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After considerable behind-the-scenes squabbling, late last week the U.N. Security Council finally condemned the unprovoked March 26 attack on a South Korean ship that killed 46 sailors. Unfortunately, Chinese and Russian pressure produced a statement so weak that it didn’t actually finger North Korea as the perpetrator, nor did it mandate any concrete response. Pyongyang declared victory.
Just days before, Congress passed more sanctions against Iran. But neither these, nor the recent Security Council sanctions, nor further EU measures will prevent Iran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear state. CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted as much during ABC’s “This Week” on June 27 when asked about U.N. sanctions.
As Tehran and Pyongyang can plainly see, President Obama’s nonproliferation strategy is intellectually and politically exhausted. But U.S. exhaustion will not lead to stasis. North Korea and Iran will continue their nuclear and ballistic missile programs in the face of our feeble policy.
So are we consigned to two more years of growing danger? Not if Congress and opinion leaders take steps without White House leadership, beginning with these three initiatives:
First, they must demand increased intelligence collection on the North Korea-Iran connection. Where possible without compromising sources and methods, this information should be disseminated to increase public awareness.
Pyongyang has been a major proliferation player in the Middle East for some time, selling missiles and technology throughout the region. For over a decade, Iran has done extensive ballistic missile testing on its behalf. Pyongyang’s reactor in Syria–destroyed by Israel in September 2007–was likely financed by Iran, and other joint programs may still be underway in Syria and Burma.
Although North Korea and Iran may be slipping off the front page, their nuclear and ballistic missile cooperation is almost certainly progressing. These proliferation threats are not separate, and a better understanding of the level of joint activity would reveal a much more realistic picture for the U.S. and its allies. Stepped up intelligence gathering and enhanced congressional and public discussion might even awaken the Obama administration.
A second step is to increase political support for an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile facilities. Slowly, but now with increasing certainty, analysts have come to understand that Iran is going to become a nuclear-weapons state sooner rather than later. Arab states have understood this for some time and have hoped for a pre-emptive U.S. strike. But that will not happen under Mr. Obama absent a Damascene conversion in the Oval Office.
What outsiders can do is create broad support for Israel’s inherent right to self-defense against a nuclear Holocaust and defend the specific tactic of pre-emptive attacks against Iran’s Esfahan uranium-conversion plant, its Natanz enrichment facility, and other targets. Congress can make it clear, for example, that it would support immediate resupply and rearming to make up for Israeli losses in the event of such an attack. Having visible congressional support in place at the outset will reassure the Israeli government, which is legitimately concerned about Mr. Obama’s likely negative reaction to such an attack.
Third, opinion leaders should prepare China for Korean reunification after Kim Jong Il. Kim’s demise could lead to chaos. But with the right planning, his death could also set the stage for reunifying the Korean Peninsula. With the White House essentially mute on this subject, Congress and others must bring the discussion about post-Kim North Korea to the fore and highlight the opportunity it provides to topple the entire regime.
Congress can emphasize its determination to minimize the impact of possible refugee flow from the North by pledging the fullest humanitarian assistance. Moreover, nonofficial conversations about possible U.S.-South Korean military intervention to stabilize the North after Kim’s death could reassure China that our intention is not to disadvantage Beijing but to peacefully end the North’s tyranny. Many Japanese and South Korean leaders already agree with this course and can help China understand that its legitimate interests are best served by addressing the inevitable.
These three suggestions are merely openers. But with White House proliferation policy comatose, we must search elsewhere for second-best alternatives. Until 2012, second best is all we have.
John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.
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