- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In years to come - assuming, for the purposes of argument, there are any years to come - scholars will look back at President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit and marvel. For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia and Thailand, but not even mentioning Germany.

Yet that’s what Mr. Obama just did: he held a nuclear gabfest in 2010, the biggest meeting of world leaders on American soil since the founding of the United Nations 65 years ago - and Iran wasn’t on the agenda.

Granted that almost all of Mr. Obama’s exciting, innovative “change we can believe in” turns out to have been exhumed direct from the sclerotic ‘70s to stagger around like a rotting zombie in polyester bell-bottoms from some straight-to-video sequel, there’s still something almost touchingly quaint in the notion of an international summit on nuclear “nonproliferation” in the 21st century. Five years ago, when there was still a chance the world might prevent a nuclear Iran rather than pretending to “contain” it, I remember the bewildered look from a “nonproliferation expert” on a panel I was on after I suggested nonproliferation was a laughably obsolescent frame for this discussion. You could just about enforce nonproliferation back in the Cold War, when the only official nuclear powers were the Big Five at the U.N. Security Council and the entry level for the nuclear club was extremely expensive and technologically sophisticated. Now it’s not. If Pakistan and North Korea can be nuclear powers, who can’t? North Korea’s population is starving. Its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is lower than Ghana’s, lower than Zimbabwe’s, lower than Mongolia’s. Which is to say its GDP is all but undetectable.

Yet it’s a nuclear power.

That’s what anachronistic nonproliferation mumbo-jumbo gets you. If you read in the paper that New Zealand had decided to go nuclear, would you lose a moment’s sleep over it? Personally, I’d be rather heartened. It would be a sign that a pampered and somnolent developed world had awakened and concluded that betting your future on the kindness of strangers is a helluva gamble. What Mr. Obama and his empty showboaters failed even to acknowledge in their “security” summit is the reality of the post-Big Five nuclear age: We’re on the brink of a world in which the wealthiest nations from Canada to Norway to Japan can barely project meaningful force to their own borders while the nickel ‘n’ dime basket cases go nuclear.

How long do you think that arrangement will last? Iran already has offered to share its nuclear technology with Sudan. Sudan? Ring a vague bell? Remember that “Save Darfur” interpretative-dance fundraiser you went to where someone read out a press release from George Clooney and you all had a simply marvelous time? Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed - with machetes. That’s pretty labor-intensive. In the Congo, 5 1/2 million have been slaughtered - and again in impressively primitive ways.

But a nuclear Sudan would be a model of self-restraint?

By the way, that’s another example of the self-indulgent irrelevance of Mr. Obama. The mound of corpses being piled up around the world today is not from high-tech nuclear states but from low-tech psycho states. It’s not that Britain has nukes and poor old Sudan has to make do with machetes. It’s that the machete crowd is willing to kill on an industrial scale and the high-tech guys can’t figure out a way to stop them. Perhaps for his next pointless yakfest the president might consider a machete nonproliferation initiative.

Nuclear technology cannot be uninvented. All you can do, as President Reagan understood when few others did, is invent something that will render it, if not yet obsolete, at least less lethal. Until that moment, what makes the difference is not the technology but the regime. The Obama Happy Fairyland Security Summit was posited on the principle that there’s no difference between a Swiss nuke and a Syrian nuke. If you believe that, you’ll be thrilled by the big breakthrough agreement of the summit: Canada, Chile, Mexico and Ukraine have agreed to reduce their stocks of enriched uranium. Peace in our time! I have here a piece of paper from the prime minister of Canada!

This is the nuclear version of the initial reaction from Janet “Incompetano” to the panty bomber - when she banned passengers from having paperback books on their laps for the last 45 minutes of the flight. In an age of freelance nukes, we shouldn’t be banning items but profiling threats. For 30 years, Iran has acted with extraterritorial impunity and without even the minimal courtesies of international relations - seizing embassies, taking out mob contracts on British novelists, seeding terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, blowing up community centers in Latin America. Washington’s pathetic fallback of “containment” is intended to prevent Tehran from using a nuke in the Middle East, Europe or anywhere else within range. There is no strategy for “containing” Iran’s leverage of its nuclear status to advance its interests more discreetly and no strategy for “containing” the mullahs’ generosity to states and groups more inclined to use the technology.

In a characteristic display of his famous modesty, Mr. Obama reacted to the hostility of the Tax Day Tea Parties by saying, “You would think they would be saying ‘thank you’ ” - for all he’s done for them. Right now, the fellows saying “thank you” are the mullahs, the Politburo, Czar Vladimir Putin and others hostile to U.S. interests who’ve figured out they now have the run of the planet.

As for Mr. Obama’s pledge to set a good example by reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, there’s no correlation between peace and the number of weapons - except insofar as states with only a few nukes are more likely to use them than states with gazillions: If you’ve only got a dozen, you’re under more pressure to let ‘em fly before they’re taken out by incoming. So the principle underpinning Mr. Obama’s ‘70s retro-nuke summit - that the size of a civilized state’s stockpile adds to the global threat - is not just false but dangerously delusional. Likewise the urge to forswear nuclear innovation. It would be greatly to the advantage of civilization if responsible powers were to develop new forms of limited, highly targeted bunker-busting nukes. As is well understood by our enemies, the modern West has no stomach for large-scale casualties: On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, for example, Mullah Omar had no fear that Washington would nuke even remote and lightly inhabited parts of the Hindu Kush. As we learned the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, ill-trained illiterates with primitive explosives who don’t care whom they kill can inflict quite a lot of damage on the technologically advanced, highly trained warriors of civilized states. That’s the “asymmetric warfare” that matters. So virtuously proclaiming oneself opposed to nuclear modernization ensures a planet divided into civilized states with unusable weapons and barbarous regimes happy to kill with whatever’s at hand.

So another grand week’s work for a president pressing full steam ahead into the post-American global order. The good news is that at least you don’t have to worry about a nuclear blitzkrieg from Winnipeg. Sleep easy.

Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006).

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