MAD thinking alive and well

Once upon a distantly recent time, the doctrines of nuclear weaponry seemed to make crude, crunching sense. If you splat me, I’ll splat you — in our Mad old world. (That’s Mad as in “mutually assured destruction”.) But now the madness is more miasmic, dementia lacking discernible doctrine or even plain speaking. Take Iran, North Korea and the missile defence row currently consuming much of eastern Europe. And while you’re at it, take Pakistan too.

Prague, Warsaw and Moscow are racked in rowdy debate because George Bush wants to site 10 missile interceptors in Poland (facing east), served by a new early-warning radar station inside Czech borders. But whose prospective attacks would those interceptors intercept, pray? Why, threats from Pyongyang and Tehran, says Washington. In these uncertain times, we’ll keep Europe safe from harm. Just shut up and let us move our heavy metal in.

It’s thin stuff, of course, rendered ever more flimsy with passing events. North Korea — remember? — has bowed out of the nuclear game, at least on America’s own recognisance. And Iran continues to declare no intention of joining the game anyway. (Trust that or not, there are plenty of other responses on offer that don’t come near Poland.) So what on earth is the White House up to? President Putin thinks he knows as he ponders installing more buttons of his own. This is 20th-century arms racing returned to post-millennium duty. This is a fresh beginning for the madness we once understood. Superpowers great and diminished still need their nuclear fix.

But why not say so openly? Why not lay out a revised doctrine that voters from Krakow to Chicago can understand as they pay their taxes? It’s not possible, apparently, because we’ve totally lost the plot. Investigative reporters Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark have written a chilling new book. Deception returns AQ Khan, the “father of Pakistan’s bomb”, to centrestage. It demonstrates, in dismaying detail, why Khan wasn’t the lone ranger of political legend, building nukes he could peddle round the Middle East and Asia for cash. It fixes Khan firmly inside the Pakistani establishment — and, worse, it shows how Washington, anxious to keep Islamabad sweet through the years of cold war Afghanistan conflict, actively assisted Khan’s team to make WMD.

In short: Pakistan joined the nuclear club — pointing its missiles at India’s missiles — because the west gave it a covert helping hand for anti-Soviet Kabul purpose. The west helped a patently unstable Islamic nation, ruled for most of its time by permutating generals, to get WMD. The west watched AQ Khan trying to flog its knowhow and kit to rogue states. And yet now, in the midst of a supposed war against terror, the west dare not confess to past errors nor address present perils.

Nearly two decades after the Berlin wall came down, nukes new and old litter our earth. Some of them are in “safe” hands. Some of them are in supposedly more febrile hands beyond the Urals. The Mad we survived on for decades, that still applies to India v Pakistan, somehow doesn’t apply when Tehran and Tel Aviv enter the frame. Is Prague supposed to look out for blips heading west launched in Waziristan? These are the days of mutually assured incomprehension; these are the dog days without dogma. — The Guardian