Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Doomsday Clock remains static, for now

Blogging has been very light from yours truly. My apologies. Work and personal matters have significantly impacted my free time.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences maintains a "Doomsday Clock", which has been set to seven before midnight since 2002. You can watch the clock tick down in this timeline. The clock has yet to move in reaction to North Korea's approx. one kiliton bomb this week. Here's the Bulletin's statement:
North Korea's recent underground nuclear test is part of a worrisome trend of increased nuclear proliferation. Before making a decision about moving the hands of the Clock, however, the Board of Directors is also watching to see how the international community responds to North Korea’s actions.

As outlined in its 2002 Clock statement, the Board worries most about the large quantities of unsecured nuclear weapons material in Russia and elsewhere, along with Al Qaeda's stated intentions to acquire the necessary materials to produce a nuclear device.

Likewise, Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, about which the International Atomic Energy Agency and other experts know very little, causes great concern; the A. Q. Kahn network originated in Pakistan, and, despite Khan's arrest, the illicit trade in nuclear technologies and materials continues. North Korea already plays a role in this trade.

The Board also closely monitors disarmament efforts around the world, and there is not much progress to report. Almost two decades after the Cold War, both Russia and the United States, possessing a total of 26,000 nuclear weapons, maintain high levels of launch readiness, which allow them to strike targets thousands of miles away in as little as 30 minutes.
Michael E. O'Hanlon, of Brookings, addresses North Korea's brinksmanship:
Is there anything that can now be done about North Korea's nuclear arsenal? After all, it has probably had one or two nuclear warheads for more than a decade and up to 10 for a couple of years. It has watched Pakistan test warheads, be punished and then forgiven. It has watched the alliance between South Korea and the US struggle during the Bush administration, with Seoul and Washington competing to see who will undo the joint command structure that has ensured military deterrence and stability on the peninsula more rapidly than the other.

The short answer is that we must try. Given North Korea's record of selling weaponry and nuclear technology abroad, its proclivities for brinkmanship and the likely domino effect of nuclear proliferation in east Asia, nuclear weapons in its hands make the world a notably less safe place. So a major new US policy effort is needed. The core of a new policy should be to force North Korea to decide between more economic and diplomatic engagement on the one hand and less on the other. The goal should be to make the status quo untenable for Pyongyang; forcing it to choose between a better relationship with the outside world — as well as more trade, investment and assistance — and the prospect of pressure and coercion. Does it want to become the next Vietnam, reforming its economy and society from within a communist system? Or does it wish to sink into the abyss of further economic decline and possible state failure?


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