The view that nuclear weapons are merely political instruments -- suitable for sending signals, but not waging wars -- is now so common in the United States that it is hard to find anyone who disagrees. Yet that comforting assumption is not shared by leaders everywhere. North Korea, for example, does not test nuclear weapons to send messages, but to make sure that its ultimate deterrent will work. It would be tragic if the United States let misguided Kremlinology distract from the real challenges ahead.
Before North Korea conducted its latest missile test, President Barack Obama and other world leaders were condemning the regime for its act of aggression. But North Korea will inevitably go unpunished for this provocation -- just as it has in the past. The country's nuclear arsenal, potential for collapse, and reputation for unpredictability all keep its foes from retaliating.
The suddenness of Kim Jong Il’s death has sparked fears of instability on the Korean peninsula and beyond. Fearing a messy collapse, Beijing and Washington are trying to promote a smooth transition. But rooting for stability means rooting for the continuation of arguably the most despicable government on earth.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has anointed his third son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. Kim Jong Un will have many obstacles to overcome. But powerful forces will encourage stability, and the continued, sorry reign of the Kim family.
Japan should not apologize for its past aggression by emulating the contrition that Germany has displayed since the mid-1960s because it would risk a nationalist backlash. A more promising model is the one set by West Germany in the 1950s, which focuses on the future.