"Iranian and North Korean Nukes Are Intolerable."
Not unless we overreact. North Korea has been questing after nuclear capability for decades and has now managed to conduct a couple of nuclear tests that seem to have been mere fizzles. It has also launched a few missiles that have hit their presumed target, the Pacific Ocean, with deadly accuracy. It could do far more damage in the area with its artillery.
If the Iranians do break their solemn pledge not to develop nuclear weapons (perhaps in the event of an Israeli or U.S. airstrike on their facilities), they will surely find, like all other countries in our nuclear era, that the development has been a waste of time (it took Pakistan 28 years) and effort (is Pakistan, with its enduring paranoia about India and a growing jihadi threat, any safer today?).
Moreover, Iran will most likely "use" any nuclear capability in the same way all other nuclear states have: for prestige (or ego-stoking) and deterrence. Indeed, as strategist and Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling suggests, deterrence is about the only value the weapons might have for Iran. Such devices, he points out, "should be too precious to give away or to sell" and "too precious to 'waste' killing people" when they could make other countries "hesitant to consider military action."
If a nuclear Iran brandishes its weapons to intimidate others or get its way, it will likely find that those threatened, rather than capitulating or rushing off to build a compensating arsenal, will ally with others (including conceivably Israel) to stand up to the intimidation. The popular notion that nuclear weapons furnish a country with the ability to "dominate" its area has little or no historical support -- in the main, nuclear threats over the last 60 years have either been ignored or met with countervailing opposition, not with timorous acquiescence. It was conventional military might -- grunts and tanks, not nukes -- that earned the United States and the Soviet Union their respective spheres of influence during the Cold War.
In his 2008 campaign, Obama pointedly pledged that, as president, he would "do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon … everything." Let us hope not: The anti-proliferation sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s probably led to more deaths than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the same can be said for the ongoing war in Iraq, sold as an effort to root out Saddam Hussein's nukes. There is nothing inherently wrong with making nonproliferation a high priority, so long as it is topped with a somewhat higher one: avoiding policies that can lead to the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of people under the obsessive sway of worst-case-scenario fantasies.
Obama has achieved much in his first year as president on foreign policy through toning down rhetoric, encouraging openness toward international consultation and cooperation, and helping revise America's image as a threatening and arrogant loose cannon. That's certainly something to build on in year two.
The forging of nuclear arms reduction agreements, particularly with the Russians, could continue the process. Although these are mostly feel-good efforts that might actually hamper the natural pace of nuclear-arms reductions, there is something to be said for feeling good. Reducing weapons that have little or no value may not be terribly substantive, but it is one of those nice gestures that can have positive atmospheric consequences -- and one that can appear to justify certain Nobel awards.
The confrontations with Iran and North Korea over their prospective or actual nukes are more problematic. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have already contributed big time to the hysteria that has become common coin within the foreign-policy establishment on this issue. It is fine to apply diplomacy and bribery in an effort to dissuade those countries from pursuing nuclear weapons programs: We'd be doing them a favor, in fact. But, though it may be heresy to say so, the world can live with a nuclear Iran or North Korea, as it has lived now for 45 years with a nuclear China, a country once viewed as the ultimate rogue. If push eventually comes to shove in these areas, the solution will be a familiar one: to establish orderly deterrent and containment strategies and avoid the temptation to lash out mindlessly at phantom threats.