Secretary of State John Kerry called for a “swift, clear, strong and credible
response” to last week’s North Korean nuclear test and said America’s reaction
would send a message to Iran.
If that’s true, the message is: “Don’t
worry, go nuclear.”
That’s because years of sanctions, resolutions,
negotiations, threats, pleas and assorted attempts to influence Pyongyang have
produced three atomic bomb explosions, ballistic missiles that can reach the
United States and increased belligerency from a nation that thinks itself immune
to outside pressure and doesn’t feel obligated to honor its
The North Korean experience provides a lesson in the risks
of overblown rhetoric and the difficulties in devising realistic strategies for
preventing extremist regimes and fanatical leaders from crossing the nuclear
Experts say the latest test was the most successful yet and
indicates progress toward producing a warhead for an ICBM. That it came hours
before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address can hardly be a
The president called the incident a provocation that
required a firm response, but gave no indication of anything beyond more of the
Kerry warned of “significant action” if Pyongyang tested another
bomb or ICBM. “Just as it's impermissible for North Korea [DPRK] to pursue this
kind of reckless effort, so we have said it’s impermissible with respect to
Iran,” he said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a Pentagon news
conference, “We have to take steps to make very clear to them that that kind of
behavior is unacceptable.”
Again, no specifics, just more
The response from Pyongyang seems to be: You guys can moan and
groan and threaten all you wish, we’ve broken every agreement we’ve made with
you and nothing happened; you are impotent and can’t stop us. You go blah, blah,
blah and we go blast, blast, blast.
As if to make their point for them,
Western intelligence sources report the DPRK is preparing for another test
firing of a long-range missile and may explode two more nukes before year’s
The Iranians – who had their own scientists at the all three North
Korean nuclear tests and several missile launchings – are watching to see what,
if anything, Kerry had in mind when he called for a “swift, clear, strong and
credible response” by the international community.
One of the Iranian
scientists believed to have been there was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi,
considered the father of Iran’s nuclear program and the man responsible for
developing a warhead small enough to fit atop a ballistic missile developed by
Iran with DPRK help.
If an isolated pariah state like North Korea can
ignore all these years of resolutions, sanctions and threats and not only build
but detonate its nukes, what’s going to stop a richer country like Iran, with
nuclear allies like Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea from doing the same
thing? The North Koreans gave Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the news
peg he needed to repeat his insistence that “sanctions alone” don’t work and
must “be coupled with a robust, credible military threat. If they are not, then
there’s no chance to stop them.”
He said Iran will be atop his agenda
when President Obama comes to Jerusalem next month.
THERE IS no easy
military answer – if that is even the right answer – in either case. Obama knows
that after the two longest wars in American history – and with dubious results –
the American people don’t want to send their troops into another war. And he
knows drones alone can’t do job.
Both Iran and North Korea use diplomacy
to stall while they move full speed ahead on their WMD programs.
consistently sent mixed signals. In recent weeks it announced it is converting
some of its enriched uranium into nuclear fuel rods which cannot be used for
weapons, while at the same time it revealing it was installing faster, more
advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz facility.
inspectors left talks in Teheran last week complaining of Iranian refusal to
give required access to its nuclear sites and charging Iran was not negotiating
in good faith; no new talks are scheduled.
UN Secretary-General Ban
Kimoon warned that Teheran could use diplomacy to buy time to build a nuclear
weapon. “We have seen what happened with the DPRK,” he said.
deputy prime minister Dan Meridor said it bodes ill for negotiations between
Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany aimed at
preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon that are scheduled to resume next
week in Kazakhstan.
He said Washington needs to convince Iran that “all
options were still on the table.”
There are noteworthy similarities
between Iran and DPRK. Neither has shown any interest in slowing much less
halting its nuclear and missile development programs.
negotiations to buy time, not reach compromises, while they continue plowing
ahead, and neither takes prior commitments very seriously. For both countries,
nukes may be more valuable as leverage to extort concessions from others than as
weapons that could provoke regime-destroying retaliation.
denying a nuclear arsenal has deterrent value, which may make it too important
ever to surrender, but it is also highly likely to spark a destabilizing
regional nuclear arms race, which raises by several orders of magnitude the risk
of nuclear conflict and the chances a terror group could acquire its
There’s also a very big difference between the two. DPRK already has
the bomb and Iran doesn’t. US policy is to make sure that doesn’t change and
President Obama has said all options, including military force, are on the
“Iran seems so committed to going nuclear that it has been ready
to endure crippling sanctions and risk foreign attack,” according to a recent
article in Foreign Affairs.
Secretary Kerry has said Iran will be
watching the response to the latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests. So
will the rest of the world.
©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield
firstname.lastname@example.org www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/douglas_ bloomfield