Wednesday, February 05, 2003
While Powell is slam-dunking Iraq at the Security Council, the folks in The Corner are starting to worry again about North Korea.
We are not checkmated. If anything, the North Koreans are potentially on the brink of mate; having resorted to nuclear blackmail, they have entered a very high-stakes game of chicken, and their government, not ours, is on the line.
We have no evidence yet that North Korea has transferred plutonium out of the country. We don't even have evidence yet that they have built a nuclear device. We know that they have some enriched uranium, and they are now very publicly moving in the direction of having large amounts of plutonium. We have a short window of time to put the pieces in place to stop the North Koreans. That will require a sufficiently credible threat of force to convince them to back down. Or it will require the use of that force. We have therefore got to get moving on taking serious, military action to disarm the regime, if only because without such a threat no progress will be made.
Could North Korea kill a million South Koreans if we started a war? Yes. But Iraq could do proportionately as much damage to Israel, or to Kuwait, or to our own soldiers. We are not being deterred there. If we are serious, we can take 'em.
We cannot allow ourselves to think, or appear to the world as if we are checkmated once an enemy acquires nuclear weapons. Rather, we have got to demonstrate that acquiring nuclear weapons, and maintaining a hostile posture towards the United States, is a ticket to regime change. Otherwise, the incentives all line up in favor of nuclear proliferation across the globe, and we will never be secure again. To deter acquisition, we cannot only punish attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. We must punish rogue states that actually do acquire them, credibly and forcefully enough that states think long and hard before raising their profile by trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
By the way, North Korea is NOT the toughest problem we have in the nuclear arena. Neither is Iraq. The toughest problem is Pakistan. Pakistan is an Islamic country with a large al-Qaeda-sympathetic contingent in its military and intelligence services, with a number of working nuclear devices and with missiles to deliver them. North Korea is not nearly as big a threat as Pakistan. We can still solve the North Korea problem by blockading them; that'll make it tough for them to move nuclear material out of the country. (And there is very strong evidence that North Korea acquired *its* nuclear material from Pakistan, in exchange for missile technology.)
I think it behooves us to work the Iraq model of building an international consensus, if only because that is the only way we'll get South Korea and China onboard, and we *need* them onboard to win the peace, if not to win the war. But simultaneously, we have got to put the military pieces in place - quickly. The world will not wait for us to finish one war before giving us another.