- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Recently, North Korea (DPRK) threw out two United Nations weapons inspectors who had been tasked with monitoring Kim Jong Il's supposedly shelved nuclear weapons program. This expulsion followed reactivation and refueling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the removal of UN-monitoring cameras, the reopening of sealed facilities containing both fresh and spent fuel rods, and the discovery of a separate uranium enrichment facility. These actions taken in concert unequivocally violate four treaties that North Korea is signatory to, to include the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1994 Agreed Framework that had frozen her nuclear weapons program in exchange for significant oil and economic support. With the disclosure that North Korea already has two nuclear weapons and is now positioned to acquire up to six more in the next year, one might conclude, as did former Secretary of State Warren Christopher recently did in an opinion piece in the New York Times, that North Korea poses a more imminent and dangerous threat than Iraq.
But Secretary Christopher is wrong. Iraq is still public enemy number one. In order to understand why, one must ask a few questions.
First, "why is North Korea taking these aggressive actions?" For one, North Korea desires to become an established nuclear power in order to join the most exclusive club this side of Augusta National as a matter of international prestige. After being marginalized over the past few years by not only the United States, but by China and Russia, Kim Jong Il clearly desires a return to the world scene. After watching U.S. maneuvering against Iraq, Kim Jong Il also believes that possessing nuclear weapons will prevent him from joining Saddam Hussein on his upcoming trip to the dustbin of history. Additionally, North Korea wants to negotiate a nonaggression pact with the United States - but only after increasing its nuclear weapons stock. Better to negotiate from a position of strength. Lastly, North Korea wants to gain economic concessions such as fuel oil shipments and humanitarian food aid in return for promises not to sell plutonium, missiles, and weapons of mass destruction to state and non-state actors (like terrorist organizations). All of this is geared to reintroducing North Korea to the world stage and enabling its economic and political integration into the international community.
A second question is "why now?" Two reasons. First, the United States is currently focused on both the Global War on Terror and Iraq. Second, South Korea just elected a new President, whose stated goal is to continue to expand the "sunshine policy" aimed at strengthening ties between the two Koreas. Timing is everything.
A third question is "what will happen next?" More theatrics. In the coming months one should expect to see an end to North Korea's self-imposed moratorium on missile testing, a heightened alert posture of DPRK military forces, and naval incursions into South Korean waters.
A final question is "what is North Korea's end state?" Simply this: survival of Kim Jong Il's regime. Not expansion. Not regional dominance. Not the destruction of western civilization. Just survival.
Which is why Iraq is a more imminent and dangerous threat.
Unlike North Korea, Saddam Hussein is an expansionist megalomaniac whose stated goal is political and military domination of the Middle East. Unlike North Korea, Hussein has no desire to negotiate, setting up a situation where there is little room for diplomatic maneuvering. And unlike North Korea, Iraq has a recent history of aggression, including two attempts to conquer his neighbors in the past fifteen years. Add in a probable weapons program designed to create nuclear weapons and exportable chemical and biological agents, and we have a situation that requires immediate attention.
So if Iraq is a more imminent and dangerous threat, what are we to do about North Korea? Buy time. With six months to a year necessary for North Korea to build more nuclear weapons, there is time for diplomacy to work. We have not even begun to start using the full array of diplomatic tools available to deal with this crisis. We must engage in multilateral negotiations, using China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to slow down North Korea's progress and reduce tensions. And we must encourage the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council to take a firm stance with Kim Jong-il's government.
By managing the North Koreans, we can focus our efforts on Iraq. In doing so, we follow Clausewitz's dictum to "always be strong; first in general and then at the decisive point."
And as soon as we are finished with Iraq, we can turn our full attention to North Korea, and diplomatically or militarily stop its nuclear program. Only then will there be what we all truly desire: peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Roger D. Carstens is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs.

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