In the wake of the nuclear test that North Korea conducted Monday, it is imperative that the West and Israel quickly sober up and stop deluding themselves that the Iranian nuclear program can be stopped.
Just like India and Pakistan before it, North Korea proved once again that diplomatic pressure, economic temptations, threats of military action, or sanctions could not stop fanatic regimes of totalitarian states from obtaining the bomb, if they are determined.
North Korea developed nuclear arms with its meager means because it believes they are an essential tool for the survival of the regime and a lever that would help it attain its strategic goals through nuclear extortion of its neighbors and the West. The same holds true for Iran, whose regime's ambitions are not less megalomaniacal and whose manner is not less fanatical than the North Koreans'.
If there is a difference between the two, it is only negative for us. Iran's financial and scientific resources, as well as its oil-sponsored maneuverability, are far greater than North Korea's. Thus, the chances that Iran would stop its nuclear program before it attains operational nuclear and missile capabilities are slim. Iran would not stop even if the US Security Council should decide to impose severe sanctions against it this evening. At best, it will pull out diversions that would ease the pressure and give it time to complete its program in much the same way that North Korea has done it over the past decade.
Other countries to follow suit
It is also doubtful that a military operation by a Western coalition (Israel included) could stop the Iranian nuclear program. Such an operation could delay it by a few years, but will probably not stop it. Once the Iranians obtain the required technological know-how and experience, they will keep developing their bomb and missiles in secret, hidden, and fortified facilities until they obtain their coveted results - just like India, Pakistan, and North Korea did.
This, however, is not the end of the story. It is highly reasonable that additional Southeast Asia and Middle East countries will take the nuclear path - for national security reasons, or because they intend to extort economic benefits and concessions from their neighbors. Japan, for example, can develop nuclear weapons fairly quickly, and it just might do that to neutralize the North Korean threat. The North Koreans are not hiding their hostility toward Japan and their intention to retaliate for being conquered by Japan in World War 2.
In our region, there are clear signs that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will not sit idly by and will try to obtain some form of nuclear capability to either copy or defuse the Iranian threat. It is also reasonable that money-starved North Korea will sell its nuclear know-how and equipment to the highest bidder in much the same way it distributed its missile production know-how to Syria, Iran, and other Middle East countries.
Need to Strengthen Cooperation
This is why the industrialized and developed countries, including Israel, must forge a new strategy that would help them delay, restrain, and hinder the Third World nuclear arms race and - more importantly - offer them relative safety from a nuclear threat posed not only by North Korea and Iran, but also by other Third World countries that might try to follow in the footsteps of the "axis of evil" states.
This strategy must comprise four tiers: First, there must be international cooperation in imposing an embargo on the exports to the Third World of materials and equipment required for the development and production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Second, attempts to develop, produce, and sell nuclear materials and know-how should be intensely and closely monitored by intelligence bodies.
Information they obtain will serve for applying diplomatic pressure and conducting limited military and civilian operations that would stop and prevent the transfer of nuclear materials and missiles to countries that will have already started procuring them. It worked in the case of Libya, which stopped its nuclear program after a Korean ship carrying uranium enrichment machinery there was intercepted. There is no reason why this should not work with other countries.
These two means will help the industrialized democratic countries delay the development of nuclear weapons by Third World countries until the West and its allies finish creating their preventive and deterring setup that will render ineffective the use of, or even the threat of using nuclear weapons by disobedient countries.
The third and most important tier is the rapid development of a variety of means for the interception of ballistic missiles, and of cruise missiles and planes that can carry nuclear weapons. The fourth tier is the development of an effective and reliable ability to deliver a conventional "preemptive strike" against disobedient countries; and to deliver a second, non-conventional strike that would be devastating to the point of destroying most of the abilities and infrastructures of the country that would be first to dare use nuclear weapons.
Time is the problem
Should the democratic and industrialized countries develop the abilities and means necessary for the implementation of this strategy, and should they decide to employ them through international pacts, the Third World countries could be forced to conclude that producing, threatening with, and using nuclear weapons will do them more harm than good. The State of Israel alone could deter and, if necessary, prevent a nuclear attack against it, if it were equipped with such means, which would be developed in cooperation with the USA and other democratic and industrialized countries.
Once the democratic and industrialized countries establish such defensive and deterring abilities, they would be able to threaten the disobedient countries with economic and diplomatic sanctions, while offering them incentives that would make those countries make their own cost-benefit calculations and reach the appropriate conclusions. South Africa, for example, made this calculation a few years back and disarmed itself of nuclear weapons, as did certain former members of the Warsaw Pact. We must not forget that one of the main reasons why the Soviet regime crumbled in the late 1980's was the fact that the United States started developing space-based warning and defense systems against nuclear weapons, as President Reagan instructed.
Time is the main problem. The nuclear clock is ticking and the West and Israel must quickly prepare the answer. The North Korean nuclear test must serve as a wake up call for those who still pin their hopes on sanctions and military action, whose effectiveness and probability are doubtful.