Wednesday, May 27, 2009

North Korea's Bellicosity Increases; Iran Watches From the Sidelines

Days after successfully testing a nuclear weapon and firing off multiple missiles, North Korea warns that it may consider the 1953 ceasefire armistice at an end because South Korea is contemplating joining an anti-proliferation group; the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
“The Korean People’s Army will not be bound to the Armistice Agreement any longer,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement today. Any attempt to inspect North Korean vessels will be countered with “prompt and strong military strikes.” South Korea’s military said it will “deal sternly with any provocation” from the North.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak ordered his government to take “calm” measures on the threats, his office said in a statement today. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takeo Kawamura, echoed those remarks and called on North Korea to “refrain from taking actions that would elevate tensions in Asia.”

The threats are the strongest since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on May 25, drawing international condemnation and the prospect of increased sanctions against the communist nation. South Korea dispatched a warship to its maritime border and is prepared to deploy aircraft, Yonhap News reported, citing military officials it didn’t identify.

“This rapid-fire provocation indicates a more aggressive shift in the Kim Jong Il regime,” said Ryoo Kihl Jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Kim is obviously using a strategy of maximum force.”
Why wouldn't Kim take the strategy of maximum force. No one is standing in his way and restraint is seen as weakness to be exploited. The UN is incapable of acting to stop North Korea, despite multiple resolutions designed to do just that. The IAEA was an abject failure to stop North Korea's nuclear program, which has been restarted despite its agreement to cease its nuclear intentions.

And while North Korea continues its saber rattling, Iran watches as its own nuclear program continues churning out enriched uranium that with time will be sufficient for nuclear weapons. Iran's own statements are far more troubling than those of North Korea, if only because Iran repeatedly calls for genocide of entire populations - destroying Israel and seeking regional domination in the name of religious devotion. There's absolutely no reason to think that Iran is going to give up its nuclear intentions.

Even the diplomats think that the best case scenario is that the regime slows its production, meaning that it will simply take longer for the regime to have sufficient nuclear materials for weapons. It doesn't change the calculus of national security as there's no way to verify what Iran is going to do since it has most of its nuclear facilities buried underground so as to evade satellite detection and makes it extremely difficult to destroy should airstrikes be contemplated.

It's also unreasonable to believe that the upcoming Iranian elections will change Iran's course on nuclear technologies, despite what some think. The regime has invested tremendous energies into building its nuclear infrastructure, and it will continue down this path, in part because of its ideological and religious needs.

Negotiating with these regimes has given them time to further their nuclear ambitions and perfect the technologies needed to build nuclear weapons, more time is not going to change the calculus in favor of peaceful resolution that involves a denuclearized North Korea or Iran. Both regimes will have nuclear weapons and the means to exact a serious economic toll on the rest of the world.

Failing to stop these regimes at the earliest stages of their nuclear ambitions, coupled with ignoring all the warning signs of regimes seeking nuclear weapons, puts us in a position where rogue nations can put the rest of the world at risk.

Now, North Korea appears willing to begin reprocessing spent fuel rods so as to extract still more plutonium for nuclear weapons. The PSI is a US-led initiative to deal with WMD proliferation; the effort led to Libya giving up its nuclear program and spilling details about the global efforts to obtain nuclear technologies.

Something else to keep in mind is the endgame for North Korea. I suspect the real goal is to influence how the Korean peninsula is reunited. He's trying to dictate the terms - setting up the preconditions that can't be brokered with.

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