North Korea nukes

Photo of Condoleeza Rice
Condoleezza Rice

I once asked an impudent question of Condoleezza Rice, the former United States Secretary of State who is now a professor of political science and political economy at Stanford University. If the Bush Administration’s justification for invading Iraq was to stop a tyrant who was suspected of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, then why has the United States not invaded North Korea?

Flashback: In late 2002, several months before the United States attacked Iraq, President George W. Bush outlined the reasons for military action. According to a White House transcript, Mr. Bush said:

First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands alone — because it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of people. This same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East, has invaded and brutally occupied a small neighbor, has struck other nations without warning, and holds an unrelenting hostility toward the United States.

. . . Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world. The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today — and we do — does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons? … America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

. . . Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events. The United Nations would betray the purpose of its founding, and prove irrelevant to the problems of our time. And through its inaction, the United States would resign itself to a future of fear. That is not the America I know. That is not the America I serve. We refuse to live in fear. (Applause.) This nation, in world war and in Cold War, has never permitted the brutal and lawless to set history’s course. Now, as before, we will secure our nation, protect our freedom, and help others to find freedom of their own.

So why is North Korea any different than Iraq, other than the fact that North Korea — unlike Iraq –actually has weapons of mass destruction? Professor Rice bristled at the question. The decision to invade Iraq was based “on the best intelligence we had at the time,” she said. The evidence that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, she said, was as strong a tranche of intelligence as she had ever seen in her career. She did not answer the question about North Korea.

My question was asked of Professor Rice in 2010. The best intelligence we had at the time was that North Korea had already tested at least two nuclear bombs, and was known to be working with Iran to develop long-range missiles and submarines capable of delivering those weapons. We knew that North Korea’s tyrant presided over a nation of famine while diverting foreign aid monies to fuel his nuclear weapons program.

Two months ago, North Korea successfully launched a missile believed to be capable of carrying a warhead more than 6,000 miles. And this week, it successfully detonated a nuclear bomb believed to be in the six- to seven-kiloton range. (The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 was estimated at 12KT to 18KT.)

According to The New York Times, the North Korean National Defense Commission then:

. . . stated clearly, rather than implying, that its nuclear program would now be aimed at the United States — something suggested in the past, for instance, by propaganda posters showing a missile striking what looks like Capitol Hill.

“We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the D.P.R.K. one after another and a nuclear test of higher level will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,” the statement said, using the abbreviation for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

This is not to argue for an invasion of North Korea. Rather, it is to question the real reasons we invaded Iraq, and to encourage a rethinking of how to deal with unstable states (e.g. Iran, Pakistan) that either have or are likely to develop nukes.

Photo of Kimjongilia
A Ruby Begonia by any other name … The Kimjongilia. The Kimilsungia is on the left.

A cynic would suggest that we have not invaded North Korea because, unlike Iraq, North Korea does not have oil.

But besides nuclear bombs, missiles and a brutal regime that promises to rain destruction on the United States, North Korea also has the world-famous King of Flowers, the Kimjongilia. The flower — a begonia variant – is said to bloom each year on February 16, the birthday of Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, father of the current tyrant, Kim Jong-un. It is not to be confused with Kimilsungia, the orchid-like fuchsia flower created for North Korea’s Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. The North Korean News Agency thoughtfully took time out of its busy news schedule this week to remind us of it.

About PHL

Peter H. Lewis played second base on the Central Park Press League Champion New York Times softball team, was Assistant Financial Editor, and personally registered the nytimes.com domain after his editors decided this Internet thing was probably a fad.
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One Response to North Korea nukes

  1. Harry Eagar says:

    Well, NK hasn’t crossed its borders to invade neighbors, at least not since Stalin died.

    That’s exactly the distinction between Hitler and Stalin when we chose to ally with one against the other. (I am aware that the Red army HAD invaded Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia & Esthonia, but only after Germany started moving toward an invasion of Russia.) That was the justification for picking one totalitarian over another.

    Nation states are touchy about borders.

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