Are you a world leader with dictatorial aspirations? Need cash quick? Want the world to listen? Would you like an embargo scrapped, or to invade a country without drawing immediate condemnations and threats of war from the other neighborhood toughs? Then build yourself some nuclear weapons, pronto.
That seems to be the message the West's diplomats are sending the world. Whether you're terrorist-supporting Iran, a tinpot dictator in North Korea or a would-be czar with aspirations to reunite Russian-speaking territories by force, the path to getting your heart's desire involves possessing and developing a nuclear weapons program.
At least you'll get the West's undivided attention. Russia is the perfect example: Vladimir Putin controls as many as 8,000 nuclear weapons, ranging from artillery shells to the latest SS-25 intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with truly devastating nuclear warheads. Ever since Putin started his Special War in Ukraine, as specialist John Schindler termed it, NATO countries have done their best not to irritate him too much.
Russia has made sure the world understands that it is willing to use nuclear weapons. Just last year, a large military exercise involved a mock strategic nuclear strike aimed at Warsaw. More recently Russian bombers known for carrying nuclear missiles feigned an attack against a Swedish target following a typical nuclear delivery scenario. Weeks ago, British fighters escorted a Russian bomber that may have been carrying a large nuclear anti-submarine torpedo.
All Putin needed was just that little hint that he may not be so rational a decision-maker as his Western peers hope he is. "When a leader is 100 percent rational, you can develop policies to deal with that leader, adapt to him", former NATO Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Dutch TV some weeks ago. "However, when you have to assume that maybe that leader is just 95 percent rational - well, that's when things get difficult." A 95 percent rational autocrat with a serious grudge sitting on a huge pile of nukes seems enough for NATO's leaders to take a careful approach.
Then there are the Kims in North Korea. Whenever the dictators in Pyongyang need something from the West, they detonate a dirty bomb in a cave, reactivate a reactor, send an intercontinental ballistic missile crashing close to Japan, or threaten to build more nuclear bombs. Whatever Kim Jong Un wants from the West, all he needs to do is rattle North Korea's would-be nuclear sabre, and he gets it. Well, most of it anyway.
In fact, all you need to do is let the world think that you're making nuclear weapons. Doing so might convince your powerful opponents to drop their economic embargoes. This is what Iran is trying to do: trade its nuclear program for normalized relations with the West. Whether such a deal would also involve Iran dropping its support for Hezbollah or Syria's murderous dictator, or stop threatening its neighbors across the Persian Gulf, remains to be seen.
If you want a seat at the table, all you need to do is build nuclear weapons. That makes non-proliferation a pretty tough sell.