A recent comment made by the now-deceased British weapons expert, David Kelly, exemplifies a political tactic often followed by weak states in order to remain secure from outside threats: hyping or obfuscating their defense capabilities in an attempt to dissuade potential aggressors from attack or invasion. This strategy of manufactured uncertainty may have been recently employed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, in which the deposed leader remained cryptic regarding the possibility of his country possessing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
David Broucher, a British representative to the United Nations conference on disarmament, testified that in February Kelly told him that his Iraqi contacts feared that if they were to allow full inspections, the United States would become too informed about Baghdad's defense capabilities and therefore Iraq would be more vulnerable to attack. This fear highlights the difficulty that governments find themselves in when they are labeled as a threat by one of the world's only great powers, the United States. In such instances, Washington demands that such states reveal their entire defense capabilities. When states refuse, they are often subjected to harsh United Nations sanctions that can cripple their country's infrastructure and economy. Such states find themselves in a perilous situation, one where their failure to disclose their military potential could either increase or decrease the chances of an attack by the United States.
In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein opted against full disclosure and instead remained ambiguous about his possible retaliatory capabilities. Washington called his bluff and effectively removed the leader from power. Despite this success, other states that have earned the negative attention of Washington are also following Saddam's strategy of deception and are attempting to hype or obfuscate their defense capabilities. These states have learned that the more powerful a state is, the less likely an aggressor will attack it. North Korea is the clearest example of a country following this doctrine.
Once the Bush administration began to harshly denounce North Korea, even threatening preemptive action, Pyongyang began to hype its defense capabilities. Indeed, Pyongyang told the Bush administration that it was actively pursuing nuclear weapons despite previous claims to the contrary. The North then backed out of international nuclear agreements and began to take measures toward developing nuclear arms. Occasional anonymous North Korean officials made statements claiming that the North already had nuclear weapons. In effect, North Korea quickly clouded its nuclear program in secrecy as to confuse potential aggressors about its military prowess. It is likely that during this time of secrecy Pyongyang is indeed attempting to develop nuclear arms in order to increase the costs that are associated with attacking a nuclear-armed and military-ready state.
And weak-minded governments often get taken in by these efforts...