Foreign Affairs

What North Korea Gained

Washington is right that the North Korean rocket launch was “a provocative attempt to improve the rogue regime’s long-range ballistic missile capability.” Japan’s government says the missile travelled at least 2100 miles east of the island nation, which surpasses any previous North Korean capability.

However, Pyongyang shares missile technology with Iran. The President was right to declare: “Let me be clear; Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our Allies.” And the President was further correct when he noted, “The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”

But that is as far as the president is apparently willing to go. Iranian observers were reportedly at the North Korean launch site when the missile was fired. Are they now convinced customers? Are they helping pay for the continued tests?

The United Nations will not be the means by which the world learns the answers to those questions.

As John Bolton noted Monday morning in the Wall Street Journal, “Prior to North Korea’s launch yesterday of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, President Barack Obama declared that such an action would be ‘provocative.’ This public statement was an attempt to reinforce the administration’s private efforts to urge the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) not to fire the missile.”

But despite this openly expressed concerns, the five members of the U.N. Security Council, (UNSC), including the United States, failed to step up to the plate. In fact, if anything, this failure means Turtle Bay has retreated from the position they took in 2006. Then, the U.N. responded with unanimously approved resolutions imposing sanctions against the North. To follow-up as the U.N. has done with an inability to agree on any course of action simply takes us back to square one. Once we are confronted with violations of arms control agreements or U.N. resolutions, what do we do? We often dither, because the “international community” has failed to establish effective procedures for dealing with such violations, a point made by Fred Ikle, a former senior DOD official during the Reagan administration, a half century ago.

The liberation of Iraq was in many respects fought as an “arms control” war. According to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, in his new book, Eyes On the Horizon, the war could have been effectively justified solely on the basis of an enforcement action to implement numerous U.N. arms control resolutions to fully eliminate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program.

We are facing the same problem with North Korea. To the extent we do not maintain the economic, military, and political pressure on the regime in Pyongyang, we not only give it yet more time to bargain, we give it more time to develop its weaponry. For the better part of a decade, the Bush administration relied heavily on China to put sufficient diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to convince the latter that it could safely get rid of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. While the six-party talks did yield an agreement in principle, we have not been able to secure agreement on the implementing procedures that would bring about a fully de-nuclearized Korean peninsula.

North Korea is once again rolling out its own 10 step-program, outlined some time ago by the current President of the Air Force Association, retired USAF general officer Michael Dunn, and the former President of the National Defense University. This program begins with a North Korean “provocation,” which is immediately blamed on the “hostile” U.S. and its allies, but which can be resolved through greater oil and food deliveries and other assistance to the DPRK. It continues until North Korea starts all over again, instigating a “crisis,” which of course cannot be settled without more assistance to the folks in Pyongyang long-suffering under a “hostile” U.S. policy.

Even worse, just as the North Korean threat looms larger, and by implication ballistic missile threats from Iran, the U.S. is apparently slowing the deployment of a missile defenses in central Europe and deploying no more than the current missile interceptors now deployed in Alaska and California. For sure, Secretary Gates should be commended for the additional spending for theater missile defenses — greatly needed in such places as the Persian Gulf and the Western Pacific. But gathering threats from North Korea require an accelerated deployment of defenses for the continental United States and central Europe, particularly now that Pyongyang’s latest missile shot demonstrated a new, growing and dangerous capability.

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