By Stephen Gowans
Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus has put his finger on what’s wrong with north Korea and Iran developing nuclear weapons, or having the capability to do so.
The problem is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent, which means that if either country possesses a credible nuclear arsenal and the means of delivering warheads, their conquest by US forces isn’t in the cards. And that is something Pincus seems to regard as regrettable.
In his March 30 column Pincus points to General Kevin P. Chilton, head of the US Strategic Command.
Chilton reminded US legislators that, “Throughout the 65-year history of nuclear weapons, no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest, nor has the world witnessed the globe-consuming conflicts of earlier history.” 
Pincus regarded this as a warning, “a thought others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability.” 
In other words, the implication of Chilton’s view, as Pincus interprets it, is that there is little chance that a nuclear-armed north Korea or Iran could be conquered or even put at risk of conquest, a prospect so alarming to him, that he urges government officials to think through what would happen if Tehran and Pyongyang developed a credible threat of self-defense.
Pincus’s circularity (we ought to conquer these countries before they’re no longer conquerable) invites the question: Why conquer them at all? The standard answer, that both countries are threats to their neighbors, doesn’t work, for two reasons.
First, the real threat, as Pincus implicitly acknowledges, isn’t one of north Korea endangering south Korea or Iran wiping Israel off the map, but of both countries acquiring the means to make themselves effectively unconquerable.
Second, other countries have acquired large nuclear arsenals, and far from being treated as threats that must be pressed to relinquish their nuclear arms, are aided by the United States in acquiring more of them.
Consider India. The very same issue of The Washington Post that found Picus worrying about north Korea and Iran becoming unconquerable carried an article on negotiations between the United States and India, the outcome of which is that the latter will soon import spent nuclear fuel from the former. 
India will be able to extract plutonium from the fuel it imports to make nuclear weapons. Although India has pledged not to do so, “it diverted civilian nuclear fuel to build its first nuclear weapons three decades ago.”  Already India has manufactured weapons-grade plutonium for an estimated 100 warheads and has “has built weapons with yields of up to 200 kilotons.” 
What’s more, the country is not part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, portrayed by Pincus’s colleagues as a looming nuclear threat is a treaty signatory, while north Korea was, until Chilton’s predecessors at Strategic Command announced in 1993 that the DPRK would be targeted with strategic nuclear missiles.
Strange that Pincus wasn’t warning government officials to ponder Chilton’s words about nuclear powers avoiding the risk of conquest as they watch India strengthen its nuclear capability, with US assistance.
But then India is already part of Washington’s informal empire. Plus, exporting nuclear fuel to India promises to fatten the bottom line of the US nuclear industry.
It’s not so curious to discover that north Korea, a country Pincus seems to think really should be conquered before it’s too late, comes in dead last on the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index, a ranking of how congenial countries are to the profit-making interests of banks, corporations and wealthy investors. Countries that have low tax rates, welcome foreign investment and trade, and spend little on government programs are considered economically free, while countries whose governments intervene in the economy to achieve public policy goals, or to prohibit exploitation, are relegated to the basement of the list.
Generally speaking, where a country appears on the list, offers a pretty good gauge of whether a country is in or out of favor with Washington, whose foreign policy since the Bolshevik Revolution and before has been guided by how open other countries are to US investment and exports. US policy leans toward prying open closed economies and rhapsodizing about open ones.
The places of selected countries on the Heritage Foundation 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, are shown below. (The index ranks 179 countries.)
• North Korea, 179
• Zimbabwe, 178
• Cuba, 177
• Myanmar (Burma), 175
• Venezuela, 174
• Iran, 168
Notice that the bottom dwelling countries are the objects of various Western efforts of regime change, some involving the threat of military intervention and all involving destabilization carried out, in most cases, with the participation of “pro-democracy nonviolence activists,” groups that profess to be progressive and anti-imperialist but are in reality lieutenants of the US foreign policy estblishment. No surprise that their major funding comes from such wealthy individuals as Peter Ackerman and George Soros, who play prominent roles in US ruling class circles. Ackerman is a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations and was head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. Soros is a veteran anti-communist warrior.
It’s no accident that the countries that are on Washington’s regime change hit list also happen to be on the Heritage Foundation’s list of countries that are least accommodating to business interests, no accident because US corporations, investors and banks dominate the formulation of US foreign policy. It makes sense that they would go after “closed economies” (i.e., closed to export of capital and commodities on favorable terms) since these economies represent an unrealized potential for profit-making, and also the threat of a bad example if they’re allowed to get away with shaping economic policy to serve local interests rather than those of foreign capital.
While not among the Index of Economic Freedom stars, India ranks much higher on the list (124) and has been praised for moving “forward with market-oriented economic reforms” and opening its trade regime.
We might ask why anyone would create an index of economic freedom in the first place. It is safe to say that the only people interested in creating a map of favourable opportunities for the export of capital and commodities are those with capital and commodities to export. You won’t find north Koreans, Cubans or Zimbabweans surveying the world to find out whose policies are geared toward promoting attractive returns for investors, largely because they haven’t surplus capital to export. In these countries, the development of internal productive forces is the top priority. And north Korea and Cuba haven’t structural compulsions to export capital. But imperialist countries have plenty of surplus capital, which is why “economic freedom” and rolling over governments that oppose it, is an obsession in Washington and other major capitals.
Pincus strays from the script in calling for north Korea and Iran to be conquered before they can make themselves unconquerable, rather than repeating the accustomed nonsense about the dangers of first strikes launched against neighbors, Europe or even the United States. At the same time, his employer makes US hypocrisy plain by running a story about the United States preparing to export spent nuclear fuel to a country that refuses to join the nonproliferation treaty and has amassed a substantial nuclear arsenal. Finally, the failure of north Korea and Iran to serve themselves up as profitable fields for US investment, while India displays a greater willingness to cater to the profit-making requirements of US corporations, offers a glimpse into the real reasons behind Washington’s double-standard.
1. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
3. Rama Lakshmi and Steven Mufson, “US, India reach agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
5. James Lamont and James Blitz, ‘India raises nuclear stakes,’ Financial Times, September 27, 2009.