Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Back in March 2003, while the Bush administration and most of the country was busy preparing for war with Iraq, Stanley Kurtz had the foresight to consider the threat posed by a nuclear North Korea. Here's what he predicted in a piece for The National Review Online:
...Once North Korea processes weapons-grade plutonium and removes it from Yongbyon, that plutonium will be effectively hidden from spy satellites, inspectors, and military strikes. At that point, North Korea will be free, not only to construct more nuclear weapons, but to sell weapons-grade nuclear material to al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and anyone else who will pay for it.
Continuation of this situation will be catastrophic for the United States. In the short term, North Korean sales of plutonium would lead to dirty bombs in American cities, rendering sections of Washington or New York uninhabitable for generations. In the medium term, plutonium sales will doubtless lead to full-scale nuclear blasts, set off by terrorists, in American cities. These will kill hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans. Full-scale nuclear arms proliferation to rogue nations will also lead to yet more nuclear blackmail, of the type being practiced by Korea right now. In effect, America's conventional military might will be neutralized, and Saddam-like regional adventurers will become a constant threat. In short, if we overthrow Saddam, while still letting North Korea turn itself into a worldwide engine of nuclear proliferation, then we will have lost the war on terror.
Of course, North Korea proceeded to not only process its plutonium and remove it from the plant, but to successfully test a nuclear device. With the most catastrophic consequence (from the NRO's perspective, that is) being that negotiations over the shuttering of the Yongbyon plant have apparently progressed to the point that North Korea will soon be removed from official membership in the Axis of Evil (ie. the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism).
Now does this demonstrate that nuclear proliferation among rogue states is desirable? I suppose that depends on which side of the negotiating table you find yourself on. I, for one, am not too thrilled by the idea of a nuclear North Korea. Ditto for a nuclear Iran or Syria. (Same goes for Israel, the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan et al, though I wouldn't put them in the same category, and I think their track records as nuclear powers demonstrate proven restraint in the face of provocations.) The North Koreans, of course, would probably see things differently.
What this does demonstrate, though, is that the assumption that possessing a nuclear weapon will automatically render hostile, rogue regimes recklessly and aggressively belligerent is unfounded. For all the caricatures of Kim Il-Jong as an erratic, laughable munchkin, the guy has played his hand skillfully to obtain exactly what he wanted. Which, it turns out, is not to dominate the world, or even Southeast Asia, but to simply secure his survival.
There's a lesson to be learned here, most obviously with regard to Iran, but also for re-inventing our nuclear non-proliferation strategy for the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. Hollywood doomsday scenarios sell tickets at the box office. But solid diplomacy gets the job done in the real world.