May 26, 2011

Time to Knuckle Down on Nuclear North Korea

Bob MaginnisBy Bob Maginnis


North Korea’s atomic-tipped missile threat against the American homeland is at a critical stage. But President Barack Obama’s North Korea policy is lackluster — more talk while feeding the rogue’s population — which may help Communist China but could cripple America’s security.

The North Korean threat is reaching a tipping point with two new reports. One comes from Raymond Colston, the national intelligence manager for Korea at the National Intelligence Director’s Office. Last week Colston testified on Capitol Hill that North Korea will eventually “be capable of targeting the U.S., and these missiles will be capable of having nuclear weapons.”

The second report is a leaked United Nations account by a panel of experts monitoring the arms embargo against North Korea. The 81-page document given to the Security Council last week establishes that North Korea continues to proliferate weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technologies “to numerous customers in the Middle East [primarily Iran] and South Asia.”

This breaking news comes on the cusp of other regimes' WMD developments. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, according to Fars News Agency, disputes the UN report, arguing that Tehran’s missile capabilities are so advanced it does not need outside help. But that statement is contradicted by a report in the May 16 edition of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun that contends North Korea recently sent more than 200 people to Iran to transfer military technology for developing Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

At home, North Korea just finished constructing its second missile-launch complex that is five times larger, and better shielded from potential attack, than its Musudan-ri facility, according to the Korea Herald. The new Dongchang-ri complex is strategically closer to China, has an underground missile-fueling center to escape U.S. satellite monitoring, and is just 43 miles from the Yongbyon nuclear complex where North Korea develops atomic weapons.

The regime is also making substantial progress in the production of enriched uranium, which is fuel for nuclear weapons. Last November, American nuclear experts viewed approximately 2,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges at a previously secret North Korean facility. Those experts asserted that “it is highly likely” there are other unrevealed uranium-enrichment plants in North Korea, according to the Associated Press. The regime is believed to hold enough plutonium, also a type of nuclear fuel, for six atomic weapons, and now uranium enrichment provides a second route for preparing weapons material.

These developments and two underground nuclear tests set the stage for President Obama’s effort to restart six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S. intended to wean the regime of its nuclear programs. Those talks broke down in 2008 and stalled especially because of two deadly attacks on a South Korean warship and border island last year.

Today, the Hermit Kingdom appears ready to rejoin the talks because it needs Western food aid and more time to put in place a weapons program that will guarantee regime survival. Besides, this is a perilous time for the regime because its leader, Kim Jong-il, thought to be dying, is preparing the country for the third-generation power transition to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un.

The U.S. will likely provide aid to incentivize new talks. This week U.S envoy Robert King is in North Korea to assess the food situation. Pyongyang appealed to the U.S. for 430,000 tons of food to feed 6 million people allegedly stricken by floods and severe winter weather.

South Korea is skeptical about Pyongyang’s food request, however. Seoul officials say the North exaggerated its shortages to hoard food in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late leader, Kim Il-sung, according to Yonhap, South Korea’s largest news agency.

Eventually, with or without food aid, Pyongyang is expected to rejoin the six-party talks because it knows that forum provides an opportunity to extract aid for more false promises to denuclearize. But just as important, North Korea wants to buy time to field survivable mobile atomic-tipped ballistic missile systems that will be hidden deep in caverns, beyond the effective reach of U.S. earth-penetrating munitions.

The Communist regime knows its continued existence depends on those survivable mobile nuclear weapons. That view was confirmed by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon, and a WMD proliferator, who wrote last week in Newsweek, “Don’t overlook the fact that no nuclear-capable country has been subjected to aggression or occupied, or had its borders redrawn. Had Iraq and Libya been nuclear powers, they wouldn’t have been destroyed in the way we have seen recently.” That line of thought most certainly influences Kim Jong-il’s WMD decisions.

China plays an interesting role regarding North Korea. It protects the regime by winking at violations of UN sanctions that it promises to back. But then it walks a self-serving line between helping Pyongyang and protecting its interests by blocking the release of the new UN report.

Beijing fears the UN report, which shows fresh North Korean arms proliferation violations, will lead to more at-sea interdictions by foreign vessels along its periphery. More foreign vessels such as U.S. warships in the East and South China Seas threaten Beijing’s sovereign claim to that region.

But China paradoxically benefits from Pyongyang’s ongoing proliferation activities, which explains why it helps the rogue. Allegedly China was the “neighboring third country” cited in the UN report that allowed “trans-shipment” of illicit weapons technology between Iran and North Korea. Beijing favors this activity because it creates a distraction in the Mideast that keeps the U.S. tied down and out of Asia .

What should be President Obama’s North Korea policy? Perhaps he should take the advice of his ambassador to South Korea as reported by Yonhap. Last week Ambassador Kathleen Stephens told the Kwanhun Club, a fraternity of senior Korean journalists, “Without denuclearization, North Korea is on a dead-end road.”

At this time all evidence points to Pyongyang speeding down that “dead-end road.” It does not appear the regime is willing to abandon its WMD programs, and in fact it is expanding its activities to include proliferating WMDs to virtually anyone with money.

Obama’s policy must be resolute — Pyongyang will stop proliferating and abandon WMD programs, and then we’ll talk. There will be incentives for compliance, but failing to change course invites what happened to Iraq and Libya. The U.S. will not tolerate Pyongyang’s developing mobile atomic-tipped ballistic missiles hidden in deep bunkers that would then put the rogue in a position to blackmail the world.

Related Links

N. Korean leader calls for early resumption of six-party talks - Yonhap News
US Officials Conducting Food Assessment in North Korea - Voice of America
China aids N. Korea, Iran with nuke advances - The Washington Times
North Korea Confirms Leader’s Beijing Trip, Nuclear Talks - Jakarta Globe
China renews its support for NKorea on Kim's visit - CBS