Monday's apparently successful nuclear test by the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Il does not, as claimed, mark the dawn of a new age of nuclear proliferation. The North Koreans had already boasted of having developed a nuclear weapon, and no one has ever doubted, whatever the truth of these claims, that they would in time. North Korean scientists have already been sharing their technological secrets with their Iranian counterparts, as earlier Pakistan had helped them. Nuclear proliferation is already here, and will accelerate. The current crisis is only a signpost along the road to inevitability.
Its worst effect, rather, will be to confirm what might until now not have been apparent: that we -- the world, the West, the United States -- are simply unable to come to terms with the threat that now confronts us.
The world's worst dictators, it is now clear, may acquire the world's most destructive weapons with impunity -- even as a new breed of macro-terrorists advertise themselves as potential after-market customers. Either we do not recognize this for the existential threat that it is, or we cannot summon the nerve, collectively or individually, to take the steps required to save ourselves.
Kim Jong-Il just ceased to be a run-of-the-mill Stalinist dictator, or a pathetic caricature of same, with this successful nuclear test.
The whole balance of power just shifted in Asia heavily to China's favour, because it is in China's interest to keep Kim's regime propped up by all means so that it doesn't have to dump its resources into stabilizing it upon its collapse.
South Korea's likely response, suicidal though it be, will be to blame the U.S., even though China holds all the influence over Kim. Expect the cries for a complete U.S. withdrawal to grow louder.
And expect Japan to finally amend its constitution to permit it to send its army overseas in an offensive manner, and to develop its own nukes.
And this could have been stopped, if the West had had the courage to stand up to both North Korea and China. It did not. And Seoul, or Tokyo, or even Los Angeles, will pay the price one day.
ADDENDUM: The Atlantic Monthly has a thorough and excellent analysis of what might happen as North Korea's situation deteriorates, bomb or not.
ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM: Apparently a couple dozen Iranian scientists were honoured guests at the testing of North Korea's first nuclear bomb. I don't need to tell you what that means.