Having grown up during the height of the cold war, I still remember the very real concern that the world might end in a flash. While my children have never known that fear, events of the past few years may bring back that low-grade background fear experienced during the 60′s and 70′s. Two of the most irrational nations in the world now have nuclear weapons and the world will never be the same again.
Unlike the cold war, this time the threat is more diverse than the mano a mano stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the U.S. and Soviets had massive mistrust and fundamental failure to misunderstand each other’s culture, they also were largely rational. Each side understood that a nuclear conflict meant the end of both countries – a risk that ultimately proved to be a sufficient deterrent to prevent the cold war from turning into a world ending flash fire.
Neither North Korea nor Iran care about such niceties as the survival of the planet. North Korea has systematically starved its own people for the past 60 years while its twin, South Korea, is an economic powerhouse. Projecting an image of power and strength mean everything to North Korea. Openly flexing its power with nuclear weapons and long-range missile tests, North Korea is even willing to jeopardize its relationship with its only major trading partner China to show the rest of the world just how powerful it is.
Iran is just as irrational, but for completely different reasons. Iran is irrational terrorist expanded to a national level. Islam and government are inextricably intertwined in Iran whose leaders believe that they have the power of God behind them. Believing that their actions are blessed if not ordered by God, and therefore there is very little that Iran can do without self-satisfied justification.
What makes this “cold war” completely different from the U.S./Soviet styled posturing is that this time around conflict can start in a multitude of ways. A small nuclear weapon can be put on any container ship and floated into any harbor in the world, or driven across an unprotected border in a van, or carried across on a ferry in luggage or launched locally on a short-range warhead. Whether done to flex North Korean power or as an act of God for Iran, a small spark in one part of the world could easily quickly escalate into a full-blown world war before anyone can blink.
Well kids, welcome to this brave new world.