North Korea's nuclear test and firing of at least five short-range missiles were carried out in the name of self-defence. It is difficult to know if this is the true reason or whether the nation's secretive leaders have an economic, political or strategic agenda. Whatever the driving force, it has regrettably created new tensions in the region. Some governments are being pressured by voters to step up their defences or obtain similarly dangerous weapons to counter the threat. Northeast Asia's people crave peace and stability. Pyongyang's ideology-fired rhetoric and weapons tests have created fear. Territorial disputes have kept nations at arm's length. Only in the past year, for example, have tensions between Beijing and Taipei eased. A weapons race is not what the region needs or wants. Hawks in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have in recent years been questioning the country's pacifist constitution. The North's firing last month of a rocket that could have been a disguised long-range ballistic missile test heightened calls for a rethink. There has been a deafening increase in the volume since Monday's atomic blast. A proposal by the party's defence committee says the military should be allowed to launch pre-emptive strikes against enemies. Unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso is likely to face voters later this year and is looking for ways to wrestle votes from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. In the wake of Pyongyang's tests, the promise of a first-strike capability or even a nuclear deterrent could well have that effect. This would not please Beijing or South Korea. Such pressures have to be resisted. Proliferation is claimed to prevent conflict, the example most held up as evidence being the cold war between the US and Soviet Union. Several times the nations were on the verge of war, but it was common sense and diplomacy that kept them apart, not their nuclear and missile arsenals. The Soviet Union collapsed in part because of overspending on its defence; in the 1960s, almost half of the US' budget was being diverted to its military. There can be no better proof that weapons are less a show of strength than a waste of resources and cause of distrust. US President Barack Obama has put new energy into the non-proliferation movement by pushing efforts for his nation and Russia to quicken the pace of agreements to scrap their arsenals. China said on Sunday at a non-proliferation meeting that Washington had to take the lead, but Beijing also has its part to play. It would win considerable support among Taiwanese for closer ties by dismantling missiles pointed at the island. North Korea has to be condemned for its tests. Governments considering moving down the same path must also be criticised. The world should be destroying its nuclear bombs and missiles. Diplomacy, not weapons that cause threats and fear, provides peace.