- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Does North Korea’s little man - Kim Jong-il - think we’re dumb, or what? After all, he’s now had two marathon dealings with us on his nuclear weapons program: first with the Clinton administration during the 1990s when he got a huge payoff as a result of perhaps the most naive national security negotiations ever conducted by the United States. And now, it looks like he’s done it again, this time with a late second-term Bush administration, looking overeager for a national security “success” of some kind.

Why so sarcastic? Despite shutting down a nuclear reactor and allowing some IAEA inspections, it’s most likely that little Mr. Kim will not give up his nuclear weapons program, and will fake it like he did the first time. If we believe anything less, we are foolish. One can only hope that we understand this and are planning accordingly — and hopefully in the context of the much larger, strategic picture for Asia and the region.

Nevertheless, some useful perspective: A nuclear North Korea (DPRK) is a serious national security concern for us — however, on a scale of one to 10, it’s perhaps a two or a three, while the threat from a nuclear Iran may be off the scale altogether.

It hasn’t happened overnight. The “blame” for the coming “Iran bomb” goes back a long way, through many U.S. administrations, whose collective actions (or inactions, as the case may be) have led us to where we are now. But we must deal with the Iranian nuclear problem and deal with it now. The reality that we can actually be targeted and struck in radical anger by an Iranian nuclear capability will too soon be upon us.

All one has to imagine is how the most recent conflicts in the Middle East would have been affected by an Iranian nuclear capability: If they had it, they would have used it, at least as a strategic threat — they as much said so during the last war in Lebanon. It is this set of sobering realities — not the recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests — that should be getting the bulk of our attention.

But to allow us to focus more objectively on Iran, it’s important to understand why the two nuclear problems — North Korea and Iran — have little in common, other than deception.

First: Fortunately (for us) it is probably the Japanese who are the most motivated to address the North Korean nuclear and missile problem. The latest round of North Korean threats have really gotten their attention — to the extent that the Japanese actually threatened publicly to take out the DPRK missile test site with a military strike. This had to stun the Chinese (PRC), who now must deal with the unpleasant (for them) reality of a militarily resurgent Japan. Why? Along with the recent change of government in Japan, soon could come serious internal discussions about the Japanese developing their own nuclear deterrent.

Second: Motivated primarily by Japan’s anger at North Korea and the concern that Japan could easily decide to go nuclear, the PRC may have long ago decided to “solve” the nuclear and missile problem with little Mr. Kim, but have waited to see how much others would contribute toward that goal as part of the new six-party talks. It is in this context — and with some irony — that the North Koreans may have to try to keep their future nuclear weapons activities secret from the Chinese as well as us and the Japanese.

Third: We have some very significant and capable strategic forces in the region, and have provided interim missile defense for the Japanese. These forces could also allow us — for example — to intercept North Korean test missiles if we choose to. Under the present circumstances, these tests could easily be considered as hostile acts and dealt with under universal and international doctrines of self defense — the Bush administration (along with the Japanese) should make this point very clear as part of any new understandings with the North Koreans.

In sum, two key questions will drive the North Korean nuclear dynamic from here on out: How seriously will the various security threats from the DPRK encourage the Japanese to become a relevant military power in the region, and how will this affect the overall strategic balance with the PRC in Asia? It is these longer-term realities that will bring the North Korean nuclear issue into a more reasonable and traditional perspective — regardless of how much money and oil we give to little Mr. Kim as part of his latest extortion.

Now, back to dealing with Iran, the puppet masters behind the rapidly sophisticating insurgency in Iraq and the latest Middle East war in Lebanon. Here is the very unpleasant reality: Unless something is done to stop them — and soon — they will most certainly develop a nuclear weapons capability. And, it wouldn’t be the first time that we “went for the fake” over a nuclear weapons program in that part of the world. One only need remember how the Pakistani and Indian nuclear tests in the “90s caught us by surprise.

Bottom line? We shouldn’t worry so much about North Korea: They’re working the same scam they pulled on the Clinton administration, but may have also created a significant, new, strategic role for the Japanese that will motivate the Chinese to make Little Mr. Kim behave. Rather, we must keep our eyes squarely on the Iranian nuclear weapons and fissile-material programs — shutting them down one way or another.

We have no other choice — with the Iranians, it’s real simple: If they get nukes, they’ll use them.

Daniel Gallington was a member of the U.S. delegation to the nuclear and space talks with the former Soviet Union and is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.

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