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Five Lessons From the North Korea Nuclear Story

The North Korea – USA nuclear crisis should teach us several lessons regarding nuclear weapons:

1. Nuclear weapons do not prevent nuclear proliferation.

In 1970, the nuclear weapon states accepted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT. In this treaty, they agree to negotiate the complete disarmament of their own nuclear weapons. They have – equally completely – disregarded this pledge and insist that they must retain nuclear weapons in order to prevent other countries from acquiring them.

The North Korea example shows us that this does not work.

2. Nuclear weapons are contagious.

The nuclear weapons states also insist, contrary to their pledge in the NPT, that they must keep their nukes “for their own security”. This provides an excuse for other states to acquire them. A small country such as North Korea, DPRK, has stronger reasons to build nuclear weapons than a superpower such as the US because, in a world without nuclear weapons, the US would anyhow have an unchallenged military dominance.

3. Nuclear weapons can cause war.

Without the fake news of the risk of an Iraqi nuclear attack on Manhattan, the US public would probably not have accepted the U.S. invasion and war on Iraq.

If the DPRK had not obtained nuclear weapons, the country would probably not have been threatened with an attack, nuclear or non-nuclear.

It is often repeated that nuclear weapons kept the peace in Europe during the first Cold War; the argument is that if there had been no nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union would have invaded Western Europe. This is an unproven conjecture.

A deeper discussion of this subject is beyond my competence. However, most historians today agree, based on sources released after 1990, that the Soviet Union accepted the status in Europe after 1950.

4. Nuclear weapons can bring high status to the leader of a country.

This has been important for the North Korean leaders. Already the grandfather of the present leader of North Korea desired the honour of meeting personally the President of the United States. President Trump is the first to accept the invitation and, in the mind of the North Korean leader, treat him as an equal.

Nuclear weapons can also bestow superpower status upon a country. That it is important to be a member of the “Nuclear Club” is obvious in the arguments brought forward by countries such as by France and India.

5. Nuclear weapons, once acquired, are hard to give up.

This we will learn in the years to come.

More articles by:

Gunnar Westberg is a professor of medicine and a board member of the Transnational Institute.

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