North Korea, Iran and the Bell Curve
The next U.S. president will not be able to avoid North Korea’s nuclear competence. To say this is not to say that the United States is going to go to war with North Korea. However within a few years the weight of informed technological opinion will be that North Korea has nuclear weapons, but not the ability to deliver them long distance with any degree of confidence. The issue presented to the President and his/her ad visors will be whether that is acceptable.
The Wall Street Journal, in its October 5,2007 editorial, states that a nuclear North Korea is a bad result, but a worse precedent. The writer’s gaze sees North Korea but the focus is Iran.
The editorial ticks off complaints against the Bush Administration: It is promising aid to North Korea in advance of Kim Jong Il’s meeting his responsibility to disclose the status of its nuclear program; it looks like the Korean stockpile of plutonium and the uranium program may not be examined or may even be tacitly accepted by the U.S.; Korea’s activities promoting proliferation have not been pursued with the vigor that they deserve; and, astonishingly, the U.S. is taking steps to aid the regime. The one fact that partially redeems the situation in North Korea, and would not apply to Iran according to the editorial, is that North Korea has a very large neighbor that can keep a lid on the dictator. This redeeming grace is not operative in the Middle East.
Now, the Journal, like most American commentary has a bias toward optimism. One might see China as a leash on North Korea, but, more depressing, and more realistic, one might see it as a leash on the United States. The U.S. has a big big reason not to invade North Korea.