As evidence mounts that North Korea
already possesses nuclear weapons, United States
President George W Bush's entire machismo about
disallowing the possession of weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) by radical regimes faces a serious
The source of a key nuclear weapons
report on North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons is
Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, the father of its
nuclear weapon, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has admitted
selling his nation's secret nuclear weapons technology.
North Korea, Libya and Iran are the nations he
reportedly named as having received nuclear technology.
He is also reported to have told his Pakistani
interrogators that he had seen three nuclear devices
during one of his visits to North Korea.
Strangely enough, no serious question about the
credibility of that assertion was raised at a time when
Dr Khan's claim was publicized early this year, nor was
it questioned while US Vice President Dick Cheney was
visiting East Asia recently. Perhaps the silence was due
to the fact that Khan's claims were exactly what the US
wanted to hear.
Through Cheney's visit to Asia,
the US sought to convey to the world that it is serious
about negotiating with North Korea. However, in the
Asia-Pacific region in general, no one can forget that
Bush, after raising the level of rhetoric during the
past two years about his resolve to disallow possession
of WMD radical regimes, has done nothing to restart the
negotiations, even after the inconclusive end of
six-party talks with North Korea. Aside from Pyongyang
and Washington, the other four parties are China, South
Korea, Japan and Russia.
What is especially
disconcerting about possible possession of nuclear
weapons by North Korea is the potential that Pyongyang
would sell those devices to a terrorist group like
al-Qaeda. As preposterous as this suggestion sounds in
principle, no US president can sit around cavalierly and
do nothing regarding such a potential threat. More to
the point, if Japan and South Korea were to become fully
convinced that North Korea is armed with nuclear
weapons, they might start insisting on developing their
own respective minimum credible deterrence, thereby
initiating a nuclear arms race in East Asia.
present situation, though, says nothing about Bush's
extant policy options regarding North Korea. The fact
that he has already insisted on the possibility of
invoking preemptive military actions against a
nuclear-armed "rogue" state is on everyone's minds. The
question is when would that option become a live one for
the US. The answer: it depends on what happens next when
the US approaches North Korea's main interlocutor,
China, on the issue. Washington remains hopeful that the
leaders in Beijing might be able to use their influence
on North Korea to persuade the leadership to be
reasonable and begin dismantling its nuclear weapons
programs, in return for energy, economic and other
Exit Dick, enter
Jong-il Just after Cheney left China on April 18,
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il came calling, and China
must have received the latest policy positions by both
sides. The next round of Beijing-sponsored six-party
talks is expected to take place some time before July,
but a date has not been set. The only sure thing is that
talks will continue.
In all likelihood,
diplomacy will be given a chance between now and next
January, when a new US president assumes office.
However, considering that North Korea remains highly
suspicious of Bush, the chances of any diplomatic
breakthroughs are minimal.
would want Kim to believe him when he tells the
Pyongyang regime and the world that he wants to resolve
the nuclear conflict peacefully. However, Kim also knows
that if he were to give up his nuclear option, his
regime would become highly vulnerable to the preemption
option in the next four years, especially if Bush
remains in office.
So, from North Korea's
perspective, only a change of regime in Washington -
from Bush to John Kerry - would provide Kim with
adequate, though not necessarily sufficient, guarantees
to give up the nuclear program.
The trouble with
the nature of the relationship between the US and North
Korea is that one can envision a Kerry administration
taking a hard look at the preemption option, possibly
during his first term, as did president Bill Clinton in
1994. Kim also remembers that Clinton reality quite
vividly. While Kerry and Bush differ in some regards on
the approach to North Korea, Kerry might appear
preferable, but certainly would not be a dream candidate
If Kim, indeed, has developed
nuclear weapons, the likelihood of his totally
abandoning his nuclear program - a la South
Africa - are slim-to-none. Thus, the world had better
get ready to live with a nuclear North Korea, unless the
US decides to give nuclear brinkmanship a chance. The
international community also remembers, or should, that
in the last military conflict involving the Korean
Peninsula, China was not a neutral party. And this time
as well, China is fully engaged in the six-party talks.
In the final analysis, the international
community might have to determine whether nuclear
brinkmanship is a feasible option, the alternative being
living with a nuclear North Korea.
Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based
independent strategic analyst.
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