Missile Envy (with postscript).

So let’s get this straight: North Korea attempts to launch a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and the international community goes ballistic, claiming it is a serious provocation that has grave consequences for regional and world peace. The UN condemns the launch and humanitarian assistance is suspended in retaliation for it. The North Koreans, who have twice tried to detonate an underground nuclear device with only partial success, fail yet again with their missile test (the booster misfired three minutes into the test flight and fell harmlessly into the Yellow Sea where it undoubtably is the object of foreign salvage efforts). In doing so they confirm that they are a considerable ways off from posing a nuclear-armed ballistic missile threat to anyone. That does not mean that they are not paranoid, bellicose and dangerous, but if that is the criteria by which states are measured than pretty much anytime the US has a Republican president it should be subject to UN sanctions and international boycotts.

A week after the North Koreans embarrassed themselves with that fizzle launch (the best technical term for the mishap that I have read is “projectile dysfunction”), the Indians did it right. They successful tested a ballistic missile with a range of 5000 kilometers that is designed to carry a nuclear warhead. The range of the missile means that it can strike targets in Europe and Central China. It is, in a phrase, a full-fledged Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The Indians, of course, are already a nuclear capable state, having successfully conducted dozens of tests both above and below ground. Like the North Koreans, India shares a “hot” border with a long-term adversary, Pakistan, that is also nuclear-equipped (the North Koreans are confronted by nuclear-armed US troops as well as South Korean conventional forces). It has fought conventional wars with Pakistan and border skirmishes are fairly common. And yet the international community has remained placidly silent about what is a clear message of aggressive intent on the part of the Indians.

Why the hypocrisy? If the international community is really serious about nuclear non-proliferation its should be condemning ALL ballistic missile testing. If that seems unreasonable given that the boosters can also be used to launch satellites, then it is patently unreasonable to froth about the North Korean test and ignore the Indian one (and the latter was not construed as anything but a military application). The hard truth is that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is a porous joke that is enforced–and I use that word very loosely– selectively against a few pariah states such as Iran and North Korea but not against others. Nor does it do anything to disarm nuclear-capable states. What reductions in nuclear arsenals have occurred have happened as the result of bilateral negotiations rather than within the framework of the NPT.

I am not a fan of the Kim regime in North Korea. I cannot say I am too enthused about Iran acquiring a nuke. But I understand fully why they attempt to do so. Nuclear weapons are designed to be deterrents, and if that fails to be used as a response to aggression by military superior forces or in the face of imminent conventional defeat. Given their circumstances and the balance of forces in with they operate, North Korea and Iran are eminently rational in their pursuit of that deterrent, as is India even if its threat environment is not as dire (after all, ongoing low-level cross-border clashes with Pakistan cannot be considered to be in the same league as having hostile US carrier task forces and large ground-based contingents just off-shore and across the border) .

That makes the hypocrisy of the international community all the more salient. India is no more and no less rational a state actor than Iran or North Korea. It has interests that it seeks to advance via military capability as well as diplomatic and economic means. Iran and North Korea do not have the diplomatic and economic weight of the Indians–far from it–so they emphasize the military aspect of their defenses. That includes rhetorical broadsides that are designed for domestic consumption and to demonstrate resolve to potential adversaries.

I would think that if the international community was serious about stopping the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons development programs it would start by moving to enact restrictions on all ballistic missile testing that is not clearly designed for satellite launching purposes. It could also work a bit harder, within the NPT, to reduce extant nuclear arsenals in places like India, Pakistan, Israel and the great powers. Readers will undoubtably think “that is never going to happen,” and they would be right. But is that is the case, then it is unreasonable to expect that Iran and North Korea stop their ambitions with regard to producing an indigenous nuclear deterrent. They may not conform to international standards of behavior as defined (mostly) but the West, but they are eminently justified, on realist-deterrence grounds, to pursue that option.

