Nouveau Thoughts: October 2006: Archives

October 12, 2006

Nuclear North Korea: Now What? genre: Just Jihad & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Mushroom cloud

As the dust settles in the North Korea blame game, the only thing that remains relevant is what to do next in light of this unfortunate reality. While making accusations might make one feel better, it won't undo what must now be confronted. With North Korea apparently having tested a nuclear weapon and Iran moving in the same direction, the dangers are many and they require the implementation of a plan for what may become a new wave of nuclear proliferation. David Ignatius discusses this complex problem in a new article at Real Clear Politics.

The North Korean bomb test is a seismic event for the world community. It tells us that the structure created to maintain global security is failing. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- all warned North Korea against taking this step. Yet the leaders in Pyongyang ignored these signals, and in the process blew open the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The North Korean leadership, puny in everything but weapons technology, has been marching toward this moment since the 1950s. It's unrealistic to think that, having brazened their way to detonating what they say is a nuclear bomb, the North Koreans will now give it up. The proliferation machine isn't going to run in reverse. In that sense, the question isn't how to repair the old architecture of non-proliferation -- practically speaking, it's a wreck -- but how to build a new structure that can stop the worst threats.

Ignatius raises legitimate concerns and it appears that it will be very difficult to craft possible and practical solutions. The article discusses the Kennedy years and the emergence of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, an ambitious attempt to limit the number of nations that would obtain a nuclear capacity. The treaty proved relatively successful in limiting the number of nations that succeeded in obtaining a nuclear capacity. I think its worth noting that the majority of those nations that subsequently obtained nuclear capabilities were not directly threatening to the United States in the same way one might view North Korea or Iran and more importantly those extremist groups who cannot be clearly defined geographically.

One might also argue that China replaced the Soviet Union in the superpower unspoken but effective dynamic that served to deter the use of such weaponry based upon the potential for reciprocal annihilation. The fact that India and Pakistan obtained a nuclear capacity following the Non-Proliferation Treaty was disappointing and to some extent disconcerting but neither nation seemed to present a significant threat to the United States as we seemingly understood their motivations. However, by comparison, North Korea's nuclear emergence is a viable threat fraught with an abundance of uncertainty as to their intentions or their propensity to parlay their nuclear capability into a much needed source of revenue. North Korea is clearly an economically challenged nation run by a shrewd and unpredictable despot with a history of deception.

President Bush seemed to be drawing this red line of accountability when he warned Monday: "The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.''

Tough words, but are they credible? That's why the second essential pillar of a new security regime is a restoration of deterrence. The Bush administration warned North Korea over and over that it would face severe consequences if it tested a nuclear weapon. So did China and Russia, but Kim Jong Il went ahead anyway. Iranian leaders are similarly unimpressed by Bush's saber rattling, viewing America as a weakened nation bogged down by an unwinnable war in Iraq. To restore deterrence, the West needs to stop making threats it can't keep. And the United States must salvage its strategic position in Iraq -- either by winning, or organizing the most stable plan for withdrawal.

[Harvard professor Graham] Allison believes that the world community must now focus on what he calls "the principle of nuclear accountability.'' The biggest danger posed by North Korea isn't that it would launch a nuclear missile, but that this desperately poor country would sell a bomb to al-Qaeda or another terrorist group. Accountability, in Allison's terms, means that if a bomb explodes in Manhattan that contains North Korean fissile material, the United States would act as if the strike came from North Korea itself -- and retaliate accordingly, with devastating force. To make this accountability principle work, the United States needs a crash program to create the "nuclear forensics'' that can identify the signature of fissile material of every potential nuclear state. Arms control expert Robert Gallucci describes this approach as "expanded deterrence'' in his article in the September Annals.

I agree with the premise but the solution seems all too ethereal. I don't say that as a criticism of Ignatius or Allison; but to point out that the preferred course of action is rife with uncertainty. Further, I don't believe that the suggested principle of nuclear accountability has the characteristics to make it an equivalent deterrent to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nonetheless, the reality may be that this new construct is currently the best we can do in terms of deterrence.

I personally find that quite troubling and even more indicative of the growing instability that has emerged during the Bush presidency. That is not to say that I hold the President accountable for all that has transpired. There is truth in his assertion that the anti-American sentiment that emerged from what is now clearly known to be an extremist ideology had to exist prior to 9/11...and while partisan leanings might lead one to want to blame 9/11 on his foreign policy, that would be, in my opinion, unfair. In saying as much, keep in mind that I am not suggesting that his administration did all it should to address the threat that existed...the evidence suggests they didn't...but that threat had been incubating for a number of years.

On the other hand, the foreign policy post 9/11 can be attributed to this President and the evidence is mounting that it has been a succession of miscalculation, mismanagement, and as many contend, manipulation. In the haste to make clear that the United States wouldn't tolerate future terrorist attacks, the axis of evil speech may have served to accelerate what now appears to be a rush to obtain nuclear arms. In that regard, I fully agree with Ignatius when he states that "the West needs to stop making threats it can't keep". I might actually offer a slight modification by suggesting that we would be better served to be preparing to prevent or respond to potential threats with meaningful actions as opposed to obtuse tough guy rhetoric.

If the Democrats take control of the House and/or the Senate, I look for them to return to a position that the GOP used against them successfully in 2004. That position argues that our best response to the threats we face post 9/11 is to focus on intelligence as well as what the GOP, in order to convey that the Democrats fail to understand the gravity of the threat…coined as a law enforcement strategy. I find this Democratic strategy to be consistent with the terms "accountability, forensics, and expanded deterrence" found in the Ignatius article and I expect to see a growing focus on such measures by Democrats and Republicans once we get past the November election. Frankly, the focus on the current type of military strategy cannot be sustained and the results in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to suggest that they haven't proven all that effective.

In saying that, I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the use of military measures. In fact I am...but with a different focus. A comparison might be beneficial to explain my thinking. Israel for years has conducted military strikes with narrowly defined objectives that have served to deter her opponents. They have done so with a superior intelligence capacity and a predisposition to avoid protracted hand to hand ground offensives. They don't do this because they are afraid to use their superior military force...they do it because it has proven to be more effective. The recent out of character incursion into Lebanon served to reinforce the belief by most Israeli's that their longstanding equation is in fact preferential...and the deviation directed by Ehud Olmert received ample second guessing and terse criticism.

I'm hopeful that this election will prove to be a turning point and that we will finally rethink our efforts to defeat these growing threats. The GOP has sought to paint the Democrats as cut and run with regards to Iraq and they have expanded their rhetoric to assert that the Clinton administration dealt with North Korea with carrots and not sticks...all intended to scare the voting public into staying the course. I don't agree with the partisan GOP characterizations and I don't support staying the course. In fact, if we're going to invoke clever catch phrases that make for good sound bites, let me suggest we choose one that might actually describe a strategy better suited to the current conundrum..."Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 10:58 AM | link | Comments (0)
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