Victor Davis Hanson
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The gangster state of North Korea became a nuclear power in 2006-2007, despite lots of foreign aid aimed at precluding just such proliferation -- help usually not otherwise accorded such a loony dictatorship. Apparently the civilized world rightly suspected that if nuclear, Pyongyang would either export nuclear material and expertise to other unstable countries, or bully its successful but non-nuclear neighbors -- or both.

The United States has given billions of dollars in foreign aid to Pakistan, whose Islamist gangs have spearheaded radical anti-American terrorism. Since a corrupt Pakistan went nuclear in 1998, it has been able to extort such foreign payouts -- on fears that one of its nukes might end up in the hands of terrorists.

By any measure of economic success or political stability, Pakistan would not warrant either the cash or the attention it wins without nuclear weapons.

An observant Iran appreciates three laws of current nuclear gangbanging.

1. Nuclear weapons earn a reputation.

2. The more loco a nuclear nation sounds, the more likely civilized states will fear that it is not subject to nuclear deterrence, and so they pay bribes for it behave. Gangbangers always claim that they have nothing to lose; their more responsible intended targets have everything to lose.

3. As of yet there are no 100 percent effective nuclear defense systems that can guarantee non-nuclear powers absolute safety from a sudden attack. The nuclear gangbanger, not the global police, currently has the upper hand.

Again, the actual bombs are not the problem. We do not worry about a nuclear but democratic Israel or France. We are not even bothered by a hostile but non-nuclear Cuba or Venezuela. The combination of a bomb with a rap sheet is what changes all diplomatic and strategic considerations.

It would be hard to contain a nuclear Iran with bribes, as we have so far handled Pakistan -- and in the past North Korea as well. In both cases, we have had some help. Nuclear neighbor India assists in warning Pakistan to behave. A nervous Chinese overlord is amused by North Korean troublemaking -- but only up to the point that North Korea might threaten China's vital export markets.

In contrast, only one of Iran's two enemies -- Israel -- is nuclear. Its wealthier Sunni Saudi Arabian rival is not.

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Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.