WASHINGTON -- While the American public, insofar as it is concerned with international affairs, remains preoccupied with Iraq, the two other members of the Axis of Evil have not moved from the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. United Nations nuclear inspectors continue to dither in Iran even as U.S. and other Western diplomats have provided the International Atomic Energy Agency with evidence of a covert nuclear weapons program run by Tehran, but even that crisis seems manageable when compared to the trouble brewing another half a world away in North Korea.
That a rogue state will sell a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group has become the foremost security threat for the United States and for the world. In his "Worldwide Threat 2004" analysis, CIA Director George Tenet says his "deepest concern" is that terrorist organizations remain intent "on obtaining, and using catastrophic weapons."
If such a nightmare scenario were to become a reality, the suspect list for the supply-side of the equation would be short. And North Korea would lead it.
Vice President Dick Cheney, traveling in Asia last month, told a Chinese audience, "We worry that, given what they've done in the past and given what we estimate to be their current capability, that North Korea could well, for example, provide this kind of [nuclear weapons] technology to someone else or possibly to a terrorist organization."
In weeks prior to Cheney's trip, the two senior U.S. military commanders in that part of the world gave the House Armed Services Committee the same warning.
"They're a known proliferators of missiles, missiles technology, narcotics and other illegal activities," said Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. forces in Korea. "What's to prevent North Korea from deciding to sell to other nations or terrorist organizations weapons-grade material? Given the history of North Korea relative to selling missiles and missile technology it's a concern we must address," he added.
"I think our largest concern would be if nuclear material was sold to al-Qaeda, clearly," said Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. "They have the will and the skill, obviously, to carry out a devastating terrorist attack. … That is a kind of nightmare scenario, and that's why we feel so strongly about a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula," he added.
Also within the past month, even the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, traveled to Washington to express his alarm over North Korea. He said the situation there is the highest-level crisis facing his agency because North Korea "has the most advanced capability."
And over the course of the past year, information has been trickling in regarding the now notorious Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who reportedly confessed to transferring Pakistani nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He told his Pakistani interrogators that he provided North Korea with both the designs for uranium enrichment centrifuges and a small number of the actual machines, as well as a "shopping list" of what was necessary to mass-produce the centrifuges, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the Pakistani intelligence reports.
"We think they've pretty much bought everything on the list, with the possible exception of a few components," said one U.S. official when additional news of Khan's confessions provided by Pakistani authorities broke in the New York Times last month.
WILLIAM TRIPLETT, IN HIS recently released book Rogue State: How a Nuclear North Korea Threatens America (Regnery, 272 pages, $27.95), catalogues intelligence from recent years that we can combine with these latest developments to form a clearer picture of international terrorism. Among the most notable examples:
* The North Koreans and Osama bin Laden have an existing arms sales relationship. This was discovered in 2000 when bin Laden financed a shipment of North Korean conventional arms to a Philippine Islamic terrorist group.
* In 1998, Pakistan set off a nuclear test which scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory now suspect may have been a North Korean nuclear weapon or a joint venture between the two countries, due to the fact that it was a plutonium rather than uranium weapon, which Pakistan's nuclear research is exclusively comprised of.
* According to a defector report, the North Koreans have been training "Arab terrorists" for the past decade at the Kim Jung-Il Political and Military University.
With the missing link of A.Q. Khan discovered and now shedding light on the operations of his nuclear black market, there is ample evidence that the Axis of Evil, minus Iraq, continues to pursue both terror and nuclear weapons.
As the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and the two Koreas prepare for the next round of talks aimed at reaching a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear standoff, many senior Bush administration officials, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice among them, have publicly expressed the view that "time is running out" on North Korea. Triplett, with some thirty years of foreign policy experience and expertise on China, agrees with the view and adds the warning that China is the key to unlocking North Korea.
In a recent interview, Triplett revealed that his book was almost titled China's Knife. "If you take China out of the North Korea nuclear program, there is no North Korea nuclear program," he noted, adding that "China does not want a democratic country on its border."
In Rogue State, he writes that China has done very little for North Korea, which he refers to as its client state. The minimal economic aid China offers does little more than to prop up the terror regime of Kim Jong-Il and his "army first" policy, he adds.
TRIPLETT GOES ON TO explain that socialism is not the guiding ideology of the Kim regime, which has made the military a priority over any pretense of bettering the condition of the "working class." In a chapter devoted to human rights, he reveals how Kim, whose father Kim Il-Sung was hand-picked by Joseph Stalin from among numerous Korean military men to rule North Korea because of his unflinching brutality, has moved even a step beyond Stalin in his methods.
While Stalin's purges focused on men he thought posed even the slightest challenge to his political authority, Kim's gulag state takes the nightmare to the next level by imprisoning entire families for the political transgressions of one of its members and, the author notes, opens the door to new abuses with the presence of young women in the camps. Triplett admitted in an interview last month that the human rights chapter of his book was, "difficult, as a writer, to handle." And indeed it's likely to be difficult for many readers to handle, with details of the Kim gulags including everything from human experimentation to rape and forced abortion.
On this count Triplett is particularly critical of Madeleine Albright and the Clinton administration and shows how the administration that wanted to inaugurate a new era of "moralpolitik" deliberately ignored human rights issues in North Korea, instead pursuing a policy of "engagement," in which Albright herself became a prop for the Kim regime when visiting North Korea in 2000. Pursuit of this unsentimental policy included the Agreed Framework, a deal whereby Pyongyang received two new nuclear reactors to supply power in exchange for freezing its old nuclear program. It didn't take much foresight to realize that this "realistic" approach was a big giveaway to North Korea, which would soon start up its supposedly frozen nuclear programs again.
Triplett applauds the effort of the Japanese who, in the context of the multilateral talks with North Korea, have begun exploring ways of incorporating human rights into the negotiations, and many have concluded that, like Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il must go. Triplett noted recently that "a diplomatic deal leaving Kim in power is not satisfying to me because of what they do to their people." Unfortunately the difficulties the U.S. has faced thus far in Iraq are likely to pale in comparison to even the best-case scenario for ending the North Korea stand-off.
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