Thinking deeply is difficult because, well, it requires thinking deeply. So sometimes it is more expedient to just throw thoughts out into the air as seeds for further thought to crystalize around. This is what I will attempt today as the topic is one which the amount of thought to get it correct is astounding.
Warning: For those looking for thoughts on Agile, or Theory of Constraints or Project 2007 you might as well hit the back button right now. I'm straying from the usual project management topics.
North Korea has stated they have tested a nuclear device. Iran has stated that they are proceeding to develop their nuclear capabilities. In a way these are "All-American" sorts of initiatives. They smell of the former brashness and pluck that characterized the pre-worldpower version of the US. From a North Korean perspective, the argument is little different from that of an NRA member who believes that they need a handgun for self-defense in their home and car. I'd venture that Iran sees things in a similar light. The motivations for developing weapons are very similar to those which motivated the US to pursue development in these technologies throughout the 20th century. The motivation appears to be fear, coupled with a desire for self-determination and national pride. It is hard to be more righteous than that. (Note: this is where the lack of deep thought is invoked, there may be financial motivation for North Korea to develop such weapons as they aspire to the retail weapons trade currently dominated by the US and China - but let us leave that alone for now)
Now, I think we can all agree, and in fact most of the world HAS agreed that more nuclear weapons are generally a bad thing. We have signed treaties to limit nuclear proliferation. This is relatively easy to do once the basic motivations have been fulfilled. The US for example already has nuclear weapons. The US already has a powerful position in the world and has enough self-determination and national pride to go around. The US is relatively free of fear as well. I say relatively because fear is never entirely absent, but it looks to me that fear has been on the upswing this century. I'm not sure I see that going away soon. But overall, I think it is great that a large portion of the world's governments agree to this basic principle.
So what would be the best way to deal with the issue of those who do not agree with this principle? I would think that at a minimum, any approach should address the motivations of the countries pursuing this approach. If fear is a factor, then reducing fear would appear to be a productive step. Unfortunately, the US has not pursued reducing fear. Or if they have, it has not been public. In the famous "Axis of Evil" speech, George Bush painted a big red and white target on the upper half of the Korean Peninsula and around the countries of Iran and Iraq. It then unilaterally attacked Iraq. If I were Iranian, I'd wonder "are we next?" and indeed many Iranians I've talked to in this country have wondered the same thing. To them, having nuclear weapons is a matter of self-defense, just as the US development of nuclear weapons was a matter of self-defense.
Now, there is the issue of appeasement. I'm not sure how to address it, probably because it is so free of clear definitions. To some it is being "soft" or accomodating the desires of another country. It got a bad name because a country which was on ann expansionist tear was dealt with in this way and was allowed to continue their trajectory of annexation and conquest. One can see that appeasement is probably a bad way to deal with cancers or other growing things. Indeed, it seems that at least at one point in time, Iraq was expansionist and appeasement would have been a poor way to deal with that. But are Iraq and North Korea pursuing expansionist policies? Is there any realistic chance that North Korea will attempt to annex parts of China, Russia or Japan? Would nuclear weapons help them along this path? What about Iran? Iran seems content to stay within their own borders and build alliances with surrounding countries rather than invading and occupying. Indeed, one can see that the approach of occupation is a difficult one at best.
Given this state of affairs, is an approach of escalation and vilification one that will reduce the motivations of Iran and North Korea? To me it seems quite the opposite. There are many who would deem South Korea's "Sunshine" policy to be a failure in light of current events, but I think that if it is, it is because the approach is coming from the wrong party. The root of fear in North Korea is fear of the US, not fear of South Korea.
Now a disclaimer. North Korea is guilty of terrible abuses of its people perpetuated by a series of leaders of questionable sanity. The suffering of people in North Korea is immensely sad. I can't say that I know anything good about the current leadership in Iran either. But, cornering a paranoid, vicious anxious dog is more likely to provoke a bite than treating its anxieties in a productive manner would ever be. It is not a time to fight fear with fear.