Throughout the four years of the global financial crisis, nobody has spoken up in favor of greedy bankers or big bonuses for executives of failing financial institutions. It’s about time someone did. Here’s why:

Bankers who might seem despicable at first glance may have done the world a huge favor by bringing their institutions to the point of financial ruin and dragging companies, jobs, and governments along for the ride. Because the crisis triggered by their reckless speculating has created a cornucopia of investment opportunities for China, which has greatly expanded its economic participation throughout the world as a consequence. By taking part in bailing out companies and countries, China is fast becoming a stakeholder in the business and financial infrastructure on all continents.

This does, of course, give China the benefit of more influence, which has its own implications. And it is likely to make China the big winner when the financial crisis is over and global economic growth rebounds. But already today, its investments are increasing China’s exposure to things that go wrong elsewhere. China’s own economy becomes more vulnerable to major disruptions in others – a recession, a hurricane, a tsunami, a revolution, a war, or something diabolical like the detonation of a nuclear bomb in another country’s capital city or in its financial or industrial heart.

And that’s the surprising upside of the global crisis. China, which has spent billions over decades to build up a formidable nuclear arsenal, is eliminating all its potential targets. By investing in them, China assumes a responsibility to itself to make sure they do well, or at least that they don’t get destroyed. The financial and commercial fallout from using an atomic bomb in New York or London or Tel Aviv could be devastating for Beijing and Shanghai. The quality that makes a country important enough to be a potential target for nuclear weapons also makes it attractive for investments: its strategic or economic significance. Wherever that’s the case, China is probably there already.

Investing abroad also heightens the importance to Beijing that nobody else should get the idea of bombing those places either. After all, the impact on China would be the same regardless of which country’s name is painted on the bomb. Whether China has recognized this or not, the broadening and deepening of its financial role in the world have given it a greater interest in making sure nuclear weapons aren’t used by anyone, anywhere. It could even turn China into an activist. 

Even if that doesn’t happen, the world can still benefit. China’s case illustrates that when a nuclear power becomes increasingly integrated into the economies of other countries, it renders its own nuclear arsenal less useful. This realization can provoke some interesting thinking about how the world is trying to contain nuclear proliferation. For example, might it be possible to bring the nuclear efforts of Iran or North Korea to a halt by actively courting their investments and broadening business ties with them, rather than by imposing sanctions that shut them out? In theory, it seems logical. In reality, which is the more complex - who knows?

If the global financial crisis produces new geopolitical situations, or leads to policy choices that can blunt the spread of nuclear weapons and make the ones in existence no longer worth having, perhaps some of the suffering in the interim will have been worth it. We’ll see. It seems a bit early to thank greedy bankers for setting off a chain of events that can diminish the global nuclear threat, but maybe one day we’ll decide their bonuses were too small.