Interestingly, that champion of nuclear non-proliferation, New Zealand, has been silent about the India ICBM test even though it condemned the North Korean launch. I get the feeling that under the current government NZ righteousness with regard to non-proliferation is inversely proportional to the possibilities of securing or maintaining a trade deal with states engaging in such testing. Thus, with regard to India there is silence. With regard to Iran there are meek pleas for “cooperation” with the IAEA. And with regard to North Korea there is a chorus of boos no doubt in part occasioned by the fact that South Korea enjoys a favored bilateral trade status with NZ whereas North Korea does not.

It is said that diplomacy is the art of disguising hypocrisy and self-interest in moral-ethical appeal. When it comes to the issue of nuclear proliferation, it seems that particular costume has worn threadbare thin even in places like NZ.

PS: And sure enough, true to form, Pakistan responded to the Indian test with one of their own. So there you have it: two nuclear armed states sharing a border that have fought conventional wars with each other and which continue to maintain a simmering territorial dispute that has involved the use of unconventional armed proxies sequentially test multi-stage long range boosters that are clearly designed to carry nuclear warheads. One of the countries is a major source of armed violent extremism and a safe haven to militants of various stripes. The international community remains silent.

24 thoughts on “Missile Envy (with postscript).

  1. I wonder if India is looking at China and concerned about Chinese/Pakistani cooperation and the future of Afghanistan post the NATO pullout.

  2. PB:

    Indeed, there are several perfectly rational reasons for the test, and the Chinese clearly know what that missile is likely to be targeted at while the Pakistani’s will be reminded of their military inferiority.

    But therein lies a twist. At a time when the Iran and DPRK nuke programs are the subject of scrutiny and regional tensions in Central Asia are high, why stage a test that is clearly going to rile both the PRC and Pakistan? The Pakistani’s will now feel compelled to respond in something close to equal kind, and the PRC may just do so as well (maybe they will do something jointly). Thus restraint was advisable here and its was not practiced, yet the international community stays quiet.

    The double-standard does not sit well and gives the lie to all that talk about non-proliferation and disarmament.

  3. I suspect the double standard is partly just practical. Levying sanctions on India would be far harder and far more damaging than levying them on Iran (let alone North Korea). India’s economy is far more important to the world economy than either of the smaller states. There is really literal leverage that can be brought to bear against India, and I guess it was decided that talk without action would achieve nothing but embarassing those who are doing the talking.

    PS: You mentioned “nuclear-armed US troops” but the USA has not kept any nuclear weapons in South Korea since 1991.

    Source: http://www.nukestrat.com/korea/koreahistory.htm

  4. ” I get the feeling that under the current government NZ righteousness with regard…”

    Why stop at non-proliferation ? When the PM can come out with this

    ” as Key today said he “advised himself” to chase Sky City for a deal”

    Righteousness has been redefined by the current government to mean anything that suits its agenda be it domestic or international. It will be interesting to see how the government avoids implementing the remaining FCV recommendations, subjecting basic human rights to South Korean fishing interests.

  5. Hugh:

    The issue is not to sanction India but to make an effort to seriously pursue reductions in arsenals and delivery systems amongst nuclear capable states as part of a broader project that includes curbing Iranian and North Korean ambitions. Without a more sincere and board based effort the approach to Iran and the DPRK is selective and inconsistent.

    I did not say that the nuclear armed US troops were IN South Korea (although 35,000 conventional troops are). Let us just say that nuclear armed US troops of various stripes are in the vicinity and fully prepared to use tactical nukes against the DPRK in the event the trip-wire force in ROK is overwhelmed. That, or the battle plan has changed so that conventional defeat is now acceptable.

  6. Oh right. Well in that case, isn’t the New START treaty significant progress in that direction? Getting rid of half of all of the US and Russia’s strategic launch platforms is more than enough to compensate for India’s increasing capability.

    (I was going to say apropos of what I -thought- you were saying that the NPT was designed as a way for the big players to keep out the small players, and that the problem is that a lot of the small players are not staying small… which I think is clever enough that I’m gonna make it anyway in postscript form, and relevance be damned)

  7. I know it’s anciliary to the point but do you really think the North Korean armed forces are so strong the only way to stop them would be to use nuclear weapons? I know they outnumber South Korean+US forces by more than two to one but their technology is at least a generation behind, and of course there’s the strategic advantage of defense etc etc. And that’s before we consider the possibility of US conventional reinforcement which I think we can agree would be forthcoming.

