- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In his State of the Union address of January 2002, President George W. Bush coined the phrase “Axis of Evil.” However, in his second term he apparently forgot about it. President Obama may never use this term, but make no mistake: The Axis of Evil is alive and well. Iran, North Korea and now possibly Venezuela are on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

On Nov. 12, North Korea revealed that it may have in operation 2,000 centrifuges, which have the capacity to produce enough highly enriched uranium to make the plutonium necessary for a number of nuclear weapons every year. In reality, we don’t have sufficient intelligence to know the North’s actual nuclear potential. However, we do know it has been working for more than three decades to acquire both nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them - of course with China’s help.

We do know that North Korea acquired from Russia the technology to make an intermediate-range nuclear missile, the BM-25 Musudan, with sufficient range to strike Okinawa and probably Guam. According to the revealed WikiLeaks documents, U.S. intelligence learned that North Korea had sold at least 19 of these missiles to Iran.

In late November, North Korean dissident sources made another startling revelation. According to one defector, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-iI had ordered a new program to build nuclear-warhead-armed torpedoes and mines, which could be operational by 2012. Based on past practice, I am confident once they are operational, they will be sold to Iran and possibly others.

The cabal of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez can no longer be ignored. Venezuela’s supporting role in Iran’s nuclear program has been known for years by our intelligence community. We know that the two rogue regimes have been cooperating on nuclear technology for several years. Their collusion was formalized in an agreement Nov. 13, 2008, to cooperate in the field of nuclear technology.

It is clear that through various trade agreements, Iran has circumvented U.N. sanctions by establishing both economic and banking relations as well as establishing a strategic base in Venezuela manned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. According to the German daily Die Welt, Iranian missiles with a range of up to 930 miles will be deployed to the base, which could strike major Southern U.S. cities. It is interesting that following the new round of sanctions against Iran, Russia decided not to sell five battalions of sophisticated S-300 PMU-1 air-defense systems to Iran but instead is negotiating a deal for the sale of those systems to Venezuela. It shouldn’t take too long for some of them to show up in Iran.

Though it’s not politically correct to say so, the fact is that China remains as much at the center of the Axis of Evil as when Mr. Bush coined the term. China’s diplomatic support has for decades shielded North Korea and Iran from effective sanctions for their nuclear programs. China’s technology has been made available at critical times to help both their nuclear and missile programs.

Next month, Chinese leader Hu Jintao will visit Washington and be hosted by President Obama at a state dinner, as he apparently has demanded nothing less. We will be showing Mr. Hu our highest level of respect and hospitality. All the while, it remains the policy of his government to arm our most sadistic enemies with nuclear weapons, which they, in turn, will have little hesitation to give to Islamic terrorists only too eager to use them against the United States. This is far from bringing us closer to a “world without nuclear weapons.” Mr. Obama’s New START, if ratified, will only succeed in reducing America’s nuclear weapons while at the same time increasing the threat to the United States from the rogue regimes that make up the Axis of Evil.

It is mind-boggling that we waste our precious military and economic resources in Afghanistan - a country that from a strategic viewpoint should be at the bottom of our list of concerns - instead of addressing the rogue regimes that represent a real threat to this country. It is not too far afield to see a Machiavellian mindset that lets us see a certain amount of success in Afghanistan to keep us tied down there for years to come instead of addressing a rising threat. The only way to avoid a fate that could include nuclear attack against our homeland from multiple axes or the necessity of fighting multiple wars against nuclear-armed rogue states is to accept that we must to seek near-term regime change in those soon-to-be nuclear-armed states now. Time is not on our side.

Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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