North Korea's nuclear test is only the latest failure of the West's proliferation policy.
And it demonstrates the need to return to the proven methods of multilateral disarmament. Far from being crazy, the North Korean policy is quite rational. Faced with a US government that believes the communist regime should be removed from the map, the North Koreans pressed ahead with building a deterrent. US President George W. Bush stopped the oil supplies to North Korea that had been part of a framework to end its nuclear program previously agreed with former US president Bill Clinton. Bush had already threatened preemptive war -- Iraq-style -- against a regime he dubbed as belonging to the axis of evil.
The background to North Korea's test is that, since the end of the cold war, the nuclear states have tried to impose a double standard, hanging on to nuclear weapons for themselves and their friends while denying them to others. Like alcoholics condemning teenage drinking, the nuclear powers have made the spread of nuclear weapons the terror of our age, distracting attention from their own behavior. Western leaders refuse to accept that our own actions encourage others to follow suit.
North Korea's action has now increased the number of nuclear weapon states to nine. Since 1998 India, Pakistan and now North Korea have joined America, China, France, Russia, Israel and the UK.
The domino effect is all too obvious. Britain wants nuclear weapons so long as the French do. India said it would build one if there were no multilateral disarmament talks. Pakistan followed rapidly. In Iran and the Arab world Israel's bomb had always been an incentive to join in. But for my Iranian friends, waking up to a Pakistani bomb can be compared to living in a non-nuclear Britain and waking up to find Belgium had tested a nuclear weapon.
East Asia is unlikely to be different. In 2002 Japan's then chief cabinet secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, told reporters that "depending on the world situation, circumstances and public opinion could require Japan to possess nuclear weapons."
The deputy Cabinet secretary at the time, Shinzo Abe -- now Japan's prime minister -- said afterwards that it would be acceptable for Japan to develop small, strategic nuclear weapons. It was not supposed to be like this.
At the end of the Cold War, disarmament treaties were being signed, and in 1996 the big powers finally agreed to stop testing nuclear weapons for the first time since 1945. The public, the pressure groups and the media all breathed a great sigh of relief and forgot about the bomb. Everyone thought that with the Soviet Union gone, multilateral disarmament would accelerate.
But with public attention elsewhere, the Dr Strangeloves in Washington, Moscow and Paris stopped the disarmament process and invented new ideas requiring new nuclear weapons.
A decade ago, Clinton's Pentagon placed "non-state actors'' (ie, terrorists) on the list of likely targets for US nuclear weapons. Now all the established nuclear states are building new nuclear weapons. The Bush administration made things worse.
First, it rejected the policy of controlling armaments through treaties, which had been followed by previous presidents since 1918. Second, it proposed to use military -- even nuclear -- force in a preemptive attack to prevent proliferation.