- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

Promise, agreement, ultimatum, transgression, failure, threatened catastrophe. Repeat. This, the all-too-familiar pattern of North Korean diplomacy, has now permitted one of the world’s most dangerous regimes to declare that it has gone nuclear. Whether the test deep in the mountainous northeast of the hermit kingdom was successful is disputed. It may have been, it may not have been. What is not disputed is this: Either now or at some point in the foreseeable future, Pyongyang will be able to threaten the United States and its allies, credibly, with the world’s most destructive weapons.

Pyongyang’s declaration to the world has many consequences. The first is the emboldening of all seekers of nuclear weapons who have been subjected to the same empty international-community rhetoric as North Korea, which hereby flouts it all, without much consequence. The international community’s word — threats, warnings, lines drawn in the sand — is now made to appear in the eyes of Iranian mullahs, Syrian autocrats, terrorists and others as a few dozen sternly worded letters utterly devoid of consequence. The North Korean regime’s negotiating postures could only have taken clear account of this; they were designed to stall and buy time until a weapon could be completed. Other malefactors are undoubtedly taking note: “Six-party talks” and their equivalent can only seem as a ticket to the nuclear club.

Words must have consequences if they are to have meaning; ours clearly did not. “I will not wait on events, on while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as perils draw closer and closer,” President Bush said in his famous “Axil of Evil” address in 2002. “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” Imagine the conclusions our enemies draw when North Korea openly flouts such promises.

A second consequence is to hearten terrorists who seek nuclear weapons. How long between Pyongyang’s successful test of a bomb and its transfer of the complete panoply of technologies and material to al Qaeda or similar groups?

A third effect of Pyongyang’s declaration is structural: The rest of East Asia now faces an ever stronger pressure to nuclearize. South Korea, Japan and Taiwan must now watch the nuclearization of the region’s most unpredictable regime with trepidation. Who can blame them for wondering whether their interests are properly guarded by an international community whose inept nonproliferation regime allows this to happen?

A fourth is to reveal the ambiguity of Communist China’s role. Beijing, charter member of the six-party talks, has always been most strongly positioned of any of the major powers to influence Pyongyang for the better in the event that it were disposed to do so. This historical ally of North Korea could have intervened with the considerable leverage its position as Pyongyang’s sole remaining ally and chief source of aid lend it. It did not. This raises many questions. China’s condemnation this week of North Korea’s “brazen” actions is rhetorically appropriate, but it’s time for China to start supporting tough actions — beginning with sanctions in the U.N. Security Council.

Speculation mounted yesterday as to whether this apparent nuclear test is the product of an internal policy struggle between dictator Kim Jong Il and senior military leaders. Certainly it made little strategic sense: North Korea’s hand is now stripped of its last worthwhile card short of direct military escalation.

About the only positive that could conceivably emerge here would be the opportunity, the strongest yet, for the affected nations — the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, Taiwan and surrounding countries — to speak as one. Sanctions must go forward at the United Nations. China must stop playing both sides. The evidence for tough action is indisputably here, if only the world community would wake to it.

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