Nuclear powers seldom relinquish their arms. Nor should we expect them to. That insight should guide U.S. strategy going forward.
Will North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un give up his nuclear weapons in negotiations with President Donald Trump? Says the Magic 8 Ball:
Outlook not so good.
Dispute the Magic 8 Ball at your peril! History and strategy augur against Pyongyang’s surrendering its nukes.
Since the inception of the atomic age only Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and apartheid South Africa have dismantled working arsenals. And South Africa was a zany case in atomic diplomacy. The apartheid regime covertly developed an inventory of some six tactical nukes during the 1970s. Its ostensible purpose: to empower Pretoria to threaten to use unconventional weaponry in neighboring Angola, where Cuban troops had deployed in force, or to face down guerrilla activity on the part of the South West African People’s Organization and the African National Congress (ANC).
The chief purpose of the South African arsenal, though, was to blackmail an ally. Should the apartheid regime face destruction, Pretoria planned to divulge the existence of its nukes in three phases. In phase one it would assume a posture of nuclear ambiguity, refusing to confirm or deny the existence of its arsenal while leaking the news that it indeed possessed one. In phase two, if South Africa confronted some overwhelming threat such as invasion, Pretoria would confidentially reveal the arsenal’s existence to Washington and allied Western capitals.
In so doing, went the theory, it would strong-arm the West into siding with Pretoria lest South Africa fall to communism. And in phase three, if a full-scale invasion loomed, the pariah state would threaten to conduct an underground nuclear test as a “last step.” In short, the pariah state sought to force the United States to back it by threatening to commit suicide—and take much of southern Africa with it. Holding yourself hostage is a zany strategy, worthy of the great Sheriff Bart.
Kim Jong-Un’s Hermit Kingdom might be crazy enough to follow the South African lead—but don’t bet on it.