The most significant changes slip by imperceptibly. In our case, the dissolution of the world order started in backwater places few people can pinpoint on the map: Pakistan and North Korea. Ancient Romans similarly wondered about the Barbarians who eventually did away with them

The Pakistani nuclear program broke ground in a way more important than the military: it was, in a sense, the proverbial garage basement nuke. The Pakistani nuclear weapon was devised and implemented by a single man, A.Q. Khan, without major political support. A.Q. Khan’s nuclear empire was a commercial enterprise of the same type, though of a different magnitude than Osama Bin Laden’s nut-selling corporation. Khan received venture financing from the Saudis in return for the Wahhabites’ share in the nuclear bombs; several are stored away in Saudi Arabia. The Americans turned a blind eye to Khan’s international espionage and his quest for nuclear secrets because the Soviets openly abetted India in its nuclear development. The British-trained Pakistani engineers proved capable of producing a bomb despite the Pakistanis’ characteristic dullness. Khan’s lesson is more important to your life than anything you’ve learned in school: nuclear weapons are technologically simple, no major financing is required, and they can be produced secretly without a major country’s sponsorship. In short, nukes are available to terrorists.

To underscore the point, Khan immediately started selling nuclear technology to cash customers: Libya, Algeria, Iran, Syria, and North Korea, among others. Joint efforts by these world outcasts honed an optimal technology: suitable for low-scale production, highly secretive, inexpensive, and with abundant raw inputs. In short, reprocessing spent fuel rods from peaceful power stations. The North Koreans used a small number of outdated centrifuges to harvest weapons-grade plutonium very slowly, enough for about one bomb a year. The Iranians concentrated on developing advanced centrifuges: with the best type, enough material for a bomb can be harvested in two or three months; unable to maintain secrecy, the Iranians poured on the speed. Their newest implementation is plasma-extracting, which allows fuel rods to be reprocessed even in an apartment.

Spent rods are buried in many places around the globe, and guarded loosely. Time and again, intelligence services report intercepting cargos of stolen rods. Presumably many more slip away. There is no practical way to guard them in remote places in poor, corrupt countries.

The NATO pretends to be the leading force in the world, though it has lost even in tribal Afghanistan. In the meantime, nuclear proliferators are building an alliance of their own. Pakistan sold nuclear technology to North Korea, which reciprocated with missile blueprints. Iran supported North Korea with $2 billion for transferring nuclear know-how to Syria. Iran diversified its nuclear activities into Venezuela, which also looks for an ostensibly peaceful reactor. In the most direct challenge to the world’s security, North Korea shipped weapon-grade uranium to Iran; that’s the closest thing to selling nuclear bombs. The five or six Korean nuclear bombs are certainly up for sale: the communists are desperate for cash and could not care less about Western sanctions or precision bombing. North Korea holds its Southern counterpart hostage against a major American attack.

A strike on North Korea cannot succeed because that country hid enough plutonium and would use the attack as a pretext to sell it openly. As usual, tactical approaches exist: one is to bomb the known nuclear facilities and immediately offer the communists billions of dollars for plutonium; America can always overbid Iran or the terrorists.

Tactical solutions cannot solve strategic problems. A.Q. Khan took the djinn of nuclear secrets out of the bottle, and now too many countries will be developing nuclear bombs. Some of them will exchange their military potential for aid, but others will stick to political goals. The development will feed on itself. South Korea cannot rely on American protection against the nuclear-armed North when the United States is embroiled in two lost wars and headed by a negotiations-minded administration. Seeing that America is not eager to save Israel from nuclear Iran, the South Koreans will proceed to build their own bombs. So will Japan, which sees North Korea as a rival (quite irrationally, since the North has no way of conducting a war against Japan). Vietnam cannot lose its regional dominance to Korea, and will reciprocate with nuclear development. On another part of the globe, Iranian nukes would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, pitting nuclear-armed Israel, Syria, and Egypt against each other. Latin America can nuclearize in a flash: Venezuela first, then Brazil, Argentina, and then everyone.

Terrorists need not act alone; a hostile state can hire them. Suppose Syria decides to nuke Tel Aviv with Iranian bombs, and does so through Hezbollah—what would Israel do? Probably, nothing. A retaliatory nuclear strike requires hard evidence, and Syria would deny its involvement, Iran would claim the uranium was stolen from it, and Lebanon would declare that it does not bear responsibility for a terrorist group. Retaliation would be still more problematic if the terrorists used biological weapons: they could use an advanced Anthrax strain of Russian origin, stolen in Ukraine, modified in Iran, and received from Syria, which would bet on Israel quarantining Tel Aviv promptly enough that the epidemic wouldn’t spread to the Golan Heights.

On the positive side, nuclear weapons are not apocalyptic. Missile defenses are strong enough, and ground-level explosions are not immensely devastating. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are vibrant towns today despite the fact that their bombings were much more devastating than any ground-level attack likely to be perpetrated by terrorists. Human losses in the range of 20,000 people from a single explosion are not catastrophic. Losses can grow exponentially, though, if terrorists put their nuclear bomb on a commercial aircraft and detonate before landing.

Nuclear proliferation signals the return to the historically standard situation of the absence of large-scale security, where every man is for himself. For some centuries, nation-states bought their subjects’ loyalty with promises of police security and defense against external enemies, often created by the nation-states themselves. No more. States are a fraud which endangers rather than protects their citizens.

The nuclear threat will force sensible people to abandon cities in the supposition that terrorists won’t expend nuclear bombs on villages. Such a development would probably take place after one or two bombings. The dissolution of the mega-cities would be an extremely positive process which would bring back the bonds of neighborhood. People will know their neighbors and exist in culturally homogenous, and thus morally comfortable communities. People will become more normal, less susceptible to government or consumerist propaganda and mental conditions. The technology allows for unhindered economic cooperation through virtual networks.

In the meantime, the diplomats must be happy to see nuclear proliferation, as it takes the power out of the hands of their rivals, the military. Leftists love the crumbling world order, which clears the scene for their great designs. The American administration welcomes the countries which lean toward it for last-resort protection against their nuclear neighbors.

And so we cannot expect any strong measures against North Korea and Pakistan.