South Korea revealed, as required by treaty, that some of its scientists had enriched a small quantity of Uranium to near-weapons-grade quality. The equipment was been dismantled shortly thereafter, and the method they used is more expensive and time-consuming than the techniques used by North Korea, Pakistan, etc. South Korea is not, everyone agrees, developing an nuclear weapons program. Neither is Japan.
They could, though, and they've considered it, and they're not the only ones. Atomic weapons are not a matter of high science anymore: it's pretty basic nuclear chemistry and missile engineering. OK, it's not easy but if you have a government's resources and a first-world technical community, it can be done.
As the case of South Korea shows, sometimes mechanisms like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty system can work, and work well. But the case of Iran suggests that moral force,"soft power," in the language of political science, sometimes fails, particularly when that moral force is being applied by nations -- like the US and Israel -- which do not themselves adhere to the letter or spirit of the treaties being brandished about.
H. L. Mencken said,"There's always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong." I think the"invade every country we don't like who seems to be developing nuclear weapons, unless we think they might fight back" policy which seems to be in place at the moment falls into that category.
The most effective arms control agreements in history have been those which recognized and protected the legitimate interests of signatory nations. We can argue that non-proliferation is its own justification, but in a world with a nuclear-weapon rich (and weapon-developing) imperialistic hyperpower at its economic and political center, there is a pretty good argument to be made for a more nuanced and systemic approach. Tom Englehart, in naming America an empire, refers to the Confucian concept of the"rectification of names": in order to properly order the world, we must understand it, we must call things by their proper names.
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