Although the US administration does not say so, the president appears to see Iran becoming a second North Korea as something acceptable, both rogue nations being led by absolute dictators who are afforded some amount of holiness in both nations, nations that are both human rights disasters, nations that even share with each other the required missile technology to deliver their radioactive babes to the world. Isaac Herzog, potentially the next Israeli PM told the Brookings Institute’s Saban forum, “I trust Obama to get a good deal.” Since North Korea is the original rogue that cut a deal not to develop nuclear weapons, Iran and North Korea deserve some comparison. Rhetorically when we dealt with the North Koreans it was a kick the can down the road sort of deal to prevent North Korea from getting nuclear arms but we may have seen a nuclear armed North Korea as a minimal threat since they have a giant and conventionally well armed military near the South Korean border.

Iran and North Korea have a lot in common, both have militaries and police that destroy civilian freedom and cultures at home, both export weapons, both think their long term short cut to regional importance is the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental missile, both nations are considered rogue and both nations have a patron that was once a full blown communist state. Iran has an alliance with Russia, who helps them develop their nuclear weapons, covers for them in the international community and sells them sophisticated conventional weapons. North Korea is an expense of the Chinese economy with some help from an illegal but emerging North Korean underground economy. Both nations have “supreme leaders” who can order severe human rights abuses at home are unquestioned and have the kind of political power and personality cults that make genocide possible. Both nations are to some extent brittle. The latest Kim to lead North Korea seems like a washed out photocopy of a photocopy and while there are plenty rumors of palace intrigue, executions and office shuffling, it is difficult to tell if this is merely what one should expect in a strong man system with a new leader as it is in Saudi Arabia or if it means Kim Jong Eun is facing real danger from an emerging oligarchy. Whatever his situation, the North Koreans cannot be kept on the edge of cannibalism forever, they will have to change or collapse.  Iran is also brittle, there is little legitimacy left in for the Iranian government which everyone now understands to be a religious kleptocracy. People are afraid to protest but the day will come when they will not be afraid. Economic sanctions are not enough to make short work of Iran but with the Saudi oil price drop, the expense of exporting terror, armed revolution and fiscal and human cost of putting troops into Syria the lifespan of the Iranian government is shortened. A deal with the US, which both reduces sanctions and conveys a legitimacy abroad that the Iranian government does not enjoy at home, threatens to undo that which slows Iran.                                                                                      

The other question is, does either nation require nuclear weapons to survive and the short answer is not really. Iran has no enemy that can invade and occupy Iran, including the United States or the United States in a coalition. Iran is too large, too populated, produces small arms and rockets and no invading army is going to be greeted as liberators  In fact, even under sanctions Iran is expanding is and always has been expanding its reach in a neo-Leninist fashion by exporting terror and revolution. The only threat to Iran would be the Kurds breaking away from Iran but this would only increase domestic tranquility and offer a buffer between Iran and the Sunni Arab League states.  Iran faces no threat that would require nuclear weapons, Iraq when it had a considerable army could not defeat the under trained, under armed and mismanaged Iranian military which shortly after the revolution and purges was not ready for protracted war with Iraq, so if Iran could survive that it has no need to nuclear weapons for defensive purposes as it faces no nuclear threat. The only purpose of nuclear weapons is to support aggression.

North Korea is in a slightly different situation; it exists as a Chinese buffer zone between China, Japan and the west, North Korea’s usefulness as a buffer zone is not merely literal. North Korea’s exporting arms such as missile and rocket technology has paid huge dividends to China in being able to distract the US military from focusing on Asia and has arguably hampered President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia.” The source of Iranian rocketry is North Korea. China could use North Korea as a proxy to launch either a conventional or nuclear attack while keeping China proper out of the conflict, conversely North Korea nukes may be the only long term way to keep North Korea separate from South Korea and ultimately differentiate itself from China. So, there is some need for nuclear weapons by North Korea but more importantly as an artificial state that cannot support itself and has no reason beyond rhetoric to unify itself with South Korea, the North Koreans like the defunct East Germany can afford no ambition other than their long term survival. There are no regional ambitions and copying North Vietnam’s model and taking over South Korea is only a formula to perpetuate North Korean stagnation into South Korea. North Korea in contrast to Iran has few territorial ambitions and none that it would ever benefit from. North Korea is ultimately a vassal state of China and its rogue nuclear program and it arms exporting programs ultimately are born of Chinese needs. It is possible a North Korean leader will start a nuclear war on his own but unlikely since North Korea cannot stand on its own before of after such a war. However, no should presume North Korea’s rationality since their rationality boils down to one man. 

Iran, which has no reason to fear invasion from anyone now that Iraq has a Shiite government simply has no need for nuclear weapons, nor does Russia beyond selling nuclear technology has any usefulness in Iran having nukes, in fact Russia can’t absolutely exclude itself has a potential Iranian nuclear target as they are both rivals in central Asia. Iran is expanding its influence; ran Gaza until Hamas turned toward the Muslim Brotherhood but keeps influence over Hamas and control over Islamic Jihad; turned Hezbollah into a military strike and occupational force in Syria; extending regular Iranian troops into Syria; the Houthi over throw of the government in Yemen; destabilizing other governments such as Bahrain while continuing terrorist actions against civilians across the globe. What nuclear weapons will do for a rational government in Iran is not defend Iranian territory, which can only be lost to internal rivals, but help Tehran acquire new lands. Nuclear weapons will not protect Iran from a nuclear strike because having only a first strike capability pressures nations with a second strike (or a first strike capacity) to strike early and wipe out the Iranian armaments. Nuclear weapons will only help Iran secure new lands by making the cost of recovery from Iran too high. We can remember as far back the 90s that if Iraq got the bomb we would never have recovered Kuwait. The US government and many US allies think Iran is run by rational people, therefore we should at least expect an expanding Iranian nuclear umbrella with Iran expanding itself in both the Middle East and Central Asia.

Both Iran and North Korea are led by men who are objects of worship, supported by government that have little love or sympathy for the needs of their own populations, in the case of Iran it also has a military doctrine through its terror arms of attacking civilians and endangering civilians on both sides of any conflict. The Syrians adhere to this doctrine and are busy bombing their own civilians, Leaders who can order an assassination or massacres are the prototypes of leaders that can commit genocide.  The foreign minister the US meets with today may be dead or in jail tomorrow, the seemingly rational leader with a cult of personality we see today may be a David Koresh or Jim Jones tomorrow. Those people who believe North Korea will not and could not launch a suicidal nuclear strike are mistaken because any supreme leader could, those people who think Iran will not choose an end of day scenario with a nuclear strike on Israel (or other nations) have not understood the arbitrary nature of such sun kings. The West should only make short agreements with such leaders and not make deals that lead to nuclear weapons or the restarting of nuclear programs, there is simply no basis for short term or long term trust and Iran will be and increasingly regional problem and more so with nukes and with no equivalent of China to constrain it.  There is no good deal with Iran; the West should continue to work towards its implosion. 

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