"Not so long ago, the terrifying rules of nuclear chicken were clear," writes the New York Times' David Sanger in a gripping Sunday opinion piece. But not any more.
When only superpowers and their allies held nuclear arsenals, deterrence worked, because all sides understood the horrific consequences of a misstep. Even during the most unnerving confrontations, like the Cuban missile crisis, there were clear "red lines" beyond which no sane leader would intentionally step...But the lesson of the past few years is that red lines have blurred, to the point where they are now little more than pink smudges. And now, no one seems to know the rules. Not the Bush administration, as it sends conflicting signals about what it and its allies will do if diplomacy fails to disarm Iran and North Korea. Not Kim Jong Il, or the Iranian mullahs, as they test new and undefined limits. And why not test them?They all know that India, Pakistan and Israel joined the nuclear club without ever accepting the rules laid out in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Even after India and Pakistan set off tests in 1998, the sanctions America imposed were relatively mild and short-lived. As soon as America needed Pakistan's help after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the country was transformed from nuclear outlaw to "major non-NATO ally."Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wonders about this: "You have to think the Iranians are watching how we handle the North Koreans in the next few months. If you won't do anything with a big cheater, what are the middle and future cheaters to think?"Go read it all. The standard-issue story on armed robots in the same section -- "Darpa, don't let your robots grow up to be Skynet," essentially -- is eminently skippable, however.