggestion that China is an almost-rogue nation), and we cannot allow either of these two upstarts to do so now. We must act soon before Pyongyang scatters its nuclear eggs around the country, making it harder for us to get them. And by the way, Russia, China, the United States, and Israel are the only nations in a position to carry out any such mission…power always accrues to the bold and powerful.