Leading article: North Korea shows why new international rules are needed

President Obama is right to treat nuclear non-proliferation as a priority

Share
Related Topics

A few hours after Nato concluded its summit in Strasbourg and a few hours before President Obama began his speech on nuclear risks in Prague, North Korea launched the rocket that had been moved into position the previous week. It was the ultimate act of attention-seeking from a country which has remained stubbornly aloof from the general thaw in international relations that followed the departure of George Bush. It was also, as Mr Obama and many other leaders immediately pointed out, irresponsible and extremely dangerous. The UN Security Council was due to meet in emergency session last night.

In the event, North Korea's belligerent statement was more in the intent than in the result. Whether the purpose was, as Pyongyang insisted, to launch a satellite, or – as many Western military experts agreed – to test a rocket capable of launching a long-range missile, the attempt failed. The US military reported that two stages of the rocket and its payload had fallen into the Pacific. Some 11 years after it first tried to launch a satellite, it appears, North Korea has still not mastered the technology. This is the good news. The bad news, of course, is that a rocket that misfires is every bit as dangerous as one whose trajectory is controlled.

None of which should disguise the fact that the signal North Korea and its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, wanted to send was at once hostile and defiant. As such, it provided the perfect illustration of the arguments the US President was about to make half a world away. In his address in Prague, Mr Obama called for a global summit on nuclear security and for new partnerships to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. He said he wanted a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials and – though this was probably not feasible in his lifetime – a world free of such weapons altogether.

In some ways, Mr Obama's language and vision represented a return to an earlier view of the world – a world before 9/11, where the nuclear threat had not yet been superseded by the "war on terror". His decision to make arms control, and sharp mutual reductions in numbers of nuclear warheads, the centrepiece of a new relationship with Russia is in the same, seemingly old-fashioned, vein.

Old-fashioned, though, does not mean wrong. While there is a point at which terrorism and nuclear proliferation coincide – in the risk that a terrorist group could one day acquire a nuclear weapon – this danger increases in proportion to the amount of unregulated nuclear activity in the world. The priority must be to bring all states that possess, or aspire to, a nuclear capability into a modern regulatory framework that is more consistent and enforceable than the non-proliferation regime that obtains today.

The problem with trying to negotiate such a framework, however, is that the words of existing nuclear powers often ring hollow. When Mr Obama warned North Korea yesterday that it "must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons", he was repeating a truism that has proved completely wrong. North Korea knows – from the example of India, Pakistan and the West's concerns about Iran – that a nuclear capability is a sure-fire way of being taken seriously. Mr Obama was far more convincing when he said his administration would work to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, which neither the US nor China has yet ratified. That would indeed be a good place to start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Turkey, where Executive Escapes had 500 clients when it went bust  

Why do holiday companies go bust on Fridays?

Simon Calder
Journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, who were killed after a gunman opened fire during a live broadcast in Virginia  

Because of Facebook and Twitter I still have Alison Parker's final chilling moments looping in my head

Nash Riggins
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future