  8. “Projectile dysfunction”… sounds like something out of Spitting Image or The Daily Show.

    Seriously, though, the North Korean regime look like a bunch of poseurs from this bungled launch attempt. And if they don’t have launch issues, would their electricity stay on for long enough? Also agree on the nuclear pissing contest between India and Pakistan. I’m reminded of Michael Moore’s take on the matter a few years back (skip to the 2nd half)…

  9. Ooohhh….I number of misconceptions here…but with my short attention span, I’ll mention the most apparent:
    1. Not ‘hypocrisy’ – its a question of context. The way the Iranians or North Koreans treat their citizens is a testament to their despotism. Having said that, I have to agree, there is a lack of respect for rights in the West, but that’s by default. Not helped by the fact that most people think they have them. India, being a democracy, is considered a lesser threat.
    2. You say “India is no more and no less rational a state actor than Iran or North Korea”. Actually, there is a middle class in India that is well-educated. They are not all uneducated hill farmers. India is an industrialised country, it has had nuclear power for decades; they developed their own thorium nuclear reactors; North Korea and Iran would have needed help.

  10. Andrew, it’s interesting that you view the existence of a middle class as proof of rationalism.

    I think you’ll find that Iran and North Korea are industrialised too.

  11. Hugh, perhaps it could have been better articulated, but the point is that Indians are not all poor beggars; i.e. It has two economies; the poor agrarian masses, and the 100mil who live like NZ’ers. North Korea is not an industrialised economy; its an agrarian economy that struggles to feed its people. Where is its market? No wealth in the country; sanctions preventing trade outside.
    “Middle class” merely conveys that one industry or industrial plant does not constitute a ‘culture’ of industrialisation.

  12. I am not going to indulge Andrew’s thread-jack except to note one thing: there is no causal relationship between having a significant middle class and having nukes. Pakistan has nukes. South Africa tested nukes under the Apartheid regime. The USSR and PRC had nukes long before they went capitalist and saw the rise of a bourgeoisie. Moreover, industralisation in the West developed on the backs of workers long before a middle class was established. Hence, being industrialized and having a middle class are two separate things. One may lead to the other but it can also be used to propel a military machine without creating middle class wealth.

    To think that one state is more rational than another when it comes to nukes just because it has a middle class is silly. The rationality of state actors does not depend on the class composition of the societies that they govern but on their threat perceptions and understanding of the diplomatic and military consequences to the use of force. That is an elite game regardless of the society in question.

  13. Pablo..disparaging remarks are not the mark of a civilised man. I’m not saying middle class is the foundation for rationality…so that’s a straw man argument. Anyone can get access to nuclear weapons hypothetically. You can buy them, you can steal the technology, parts, etc. The issue is who should have them; so its a question of rights. People who don’t respect the rights of their people are not going to respect the rights of foreigners. I can scantly say any govt should possess them since there is too little respect for objectivity; but at least the USA, India, etc convey some respect for rationality, the individual.

  14. Andrew, I assure you all those North Korean weapons are not being grown on farms, nor are they being imported from outside the country.

    But really this is irrelevant to your point. You seem to be arguing that India is a rational actor while North Korea and Iran aren’t. I think there’s something to that, although I don’t think it’s because of the presence of a middle class or an industrial economy or any of that. I think it’s less that India is particularly non-bellicose (It’s been involved in far more actual wars* in the last 50 years than North Korea, ironically) as that the targets of India’s aggression aren’t Western states or states the West particularly cares about, so it’s viewed as benign.

