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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
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10.16.2006

Is A New Cuban Missile Crisis in Order?

Andrew McCarthy responds to Charles Krauthammer:

JFK deterred Cuba by directly threatening its sponsor, the Soviet Union, with “a full retaliatory response” if Cuba dared use its missiles against any Western nation. Krauthammer does not argue that we should similarly threaten North Korea’s lifeline, Communist China. But, focusing on the modern nightmare of terrorists armed by rogue states, he points to Kim Jong Il’s recklessness and suggests that we threaten “to regard any detonation of a nuclear explosive on the United States or its allies as an attack by North Korea on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon North Korea.”

China and Russia, as expected, began undermining Saturday’s Security Council sanctions resolution before the ink could even dry. Given that, along with the “international community’s” fetish for dialogue — no matter how counterproductive, and no matter how evil, irrational or implacable one’s interlocutors may be — Krauthammer’s suggestion makes eminent sense. Rather than buying a mirage of peace by appeasing a tin-pot extortionist, we would instead bluntly admonish the North that its vital interests lie in tamping down its nuclear ambitions (and the proliferation that would inevitably follow the attainment of those ambitions).

But just because it’s sensible, does that make the idea practical? It’s a question that must be asked in our era of proliferation, international law, and enemy-friendly diplo-war.

For instance, Krauthammer observes that a corollary of his position is that we can’t let Iran go nuclear. Once there were two rogue states in the club instead of one, he reasons, we’d no longer be able to assume that a terrorist with a nuke must have gotten it from North Korea; thus, the anti-proliferation threat of “if anyone misbehaves, we’re blaming you” would collapse. But hasn’t that ship already sailed? After all, North Korea itself made a great leap forward in its nuclear development thanks to A. Q. Kahn and Pakistan. Even if politesse counsels against cavalierly employing the “rogue” label, the sad truth is there may already be other suspect proliferators.

Next, think how much the legal landscape has changed in the 40-plus years since the Cuban-missile crisis. By recalling JFK’s threat of a “full retaliatory response,” one assumes Krauthammer is referring to the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction.” MAD famously deterred the Soviets throughout the Cold War because they knew use of a nuke would prompt an existentially devastating atomic response by the U.S. But are such threats permissible under international law? Or, at least, are they practical given the certainty and vigor of responsive condemnation?


I think they both miss the point.

Deterrence only works if it is credible. The Iranians have been committing acts of war against the United States since 1979, and we have not so much as lobbed a cruise missile at them in response. They simply do not believe we will retaliate, no matter the provocation, and particularly if there is any way that the hate-America Left in this country can rationalize away Iranian involvement.

If Long Beach mysteriously blows up in a nuclear blast one day, the mullahs and the NorKs know Tehran and Pyongyang will remain unscathed.

We lack the will to retaliate. Isn't that what 9/11 has rather spectacularly demonstrated? Or is the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan and increasing Iranian control of Iraq somehow not to be considered a welcome outcome for the Axis of Evil?

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