September 11, Iraq and proliferation
In the post-September 11 world, international proliferation issues have again come to the fore. Preventing terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction – not least nuclear weapons – is a key focus of the United States led 'war on terror'. Restraining acquisition of such weapons by nation states is also a significant issue on the global agenda once more, with the current tension over North Korea's nuclear weapons plans only the most prominent of a number of examples. The two issues are linked. Controlling proliferation of nuclear armaments and other weapons of mass destruction reduces the possibility that such weapons may be acquired by terrorists.
Writing in The Australian in July 2003, Greg Sheridan noted that North Korea and Iran had carefully absorbed the lesson of Iraq:
governing regimes will be more secure, no matter how monstrous they are in other respects, if they possess nuclear weapons. In Iran today, the circles of mullahs, whether hard-line or moderate, discuss one thing many times, the different fates of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il. If Hussein had possessed 20 nuclear weapons when he invaded Kuwait he would still be there today, and would rule Saudi Arabia as well.…. 1
According to Sheridan:
If North Korea survives this testing period and becomes an established nuclear weapons state the pressure on Japan and South Korea to follow suit would be overwhelming. Eventually, over perhaps a decade or two, the world will be transformed into one in which most big states have nuclear weapons. Trying to prevent leakage of weapons to terrorists then would be Sisyphean.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in March 2002 that China and Iran had withdrawn their contribution to monitoring nuclear tests, apparently in protest against Washington's position on the CTBT.13 The monitoring stations in Iran and China are among 337 around the world intended to send a stream of seismic and other data to the test ban organisation in Vienna, allowing it to spot a nuclear test anywhere on Earth.