    *As opposed to technical wars

  15. Hugh, I seem to be reiterating that the existence of a middle class was not my argument. Its implausible that North Korean ‘values’ resulted in scientific acumen; since its values are a repudiation of mental efficacy. They can only force rational persons to design them a bomb. More probable is that they paid some pragmatic nuclear scientist from Russia or China to make them a bomb, and then had the components sourced from Chinese fabricators. No way did they design or construct principal components.
    You cannot so readily collectivise India; it has staunch individualists living in a sea of collectivism. There is an intellectual class there; whereas North Korea’s individualism has long since been purged I would suggest.
    The issue is not whether a country has been in wars; as wars are not inherently wrong; it depends on why they fight wars. In India, its territorial battles for sovereignty with China & Pakistan. I think those are legitimate, even if India is not the greatest custodian of freedom. Its not antagonistic to countries with an objective conception of freedom. i.e. Rights that constitute impositions on others rights being a misconception….not that the West fully grasps that. Why? Because representative democracy is a tyranny. i.e. Majoritivism is worse than Nazism…why? Its greater legitimacy.

  16. Andrew, I was talking more about their conventional armaments, not their nukes, which are obviously a product of industrial activity on quite a large scale. Some are purchased from overseas, it’s true, but not all of them, and as I say, AK-47s don’t grow on farms, they’re made in factories.

    I’m really tempted to engage with you on the idea that North Korea (and by extension other totalitarian states) is/are incapable of producing scientists, or that India’s wars are “legitimate” because they involve “territorial battles for sovereignty”, or that India is innately incapable of being collectivised, or… well, ****, I could go on, really. But it would all be pretty de-raily.

    ****comment edited for obscenity. Refer to the comments policy. It may seem prudish but there is zero tolerance for cursing on this blog.****

  17. Hugh, bless you for your restraint…because I was holding back as well. I cut my response in half for fear of starting something that would never finish. :)

  18. Perhaps Bill Maher put it best when he said (from memory):

    “We (the US and Israel) are about to go to war with Iran over a nuclear bomb it doesn’t have, delivered by a North Korean rocket that doesn’t work.”

    He’s a very funny guy, in a very serious kind of way. I never miss his weekly show.

    I would add that anyone who thinks Iran doesn’t have a vibrant middle class is ignorant of the facts. But talking about middle class, that’s the very class that is being wiped out in the US. Talk about imploding!

    Ergo, according to Andrew’s reasoning, the US must be very, very dangerous indeed!

    A conclusion I would agree with, but not for that most simplistic of reasons.

  19. Hey come on Luc, Andrew never intended to correlate the lack of a middle class with anything significant! He just brought it up because, I dunno, he likes talking about irrelevant things I guess. Can’t we all just forget what he actually said and instead engage with the things he didn’t say but we were supposed to infer? God, some people are such derailers!

  20. Amusing Hugh; the reason I want to step back from the word ‘middle class’ is simply because my counterparts are so anti-intellectual they give scant regard to context, and instead engage in selective knit-picking.
    In fairness to Luc, he is probably not reading all the comments…just the first ones.

  21. I read you Andrew, don’t worry.

    You showed your cards and I played them, your grudging, partial retraction too little, too late.

    I’m afraid I read your comments as more boorish than intellectual, sorry.

    And sorry, Pablo, I just couldn’t resist that one.

  22. Some technical clarifications.

    Kind of comparing apples with oranges. The rockets (launch vehicles) mentioned vary greatly in capability.

    NK: ‘Taepodong-2’. ?~80.000kg. ?~6,000km . Three failed test flights.

    India: ‘Agni-V’. 50,000kg. 5.000km range (allegedly deliberately underrated, potentially 8,000km i.e Europe. One successful test flight.

    Pakistan: ‘Shaheen 1A’. 10,000kg. 1,500km range. One successful test flight. Not an ICBM.

    Then there’s the warheads themselves (single or multiple). Guidance and flight systems. Penetration aids etc. Not surprisingly India is considerably ahead of the curve in these areas.

    Anyway. Hypocrisy, of course. Political expediency, naturally.

    “I get the feeling that under the current government NZ righteousness with regard to non-proliferation is inversely proportional to the possibilities of securing or maintaining a trade deal with states engaging in such testing”

    Indeed, or risk pissing off a large and growing ethnic minority in NZ. Also lest we forget good old ‘gone by lunchtime’ National party pragmat[crony]ism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *