by Peter Zeihan on January 19, 2023
Picture one of those old westerns where the outlaw and sheriff are about to have a standoff outside the saloon. The bad guy (who has never lost a duel) sweeps back his coat and reveals his shiny-six-shooter. The sheriff (who isn’t a great shot) then sweeps back his coat and brandishes a nuke…perhaps not the most realistic scenario, but it helps me get my point across. If your country can’t win a traditional fight, throw a couple nukes into the mix and hopefully no one is dumb enough to poke that bear.
With the North Koreans “keeping nukes on the table,” the conversation has now turned into what other countries should build out nuclear options. There are two boxes a country should be able to check before going nuclear: do they have the technical capacity to do so and is there a strong enough strategic reason to have them?
Just as the sheriff in our scenario knew he couldn’t win in a traditional gunfight, there is a long list of countries that would fall very quickly in a conventional war. Throw nukes into the mix and everything changes. Unfortunately, that list of countries is longer than any of us should be comfortable with.