Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

No New Zealanders allowed

So if you aren’t in New Zealand or Hawaii you probably haven’t heard that 2 naval frigates from New Zealand have been forced to moor at a commercial dock in Hawaii rather than at the military  facility at Pearl Harbour. The reason is that a law New Zealand passed in 1987 banned nuclear power and weapons from our fair shores. Because the US Navy would neither confirm or deny that individual vessels had nuclear weapons or nuclear material onboard, it effectively banned US naval ships from New Zealand, ending the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) alliance. In retaliation New Zealand vessels aren’t allowed to moor with other countries’ vessels at Pearl Harbour during the world’s largest naval exercise, RimPac. I don’t think anyone in New Zealand cares that we have to park our 2 little ships away from the big boys. We certainly aren’t going to give up our nuclear free stance over it.

I also don’t think that many people anywhere else would care that New Zealand is not moored with other navies, and I think plenty would support our nuclear free stance anyway, especially in the wake of the Fukushima incident. The US’s actions in this case miss the point of the whole situation, like that movie:

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Some reasons for people to chill out over North Korea

In an earlier post I explained why I think Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are kinda scary. Continuing on this theme, here are a few reasons why I think North Korea’s missile test and possible nuclear test aren’t things to stress about:

  • North Korean leaders are not insane – they want to remain in power. When you are isolated and threatened by much bigger, more well armed opponents it can be useful to appear insane because people will be wary of you. Having nuclear weapons will mean that the North Korean regime will continue to be propped up by international (primarily Chinese) food aid because the world is scared of what North Korea will do if it starts to collapse. Developing a missile just means that the threat of North Korea going nuts isn’t as hollow, because they have a delivery system for their nukes now. Using a nuke as an offensive weapon would be suicidal on the part of North Korea’s leaders, and I really don’t think they want to be nuked themselves.
  • Following on from the previous point, this exercise is about the North Korean leadership maintaining internal control as well. Nothing like a missile test and setting off a nuke to get the people cheering for your weird Stalinist quasi-monarchy thing you have going on.
  • No one, least of all China and the US, wants war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea knows this so it can push the boundaries knowing it is safe from retribution. Case in point, the torpedo attack on that South Korean naval ship a while back. Ballistic missile and nuclear tests are naughty, but definitely not naughty enough to go to war over.
  • Breaking a UN Security Council Resolution, as these tests will, doesn’t actually mean anything unless there’s actions the UN members can take to punish you. North Korea’s already diplomatically isolated and under economic sanctions, so what can the big boys do except cutting off aid or military action – neither of which they will do because they don’t want North Korea firing off a nuke as it is attacked and/or collapses because it can no longer feed its citizens.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are effectively a way of ensuring the long-term survival of the Pyongyang regime – something akin to a guy in a crowded room holding a hand grenade and threatening to pull the pin unless his demands are met. Odds are he won’t do it, but no one will want to take that risk.

It is important to note that China also wants North Korea to survive, as it provides a useful buffer between China and the liberal capitalist ally of the US in the form of South Korea. Having a land border with such a state is not something the Chinese government wants to have to deal with. At the same time, although the US and South Korea would both rather North Korea did not exist the cost of  making this happen would be far too high to contemplate.


Enough about Iran, lets talk Pakistan

There is a country which has well-publicised links to extremist Islamic terrorists, has a long-standing beef with one of its neighbours,  is dangerously unstable, and has around 100 nukes ready to go… and surprise, surprise, it is not Iran.

Leaving aside the question of whether Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and what that might mean, Pakistan is still the number one risk for something unpleasant going down. North Korea might enjoy rattling its sabre and low-key showing off its giant-breeding programme but Pyongyang knows its nukes are effectively a bargaining tool and a defensive weapon, and are highly unlikely to ever use them. There is always a risk of a collapsing North Korean regime firing off its nukes in a final blaze of un-glory or selling nuclear secrets/weapons to other regimes/terrorists, and although these are scary scenarios they are not as pressing as the issue of Pakistan.

Pakistan is after all a country where a handful of militants can storm a military base and hold it for 16 hours, and where a terror suspect with a $10,000,000 bounty on his head can live in the open, taunting a government that is in theory an ally of his own. And don’t forget that the Taliban already have control over a sizeable chunk of Pakistan. Meanwhile, despite their leaders attending cricket games together, India and Pakistan are still an incident away from full-blown war. Overall then the risk of something scary and nuclear happening in Pakistan is probably higher than any other country by a considerable distance. Islamic extremists steal a nuke? Nuclear war with India? State collapse and lost nukes in the chaos? With so many potential scenarios it must be about time for a Tom Clancy novel on the subject. Maybe this is why Pakistan is stoking the fire in the Iran nuke debate – to divert the world’s eyes from their own impending sh*tstorm. Still, it is nice to see a nuclear power not being a hypocritical dickwad to Iran like all the others.

So why doesn’t Pakistan’s situation get more attention? I don’t recall it being mentioned at all during the recent nuclear  security summit in South Korea, which included Pakistan as a participant. My take on it is that Pakistan is almost too much of a threat to stability and security in South Asia to be told to buck up its act. It is, despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, a vital “ally” in the war in Afghanistan and is a big power thanks largely to those very nukes. Furthermore there is the very hard question of what can be done about it. Clearly stabilising the Pakistani state would help a lot but given the current political situation in Pakistan this seems unlikely. If India gave up its nukes there is perhaps a chance Pakistan would too, but I wouldn’t bet on it – regardless of whether India has nukes, Pakistan having them is a good deterrent against India. Plus India wouldn’t want to give up their nukes unless China gave up theirs, and China wouldn’t unless the US and Russia gave up theirs, and they wouldn’t until Britain, France, and North Korea gave up theirs and if all that happened then it might actually be useful to have some nukes because they could thaw hell out of its deep-freeze. At least Israel would still have some…

So yeah, its kind of one of those problems without an easy answer. Makes you just want to ignore it and go chasing Joseph Kony through the African jungle or something. Of course if it is ignored it might just stay as it is with a risk there but nothing actually happening. However, with US and Chinese aid and support Pakistan might be able to stabilise and stamp out the extremists, and come to some sort of long-term understanding with India to reduce the risk of conflict between them. This may be what will happen anyway, but until that day the safety and security of Pakistani nukes and the need to maintain peaceful Pakistani-Indian relations should be just as high on the international diplomatic agenda as North Korea or Iran, if not higher. Plus as a bonus for cricket fans like myself, if their country became more stable and peaceful Pakistan’s team would be able to play home games again without the hotel they and their opponents are staying at being bombed. That sucked.