New Delhi: North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, topped by what is widely believed to be a low-yield thermonuclear explosion, compels greater inquiry of its motives and reasons for them. Blanket condemnation is no solution and military threats, which Donald Trump hurls every other day, only worsen the situation.

The short history and strategic traditions of nuclear weapons reveal that states will aspire to acquire them as long as they see them as a guarantor and provider of security. When the United States came to monopolize them firstly, it applied pressure on the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Rather cold-bloodedly, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to intimidate Soviet Russia.

After the 1971 war and US threats of intervention on the side of Pakistan, India speeded its atomic programme for the test three years later. Under US pressure, the Indian atomic programme languished for decades till the threat of CTBT forced the Indian hand in 1998. Within days, having lost one half of its country to a successful Indian military campaign, Pakistan followed suit with its own nuclear test. If India feared Chinese nuclear supremacy, Pakistan apprehended the Indian one. Like it or not, states will take steps to protect their national interest.

Indeed, the 1974 test put states that had won independence after World War II wise to the security provided by nuclear weapons against regime change. The Iranian and Iraqi quests for nuclear weapons can be directly traced to the 1974 test. Alongwith this trend, a counter-narrative also emerged later and closer to our time. Some of the toppled regimes of the Middle East and North Africa, not in the least democratic but providing a measure of stability nevertheless, would have survived had they possessed nuclear weapons. Iraq comes especially to mind in this context

Led by the United States, the P-5 powers have attempted to establish an atomic cartel. Their instrument of oppression is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bans a new nuclear power after 1966. India, in their eyes, is an illegitimate nuclear power, and so is Pakistan. Since Israel has never publicly tested, it does not matter.

India has refused to sign the NPT and so has Pakistan. This is understandable. They deem nuclear weapons to be central to their security. This writer extends the argument to both North Korea and Iran. Countries have the sovereign right to take decisions concerning their security. Nuclear-haves cannot dictate terms to nuclear have-nots.

It is being held against North Korea that it left the NPT to become a nuclear power. The same argument is being employed against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. So what if a country decides to quit NPT to pursue weaponization in extreme national interest? As long as power disparities remain, and as long as superpowers like the United States change regimes at will (and usually with disastrous consequences), countries will seek to secure themselves with nuclear weapons. It is irrelevant if a country is reneging on its NPT commitment. It is a treaty that holds good as long as two sides benefit from it. It is not a law that can be enforced.

North Korea must have compelling reasons to become a nuclear power. Perhaps it fears regime change with Trump. Possibly it feels the need to secure itself once for all to grow and prosper. The rapid rate at which North Korea is climbing the steps of nuclear sophistication suggests that this is not one man’s megalomania. This is a sovereign effort. And sovereign complications must be addressed by diplomacy and not loose talk. Without understanding and appreciating North Korea’s compulsions for nuclear weapons, no resolution is possible of threats to international security emanating from there.

It is next to impossible now to roll back North Korea’s nuclear programme. In return for not holding out country-specific threats, North Korea must be left alone with nuclear power. In time, the problem will resolve itself. This writer expects that North Korea will become a capable but undemonstrative nuclear power like Israel. Beyond a point, even Iran cannot be stopped.

What would remarkably stabilize the nuclear equilibrium is if the United States manifestly curbs its ardour and affliction for foreign intervention and regime change. The more crude and insensitive the international environment becomes, the greater will be the scramble for atomic security. If this was true at various times in the past for the P-5 powers, India and Pakistan, why shouldn’t it be valid for North Korea? Double standards are neither effective in life nor in geopolitics.