Sunday, December 15, 2013

Is North Korea the next Iran?

Bill Clinton meeting with Kim Jong Il in 2009
In light of recent developments surrounding Iran's nuclear program, the logical next question many have been asking has been "what about North Korea?" If the second member of the "Axis of Evil" can be brought to the negotiating table, why not the third? The answer: because North Korea already possesses nuclear arms, and views them as vital to the continued existence of the regime in Pyongyang.

North Korean Rodong 1
China News
Perhaps most important to the discussion involving North Korea vis-a-vi Iran is that, unlike Iran, North Korea has successfully tested nuclear bombs, and almost certainly has active nuclear missiles. As history shows, it is nigh impossible to force a nuclear state to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea currently fields the Rodong 1, a SCUD variant with a range of roughly 900 km, and is most likely capable of producing a nuclear warhead suitable for this missile. Furthermore, evidence suggests that Pyongyang is rapidly improving its long range missile capabilities as well as developing its ability to enrich uranium. In the short history of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, there has been only one instance of a state with a functioning nuclear deterrent (South Africa), and that was only in the face of both enormous international pressure and seismic domestic political changes.

There is also the matter of the West's recent record regarding authoritarian regimes, a record very disturbing from the viewpoint of Kim Jong Un. In 2003, Muammar Qaddafi's Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program under international pressure. Eight years later, Qadaffi was deposed, in no small part due to military
Kim Jong Un
LA Times
assistance provided to rebels by many of the same Western states. From the perspective of a dictator, it was clear that assurances from the international community about one's security could not be trusted, and logically only a credible deterrent could secure one's own survival. In light of this, it is perfectly rational for a state such as North Korea to aggressively pursue a WMD deterrent, and to doggedly hold onto a deterrent already acquired.

It is highly unlikely that a nuclear North Korea will give up its arms due to diplomatic efforts alone - Pyongyang views WMD as too essential to its own survival. North Korea is not Iran, unlikely to respond to similar incentives. Perhaps, like South Africa, it will not the be the international community alone, but internal events which end North Korea's time as a nuclear state.

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