Nuclear Blast Of Reality
Coping with a nuclear North Korea.
The Obama administration has just got a multi-kiloton blast of reality from North Korea's second test of a nuclear weapon. The president responded immediately, declaring the U.S. would "stand up to this behavior" and would "redouble" its efforts" to create a "more robust international nonproliferation regime."
The question now is how. One minimal step would be to put North Korea back on the U.S. list of terrorist states. (President Bush removed Pyongyang from this list last year in hopes of persuading it to disable its nuclear arsenal). Unlike crafting another United Nations sanctions resolution, placing North Korea back on this list could be accomplished without Russian or Chinese assent.
There certainly is mounting evidence that Pyongyang is assisting terrorist entities such as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Putting North Korea back on the list also might silence Obama's conservative critics: Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, the Republicans' heavy diplomatic cannon, has already demanded Obama take this step.
That, however, might be one reason why it won't be the president's first option. Yet another is Secretary of State Clinton: Up until now, she has been gunning to get Pyongyang to give up their bombs in nuclear talks with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Those plans are now undoubtedly on ice. Certainly, holding six-party nuclear talks with Pyongyang after this latest test, but before sanctioning North Korea again, would risk being seen as a diplomatic endorsement of Pyongyang's nuclear misbehavior.
This then brings us to another inconvenient truth this multi-kiloton test makes obvious: North Korea clearly can make a perfectly workable Hiroshima-sized bomb, and it's not about to disarm. The first proposition was something our diplomats and nuclear experts tried to deny when North Korea set off a disappointing sub-kiloton device in 2006. Now the worry is not whether or not North Korea can make a workable weapon but how long it will take before it can launch it from one of its missiles.
Another immediate concern is how much of its nuclear and rocket knowhow North Korea might yet share with Iran. We know from Pyongyang's April test of a multi-stage "peaceful space launch vehicle" (aka intercontinental ballistic missile), that Iran and North Korea have already been cooperating closely enough to create a truncated axle of evil.
Well before that test, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a delegation of 15 senior Iranian launch experts from the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group to help out. Then there are reports of North Korean work in Iran to perfect a missile-deliverable nuclear warhead. These were made late last year by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the group that first divulged Iran's secret uranium enrichment program. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that this cooperation is a worry.
It's unclear how Obama intends to create an international nonproliferation regime "robust" enough to contain this sort of trade. It would be helpful if he could use this occasion to get the United Nations Security Council to authorize all of its members to interdict the illicit unannounced movement of any and all nuclear goods and technology useful to making nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons-capable delivery systems (read long-range missiles or space launch vehicles). This would put the Proliferation Security Initiative that the Bush administration created and President Obama endorsed on international legal steroids: Interdictions in international air space and on the high seas would be made possible by any and all members of illicit nuclear and missile technology transfers.
In this regard, President Obama might also consider strengthening the Missile Technology Control Regime's existing stricture against the transfer of technology for "peaceful" space launch vehicles--something the Russians are doing with South Korea, Brazil and Iran.
Unfortunately, none of these options, much less pushing much harsher sanctions against North Korea, are yet on Obama's current nonproliferation to-do list. Instead, ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban--a treaty that cannot come into force until North Korea and Iran also ratify it--currently heads his list.