Sunday, October 15, 2006

Krauthammer's deterrence: too little, too late?

Charles Krauthammer proposes announcing a policy of presumptive retaliation against North Korea as a way to deter nuclear terrorism, but argues it's only good so long as North Korea maintains its monopoly status as rogue nuclear state.

Specifically, he advocates the "automaticity" of a nuclear deterrence policy against North Korea, one "requiring a full retaliatory response upon North Korea" for "any detonation of a nuclear explosive on the United States or its allies." According to Krauthammer, a North Korean return address would be presumed based on "no other nuclear power [being] so recklessly in violation of its nuclear obligations."
This is how you keep Kim Jong Il from proliferating. Make him understand that his survival would be hostage to the actions of whatever terrorist group he sold his weapons to. Any terrorist detonation would be assumed to have his address on it. The United States would then return postage. Automaticity of this kind concentrates the mind.

What Krauthammer doesn't make it clear is why we should be willing to exact a "full retaliatory response" upon only one rogue nuclear nation, but not two or more. Uncertainty? Bad press? War crimes charges? Seems collective punishment starts with a full retaliatory response against one nation for the acts of any subnational terrorist group. Why should targeting two or more be considered any worse?

Moreover, rather than deter proliferation, wouldn't such a policy limitation actually behoove the target rogue nuclear state to enable at least one other? Before arming a terrorist group, North Korea could assist a regime, like Iran's, to develop its own nuclear program and -- poof! -- the deterrence against arming subnational nuclear threats would be gone. Hardly a deterrent to proliferation.

If Krauthammer's point is that we need to prevent Iran and other rogue regimes from following the North Korean lead, then what more effective deterrent is there than expanding the scope of his policy to include all rogue nuclear states? Unlike North Korea, Iran's more enlightened population will receive advance notice that there is a price to be paid for their leaders' nuclear ambitions, if their nation will be held hostage to the actions of a North Korean lunatic.

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