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Reader riposte: Bribing Pyongyang

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COMMENTS

10 December 2009 10:13

Crispin Rovere writes:

Just regarding the 'Buying off North Korea' idea. Establishing a market for nuclear disarmament sounds like a dangerous precedent to me. Many more nations may seek to acquire nuclear weapons if, instead of sanctions, someone is paying them $1.2 billion per year to countries that surrender them. 

I am reminded of those NGOs who use donor funds to purchase endangered bears in Asia. The NGO pays the poacher some exorbitant sum, say $10,000, to release the bear they have in captivity. Of course, the first thing the happy poacher then does is go out into the forest and catches another bear to sell again to the NGO. Not a good circle for the bears, nor the hapless donors.

That does indeed sound like a pretty short-sighted way to save bears. Now, if weapons-grade plutonium were only as easy to come by as endangered animals, the analogy would be watertight.

But it just aint so, and for most countries, it wouldn't be worth the huge trouble and expense to develop a nuclear program just to get this pay-off. Remember, North Korea's nuclear program is now decades-old and involves massive sunk costs for which it gets nothing in return except nuclear weapons. But if Pyongyang is offered a sum it values more highly than nuclear weapons, perhaps there will be a change of heart.

Remember, also, that we are talking about a particularly poor country here, for which the annual sum of US$1.2 billion would be very attractive. Other potential proliferators with slightly higher national incomes, such as Iran or Syria, would probably not be attracted to such an offer. So the moral hazard problem Crispin identifies would be muted.

Also on the subject of bribes, see this Matthew Yglesias post on the puzzling reluctance of Coalition forces in Afghanistan to use financial wealth to their advantage in the fight against the Taliban.