Wed, 10 Jun 2009 15:11:54 +0000 – By Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarlandNational Security Expert/Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
North Korea snatched two American journalists and is holding them hostage under the window dressing of calling them 'spies.' They've detonated two nuclear bombs. They've tested medium and long range ballistic missiles and they're preparing another round of tests. They're getting so close to joining the ranks of great nuclear nations that they can taste it.
The world is now at a crossroads and must make a decision within weeks - if not days. Will it stand by while North Korea becomes a nuclear weapons state? If so, others will quickly follow -- in northeast Asia, in the Middle East, perhaps even in South America. Think of it as a giant nuclear domino game -- where one country going nuclear leads inevitably to its neighbor doing the same. Here's how this would break down:
In Northeast Asia:In response to North Korea, Japan, and possibly South Korea, will believe they have no option but to become nuclear states themselves, which both could do in short order by converting their nuclear power programs into nuclear weapons programs.
In the Middle East:Iran will interpret the world's inability to halt North Korea's program as a green light for its own efforts. They will buy more missiles and nuclear technology from North Korea -- reports are they already have people standing by in Pyongyang. A nuclear Iran will set off an arms race in the the most dangerous part of the world, as the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and perhaps even Turkey feel the need to offset Shiite Iran.
Is there anything we can do to stop the world from slowly slipping toward nuclear Armageddeon? Actually there is. It's time to draw a line in the sand on nuclear proliferation and the place to start - immediately - is with North Korea. There can be NO NoKo Nukes. But the U.S. can't do it alone.
While we have no leverage over North Korea, China has plenty -- it provides some 80% of their food, fuel oil and gasoline. So far China has been reluctant to pressure North Korea -- preferring to keep things at a low boil. But the situation now threatens to boil over -- with North Korea ratcheting up tensions and the Japanese rethinking their pacifist position. The prospect of a rearmed Japan -- especially one with nuclear weapons -- is China's biggest nightmare. Two months ago the Chinese refused to condemn North Korea's missile tests. Two weeks ago they changed course and criticized North Korea's nuclear test. President Obama should use his much heralded diplomatic skills to convince the Chinese to join us in stopping North Korea.
Second, the U.S. should immediately put North Korean back on the list of state sponsors of terror and freeze their financial assets throughout the world. We should encourage other world powers to do the same.
Third, the U.N. Security Council members, especially Russia and China, should join with us in authorizing the 95 nation Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to halt, board, search and seize any North Korean ships or aircraft suspected of carrying nuclear weapons or missiles. U.N. Resolution 1718 establishes the PSI's right to do everything but seize material -- they need to take that next step.
Finally, and, as a last resort, the U.S. and the world must consider the military option -- knowing full well that military action against North Korea could result in millions of refugees streaming across its borders into China and South Korea. And, while the U.S. is bound to South Korea's defense by treaty, any military confrontation on the Peninsula could result in heavy damage and casualties in the South.
In the game of carrots and sticks with North Korea, the time for carrots is over. Both Presidents Clinton and Bush tried diplomacy and failed. It's now up to President Obama to try a different road. If he cannot convince the international community to join with us in halting and dismantling North Korea's nuclear program, five years from now the world will be a very different and unimaginably dangerous place. The likelihood of nuclear weapons being used within the decade goes up exponentially. North Korea is Obama's first national security test and failure is not an option.