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The Korean mouse that roared
Description: North Korea's announcement this week that it has carried out a nuclear test has shocked the world, arousing universal condemnation. It has also exposed the frailty of international diplomacy in the face of intransigence. Could this be the start of a
Date: 13 October 2006
Author: Michael Byers
Source: The Tablet
North Korea's announcement this week that it has carried out a nuclear test has shocked the world, arousing universal condemnation. It has also exposed the frailty of international diplomacy in the face of intransigence. Could this be the start of a new arms race?

In Leonard Wibberley's novel The Mouse that Roared (1955), a tiny impoverished country declares war on the United States in the hope of being rapidly defeated, occupied and reconstructed. The plan goes awry when the flyweight belligerent inadvertently acquires the world's most powerful weapon, and thus the ability to defend itself.

Wibberley's tale was made into a Peter Sellers movie that Kim Jong-Il, as a film buff, has undoubtedly seen. After the 2003 Iraq War, the North Korean dictator speculated that George W. Bush would not have attacked had Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons. This past Monday, Mr Kim apparently ordered the detonation of a small nuclear bomb, sending political shock waves around the world (although some, including France's Defence Minister, say it may have been a fake, or failed).

If it did indeed happen, as most nations believe, the test was a blow to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which more than 180 states forswore nuclear weapons. In return, the so-called "declared nuclear weapon states" - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - promised to share nuclear technology for peaceful energy production and work towards "general disarmament".

The NPT has been remarkably successful. Over the course of nearly four decades, only three countries have developed nuclear arms; and each of the three - Israel, India and Pakistan - exercised its sovereign right to stay out of the treaty. Around 30 other countries have chosen not to develop nuclear weapons despite having the technological capacity to do so.

North Korea is the ugly exception. In January 2003, it withdrew from the NPT. It renounced a 1994 "framework agreement" with the United States under which, in return for economic aid, it had shut down its single reactor and stopped reprocessing spent uranium fuel rods into plutonium for nuclear weapons. And it expelled weapons inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency which had been monitoring its compliance.

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