President Trump’s administration gave great attention to two toxic triangles that this author highlighted, though ignored by the mainstream media. They dubbed the first of these the “Axis of Resistance,” a self-declared malevolence of Iran, Syria and Hamas.
The second underscored by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton was the “Troika of Tyranny” calling out Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
These were categories of evil that share duplicity, violence, atrocity, dictatorship and terrorism.
We are now witnessing the debate of U.S.-Iran relations reach another fever pitch about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This has always been a morass that deviates one’s attention from the actual story. As important as Iran’s weapons program’s issue is, it fundamentally misses the more significant point: the Iranian regime itself. The root problem is the Iranian regime. The symptom is their nuclear weapons program.
However, not addressing the root problem leaves in place Iran’s Shiite empire-building in the Middle East, their collaboration and alliance with Syria and Russia, their state sponsorship of terrorism, their atrocities against their own people and their missile program.
Related to the media’s misdirection over the Iranian situation is the relationship between Iran and North Korea. This relationship began with the fall of the shah’s government in 1979, when Iran joined North Korea as an enemy of the United States. In the 1980s, Iran purchased ballistic missiles from North Korea, often facilitated by China.
As North Korean missile technology and nuclear weapons research amplified, so did Iranian missile capability, which evolved from missiles with a range of 300km in the ‘80s to a breakthrough in 1995 when Iran received the Nodong missile with a range of 1,300km, allowing Iran to hit Israel. This relationship was a two-way street as Iran provided North Korea with oil and missile test data.
North Korean and Chinese teams frequently were in Iran to train and test, illustrating this toxic relationship. In 2010, Iran received 19 BM-25 missiles with a range of 2,000 miles (3,218 km), placing NATO countries under threat. North Korea’s ability to use Iran as a testing opportunity enhanced its own ability to develop long-range ballistic missiles.
Thus, Iran and North Korea created a synthesis of production, experimentation, testing, development and deployment that allows both to become a nuclear weapons power with ICBM capabilities ultimately. The vaunted and now resurrected JCPOA did nothing to stop this. This relationship is currently helping both parties develop submarine and cruise missile technology.
The relationship has fostered cooperation and exchange in the realms of intelligence, underground facility production and special operations warfare. Both nations seem incredibly interested in potential EMP strikes against the United States.
Further, this partnership extends to dangerous state and non-state actors such as Syria and Hezbollah. The dark possibilities range the gamut from Iranian and North Korean officers training Syrians arming ballistic missiles with their own chemical weapons to the scenarios where one day Hezbollah has a nuclear device are not as far fetched as wishful thinking would desire.
The nuclear threat looms large as another two-way street developed over centrifuge, enrichment, uranium and plutonium. It is clear that North Korea is facilitating Iran, becoming a nuclear weapons power while the United States and Europe debate an agreement dead before it was created.
One of the easiest paths of deception is to become obsessed with statistics rather than intent. Experts from all sides can have logical debates about when North Korea and Iran will have a deployable ICBM or when a “break-out” on a particular nuclear timeline will occur. These are not relevant for the serious policymaker. We have understood the strategic intent of the North Korean and Iranian regimes for decades.
There is long-standing proof of a toxic partnership directed at the heart of the American people. Future policies need to address the root of the problem, not become sucked into a vortex of never-ending debates about data points leading nowhere.
• Lamont Colucci, a professor of politics and government at Ripon College. is the author of “The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future” (Praeger, 2012).