North Korea and Iran have repeatedly given every indication that they are going forward with plans to produce nuclear weapons, despite pressure and cajoling from Europe and the US not to do so.
Consequently, a new nuclear era is at hand, as other nations will likely be spurred by North Korea and Iran to go nuclear themselves. A retired US military officer with experience in nuclear weapons said: "We need to start thinking about how we will live in a world where non-proliferation has failed."
That will require a new doctrine to deter nuclear hostilities so awful that, as former US secretary of defense Harold Brown once wrote, "The living would envy the dead."
The doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that kept the US and the former Soviet Union from waging nuclear war will no longer do.
Amid this gloom are rays of light. Several nations, including Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, have given up nuclear arms. Mongolia and Japan have forsworn them. Proposals for nuclear free zones in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific struggle for life.
Mongolia has declared itself nuclear-free and persuaded its nuclear neighbors, China and Russia, to agree to respect that. This demonstrates, said Mongolia's former ambassador to the UN, Enkhsaikhan Jargalsaikhan, "that each state can make its unique contribution to non-proliferation."
Even though many Japanese perceive nuclear threats from China and North Korea, the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has stuck to a long-standing policy of abstaining from nuclear arms. Japanese strategists say that policy will continue so long as the US deterrent protecting Japan remains credible.
From North Korea, the latest sign of its intent was carried by the Korean Central News Agency: "Under the present situation it is illogical to discuss with the US, the assailant, the issue of dismantling the nuclear deterrent built up by the DPRK [North Korea] for self-defense."
In Tehran, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told correspondents that "Iran will today resume nuclear fuel research as scheduled," defying pleas from Europe and the US to postpone that decision.
"Very, very disastrous signals," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Elsewhere in Asia and the Middle East, nations that might develop nuclear arms include South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.
India and Pakistan are already declared nuclear powers, while Israel's nuclear arsenal is an open secret. The other five are the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China.
Deterring North Korea or Iran would be very different from the MAD standoff during the depth of the Cold War. The US and the former Soviet Union deterred each other with massive nuclear arsenals that made devastating retaliation a certain response to nuclear attack.
Today, North Korea and Iran, with their relatively puny stocks of nuclear weapons, cannot attack the US with sufficient force to prevent a retaliatory strike. Therefore, some US strategic thinkers argue that negotiations with North Korea and Iran, with their empty warnings of serious consequences, are futile and should cease.
"Blustering does not become a superpower," said a US military officer. "We have gone from speaking softly while carrying a big stick to blustering constantly while carrying no stick at all."