Now that I'm back at headquarters, I've been catching up on my RSS feeds. There's a typically interesting post over at Sentient Developments about historical proliferation of the Bomb — apparently, the tech was only "invented once," then spread through a network of spies and black-market weapons wheeler-dealers.
SD proprietor George Dvorsky uses a recently-published New York Times article as the basis of his post; I encourage you to read both. (George also recently published his year-end music faves — he's a Renaissance man!)
Of particular interest is how China's policy decision to proliferate gave nuclear know-how to Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea. NYT:
. . .Why did Beijing spread its atomic knowledge so freely? The authors speculate that it either wanted to strengthen the enemies of China’s enemies (for instance, Pakistan as a counterweight to India) or, more chillingly, to encourage nuclear wars or terror in foreign lands from which Beijing would emerge as the “last man standing.”
This and the recent atrocities in Mumbai started me thinking that many of the existential dangers of this and previous eras are the result of a relatively small group of individuals making decisions that imperil the rest of us. Like, say, Chinese foreign policymakers from 1982.
Excepting stress conditions that lead to mob mentality, sociology suggests the majority of people prefer as little civil disturbance as possible. Unfortunately, this is why they typically go along with whatever their leaders say. But it also means that most people are not extremists. For example, the plurality of Muslims are highly unlikely to participate in the kind of radical violence witnessed in Mumbai. And that's a good thing.
The Mumbai terrorists used technology to achieve their despicable ends — GPS, Google Maps, voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP). This might lead some to demonize such technologies. But again, there's a silver lining, which is the fact that millions upon millions use these applications and services for perfectly peaceable means. And some of these tools might actually help prevent terrorism.
The percentage of jihadist groups is still relatively small, and most effective way to combat them is to disincentivize those in Islamic countries from being assimilated. Maybe we should build a school for every piece of American ordnance expended in the War On Terror.
Here's my real point: The masses, while undoubtedly ignorant and smelly, are inclined to stability, not chaos. In those societies where voting is a right, they (mostly) use their electoral voice to insure such security. Yet, no modern democracy is truly representative, which is why we have situations where a small polity can engineer the overthrow of a foreign government in order to get cheap bananas or oil. When practiced for decades, this kind of political warfare can have innumerable unintended consequences. Just look at CIA's history with Iran.
So the fact that China proliferated nuke technology is mostly the failing of their political system, in which a handful of Communist officials can make choices that jeopordize the security of the entire planet. (To be fair, even a cursory overview of Cold War history likewise implicates America, either directly or indirectly.)
I applaud most attempts to make government more transparent and accountable. (What is democracy but an attempt at crowdsourcing political preference?) Obviously, we can't make our intelligence agencies open source. But where possible, we should work to ensure that the decisions that affect our very survival are open to scrutiny. We should also strive to improve the educational baseline of those doing the scrutinizing — whether it's Joe Six-Pack or Willy Wall Street. That's change worth believing in.