North Korean nukes must be destroyed

    The United States may be on the brink of one of the largest security failures in the history of diplomacy.

    Kenrick Leung
    Guardian

    After months of taking a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear arsenal development, articles have been surfacing in national newspapers that the Bush administration may be shifting its focus to only the sale of nuclear weapons rather than demanding an all-out dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program.

    If this happens, it won’t matter what steps we’re taking to beef up homeland security. In terms of preventing nuclear weapon proliferation, Iraq won’t matter either. The United States would sacrifice all the efforts it has made to prevent nuclear weaponry from getting into the hands of rogue states and subnational actors in a diplomatic moment of impatience.

    It’s difficult to overstate the gravity of the situation that would arise if North Korea were not coerced by the international community to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

    This is a regime that has regularly bartered weapons including missiles, missile launchers, nuclear technology, tunneling technology and warhead canisters to countries in the Middle East, including Syria, Pakistan and Iran. These deals are often in exchange for oil. In December 2002, Spanish warships working with American military and intelligence officials stopped a Korean freighter found to be transporting 15 scud missiles bound for Yemen. Just last Tuesday, Australian authorities caught a fishing boat attempting to smuggle 110 pounds of highly pure heroin into Sydney. The Wall Street Journal reports that while North Korea’s exports from legitimate business totaled only $650 million in 2001, its annual revenue from illegal drugs is in the neighborhood of $500 million to $1 billion.

    Now the idea is being floated that maybe we’ll just let North Korea have its nuclear program, but we are going to make sure that it doesn’t export these weapons to the highest bidder — al-Qaeda or otherwise.

    Right. Our intelligence sources can’t even be certain where in the country this clandestine, highly enriched uranium program has been developed; that information was uncovered by South Korean intelligence officers and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea defectors. The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors stationed in the country as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration were never able to account for all the plutonium rods (which, once reprocessed, serve as the fissile material in a nuclear warhead) and conjectured that the North Koreans may already possess one or two nuclear weapons.

    This is a country roughly the size of Pennsylvania, but we are still unable to account for these larger pieces of the nuclear program puzzle. And now we’re proposing that we would have the means by which to prevent the sale of plutonium to other groups? As Ashton Carter, a Harvard professor who worked on Korean issues for the Clinton administration, said, “”It’s a fantasy to think that you can put a hermetic seal around North Korea and keep them from getting a grapefruit-size piece of plutonium out of the country.”” In theory, it’s much easier for intelligence operatives to photograph the movement of larger weapons — like nuclear missiles. But even these slip past our watchful eyes.

    The incentive for opening a nuclear bazaar is clear. North Korea has suffered severe economic distress since the 1980s, which was only accelerated by the fall of the USSR, several flooding and agricultural disasters, and chronic famine that have claimed the lives of millions. As Colin Powell said, “”What [is North Korea] going to do with another two or three nuclear weapons when they’re starving, when they have no energy, when they have no economy that’s functioning?”” It is clear that regardless of any deal struck with North Korea, that the regime has no incentive to abide by the contract.

    It’s also a historical fact. The Clinton administration and the North Korean regime negotiated in 1994 the Agreed Framework. The framework was intended to freeze all nuclear weapons development in return for economic aid and normalization of relations. It is believed that the highly enriched uranium program, to which the North Korean government admitted last October, began as early as 1995. They never had any intention of committing to the agreement.

    Sympathizers with the DPRK will argue that the international community, led by the United States, Japan and South Korea, breached the contract first. In fact, the light-water reactors these countries were going to build for Korea as an alternative energy source — set to be completed by 2003 — were still under construction when the North Koreans admitted to their highly enriched uranium program.

    Sympathizers will also argue that the United States never normalized relations with North Korea, that the bar was continually moved so that the DPRK could never obtain equal footing. However, this ignores the four-party summits held with North Korea, aimed at improving diplomatic and economic ties between China, South Korea, the United States and the DPRK.

    However, these sympathizers ignore the fact that North Korea did not respond in kind with behavior that merited normalized relations. In 2000, Kim Dae Jung, the then-President of South Korea, won the Nobel Peace Prize for the first Inter-Korean Summit held between the two nations that year. But this opening of North Korea came at a high price. Kim Dae Jung allowed Hyundai to funnel $192 million to North Korea in order to secure the landmark Inter-Korean Summit. Every piece of progress comes with “”economic aid”” strings attached.

    And playing the nuclear card over the past two decades has won them billions in extortion prizes.

    Therefore, any agreement with North Korea must include a verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program and cannot be limited to the mere prohibition of nuclear weapons sales.

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