The expanse, range, of her ignorance is quite startling

One of them marvels of the British commentariat is Polly Toynbee. Something to admire, something we should all be in awe of, is the range and expanse of her ignorance. Something that’s fine of course, no one can know everything and we do that Smithian division and specialisation with knowledge just as we do with labour. The thing is though, it’s possibly better not to write columns on such areas of non-knowledge.

As here, where Our Polly shows that she doesn’t quite understand aggressive negotiation:

“A remarkable foreign policy moment for Donald Trump,” said the breathless BBC correspondent – as if hostages had never been strategically released before by Pyongyang. On the runway, asked if he hoped to go to North Korea himself, Trump said: “It could happen.”

Indeed, anything could happen with this irrational, impulsive president. Here’s the high risk: he expects total capitulation, and anything less than the “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” being demanded of North Korea will see his mood turn to furious revenge. This first small gesture is a long way from the final goal. Will anything less than total victory satisfy the nervy vanity of the US leader?

Well, no, you start out with outrageous demands and scale them back over time to something that will be agreed to. At which point you declare victory. Maybe Trumpo will be able to pull this off, maybe he won’t, but that you start out by demanding everything just isn’t a surprise in a negotiation, it’s merely a technique.

However, what truly interests is this snippet:

Countries that turn nuclear illegally – Pakistan, Israel – gain power and status.

Polly is insistent that international law should be obeyed. I’m pretty keen on the idea that the law is obeyed too to be honest about it. But if you’re going to go around insisting then you’ve got to understand how that international law works.

To trot off to the side a little – the World Trade Organisation. Some see this as a conspiracy against RightThink folk and all that. The global establishment oppressing even. When what it actually is is governments signing a treaty saying “We’ll do that.” Or, more accurately, “We’ll not do that.” If you don’t want to follow those rules then don’t sign the treaty. As some places haven’t. And you can leave – it’s a treaty, not Hotel California.

Keep that example in mind, for that’s how international law does work. A country signs up to it, then it’s bound by the treaty and the law it creates. Don’t sign up to it and it isn’t. So, Pakistan and Israel, sure, they gained power and status by going nuclear. But did they go nuclear illegally?

It’s the Non-Proliferation Treaty which says you’ll not do it. A thumbnail sketch being that everyone’s the right to nuclear power – and those who have it the duty to supply it albeit at commercial rates – and in return everyone promises not to gain nuclear bombs. But note that this is a treaty. It works like the WTO. Don’t sign, you’re not covered.

Four UN member states have never accepted the NPT, three of which are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. In addition, South Sudan, founded in 2011, has not joined.

Iran did sign, is covered, thus the righteousness – in law – of sanctions. Pakistan and Israel did not, aren’t covered. That they gained the bomb might be worrying, that we don’t like it could be true, we might even wish we could take it away again. But what they didn’t do is break international law by gaining it.

Sure, it’s entirely possible that they broke any number of laws in the process of gaining it, but that’s not, obviously, what I mean. The act itself, getting the bomb, ain’t illegal if the country didn’t sign the treaty promising not to get the bomb.

But then, you know, Polly and facts?