The North Korean Pact Raises Hope

After over half a century of deceit and aggression, we have every reason to be suspicious of North Korea, whose officials agreed on September 19, 2005, to drop their nuclear weapons program and rejoin international arms treaties.

Doubts surfaced only a day after they signed the agreement in Beijing with the five powers conducting the negotiations ( U.S., China, Russia, Japan, South Korea). Pyongyang demanded up front a light-water nuclear reactor, ostensibly to generate electricity, but suspicion swelled that they were already reneging on the deal.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded in the right way. “We will stick to the text of the Beijing statement,” she said. The United States has agreed to discuss providing the North with a light-water reactor “at an appropriate time.” That means after Pyongyang has demolished its nuclear bomb program and after international inspectors can verify the deed. A light-water reactor could still produce weapons-grade fuel, but it’s less efficient than a regular reactor.

Ever since Joseph Stalin established North Korea as a communist dictatorship in 1948, the people have been forced to produce what Communist bureaucrats command, not what they want and are willing to pay for. North Korea thus has never been an economically viable state. Soviet handouts buttressed the country until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. North Korea has been unable to feed it people for almost the whole period since then. Dictator Kim Jong Il’s bizarre response has been to threaten war to obtain food!

Yet North Korea’s desperation offers a ray of hope. At last under massive international pressure, especially from China—which is North Korea’s major prop, providing food and aid that keeps it going—Kim may actually give up his nuclear program in exchange for economic assistance. Even if he doesn’t, we may gain time to find other ways to deter him. As I mention in my newest book, How America Got It Right, making a pact with the devil is unsavory, but it’s preferable to other scenarios. We can never say for sure that North Korea will be faithful to its promises, but the only reasonable choice we have is to make the offer.

Since North Korea insists it already has one or more atomic bombs, we cannot threaten North Korea with military action. Kim might launch a strike against South Korea. This would result in the immediate destruction of North Korea, but Kim is so odd that we cannot depend upon him acting rationally. Allowing Kim to keep A-bombs is no option, because he might sell one to terrorists, who would have no compunction in planting a bomb in New York City or some other American city.

The agreement, consequently, is a positive sign, and indicates that Kim Jong Il is intent on his own personal survival. We must play on this weird dictator’s self-interest, keep him in power, and give his starving people enough food to live and enough resources to keep the state from imploding

Another reason the North Korean agreement is positive is that it leaves only Iran as a rogue state intent of building an atomic bomb. If we can put to rest the danger from North Korea, we can concentrate on turning the theocratic dictatorship in Teheran away from its nuclear ambitions.

Iran is plainly determined to get its way. On September 20, 2005, its chief nuclear negotiator said the country would stop allowing inspections of its nuclear facilities and restart uranium enrichment if the United States and its allies use the “language of threats” and refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council. Only days previously, the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the UN General Assembly in New York that Iran would press ahead with its nuclear program. In August 2005, despite an agreement with Germany, France and Britain , Iran resumed uranium conversion, the first step in the nuclear-fuel production process, at its plant in Isfahan.

So we have a renegade state that is openly defiant of world opinion. It still claims it wants an atomic program to generate electricity. But this is a lie. Iran has copious amounts of oil and its energy needs can be supplied much more cheaply with oil than with nuclear energy.

European nations may work with us to get a resolution critical of Iran passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But this body is extremely hesitant to act. If an IAEA referral to the Security Council doesn’t come about, we can hope other countries will still help us to place the matter before the Council. But UN sanctions are no guarantee of action. The years-long defiance of the UN by Iraq arouses doubt whether Teheran would heed sanctions any more readily than Saddam Hussein did.

If Iran still is defiant, we have the option as a last resort of bombing all the Iranian nuclear installations before they are able to complete a weapon. Iran could not retaliate against American air strikes, and bombing would be far preferable to invasion.

Let us hope that the mullahs in Teheran will come to their senses in time, as Kim Jong Il has apparently come to his in Pyongyang. For America and the world, however, there is no choice: we cannot permit a fundamentalist Islamic state like Iran to possess atomic weapons. It would use them to intimidate the world, and would not hesitate to sell them to terrorists.

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