N. Korea fol­lows Indo-Pak­istan

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Pervez Hoodb­hoy

AMER­ICA is fum­ing, South Korea and Ja­pan are ter­ri­fied, Rus­sia is wor­ried, and China is miffed. North Korea's podgy pud­din­gand-pie leader Kim Jong-un has poked them all in the eye. Ear­lier this week, de­fy­ing their threats and re­fus­ing their ca­jole­ments, he over­saw the launch of a bal­lis­tic mis­sile - one with the long­est range so far. State tele­vi­sion showed him beam­ing from jowl to jowl, his gen­er­als chortling with joy, and a crowd in Py­ongyang in strictly dis­ci­plined cel­e­bra­tion.

It doesn't re­ally mat­ter that the satel­lite put into or­bit by the Unha-3mis­sile is a piece of use­less junk. Af­ter all, the real point was to show it has de­vel­oped - or is close to de­vel­op­ing - an ICBM ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the con­ti­nen­tal United States. Last month, North Korea had falsely claimed to have tested a mas­sive hy­dro­gen fu­sion bomb. (It ap­pears to have been a much smaller boosted fis­sion de­vice.) Again, the real point was to pro­voke and to pro­claim that North Korea is ut­terly de­ter­mined to be a nu­clear power. As things stand presently, noth­ing short of an all-out in­va­sion and cat­a­strophic war can now pre­vent North Korea from ful­fill­ing its am­bi­tions.

With a new mem­ber set to join the nu­clear club, shouldn't In­di­ans and Pak­ista­nis be glad for North Korea and lay out the red car­pet? Both coun­tries have al­ways said that go­ing nu­clear is any coun­try's God-given right. Both had (sep­a­rately) cel­e­brated - wildly and with aban­don - when In­dia tested five bombs on May 11, 1998 and Pak­istan fol­lowed suit 17 days later with six of its own. Both said go­ing nu­clear made them great. They still say that. That's stupid. Once upon a time mak­ing bombs and mis­siles did raise the peck­ing or­der of a coun­try. But if one fol­lows this logic to­day then North Korea, whose pop­u­la­tion is eight times smaller than Pak­istan's and 40 times smaller than In­dia's, stands head and shoul­ders above both South Asian coun­tries. It has sur­vived much harsher in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions and has no friends. Like Pak­istan and In­dia, North Korea is also in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing its peo­ple with sta­ble elec­tric­ity, uni­ver­sal san­i­ta­tion, and clean wa­ter.

Nuke-mis­sile ex­trav­a­gan­zas don't come cheap. Who but the poor must foot the bill? The United Na­tions re­ports chronic mal­nu­tri­tion in North Korean chil­dren un­der five - 33pc over­all and 45pc in the north­ern part of the coun­try. South Korea, which shares a com­mon lan­guage and a com­mon bor­der, has a per capita GNP that is 15 times larger. Even China, which keeps North Korea from star­va­tion and eco­nomic col­lapse, seems fed up with its prob­lem­atic neigh­bour.

Like Pak­istan and In­dia, North Korea demon­strates an­other truth: the poorer a nu­clear coun­try, the richer its gen­er­als and politi­cians. Even as North Kore­ans are slip­ping back into sub­sis­tence farm­ing and 19th-cen­tury man­ual labour, a tiny elite thrives. They drive their Mercedes, play with smart­phones, and eat at fancy pizza par­lours. It was once a com­mu­nist state that val­ued equal­ity. But stri­dent mil­i­tarism, and strict loy­alty to the political hi­er­ar­chy, has cre­ated tol­er­ance of wealth dis­par­ity.

Nu­clear na­tion­al­ism has worked well to stoke pa­tri­otic fires in all three coun­tries. Re­mem­ber those heady days of 1998 when In­dia pro­claimed its ar­rival on the world stage as a nu­clear power? And when Pak­istan strut­ted about ex­cit­edly as the first nu­clear power in the Mus­lim world? Bomb-mak­ers in both coun­tries thumped their chests, and peo­ple show­ered rose petals on the ' great' nu­clear sci­en­tists. There could be no greater non­sense. Half-starved North Korea, with zero achieve­ment in high sci­ence, has shown that in the mod­ern age any­one can make bombs and mis­siles.

How did that be­come pos­si­ble? Un­ques­tion­ably the first atomic bomb was an ex­ceed­ingly bril­liant, if ter­ri­ble, achieve­ment by the world's finest physi­cists. It re­quired the cre­ation of wholly new phys­i­cal con­cepts, based on a then very newly ac­quired un­der­stand­ing of the atomic nu­cleus.

But a few decades later, the scene was to­tally dif­fer­ent. Ba­sic in­for­ma­tion be­came freely avail­able in tech­ni­cal li­braries ev­ery­where. A stag­ger­ing amount of de­tail ex­ists on the in­ter­net. Ad­vanced text­books and mono­graphs con­tain de­tails that can en­able prac­ti­cally any­one with a few years of univer­sity education to come up with "quick and dirty" de­signs. Grad­u­ate stu­dents can quickly pick up this stuff. The free avail­abil­ity of cheap but ex­tremely pow­er­ful com­put­ers, as well as nu­mer­i­cal codes, al­lows one to see how a bomb's power changes as one changes sizes and shapes, pu­rity of ma­te­ri­als, etc. In con­trast, the early bomb cal­cu­la­tions had been painfully car­ried out by hand.

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