Nuclear Club

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(HOST) The club of nuclear nations is growing. And commentator Olin Robison says that this new round of nuclear proliferation should concern us all.

(ROBISON) There are now, with the recent addition of North Korea, either nine or ten nations possessing nuclear weapons. The number is not precise because not every nation with a nuclear weapon will own up to it.

If what is happening with and in North Korea doesn’t concern you, it should. North Korea is an especially perplexing place; a holdover from the days of the Cold War. It is led by a strange and enigmatic figure who is probably a good bit smarter than many in the West think he is.

The Korean peninsula is immediately opposite Japan and is divided between the very prosperous South and the backward and paranoid North. The outside world is severely limited in what it might do regarding North Korea because of the close proximity of the two. Even if it is economically and politically backwards, the North nonetheless has the capacity to inflict grievous damage on the South, especially on the economically thriving and crowded capital city of Seoul.

The dramatic and impressive Seoul International Airport, north of Seoul, is in fact in Inchon and it is literally within sight of the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ as it is commonly known. The DMZ separates the North and the South. The distances are not great at all.

Mr. Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, also known as The Dear Leader, has announced that
he, or they, have now tested a nuclear weapon – a fact that has been confirmed by US Intelligence – and that there are more tests to come.

Meanwhile, President Bush hasn’t made dealing with Mr Kim any easier. Some time ago the President pronounced that North Korea was part of the Axis of Evil and, just to be really clear, said that he “loathed” Kim Jong Il. Now, Mr. Kim doesn’t strike me as a very likable fellow but still, presidents do not help things along by making public statements of this sort.

The big issue to be concerned about here is that of nuclear proliferation. If North Korea really does have a functioning bomb it will likely get all sorts of concessions from bigger, more powerful countries.

It is the sort of mess where there are few right answers and a lot of actions that quite simply will make matters worse.

Think about it for a moment. If North Korea gets a functional nuclear weapon, then Japan will. If Japan does it will set in motion an arms race in Asia that will be mind-boggling. There is a deep fear of Japan all over Asia – fear borne of historical facts which others in the region are loath to forget. So, if Japan re-arms, then everyone else will.

And we haven’t even mentioned China yet. China of course really is the 800 pound gorilla in this equation.

If you can see a clear way through all of this then you can be Secretary of State. But of course there isn’t a clear way through. So, as was said at the beginning of this commentary, if all of this doesn’t concern you, it definitely should.

There is a deep and abiding belief in America that there aren’t any insoluble problems. But this one comes close. So, stay tuned.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

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