WASHINGTON — Last year, the Obama administration announced to the world that it was planning to pursue a new Asia/Pacific-oriented national security strategy. Since then, North Korea has countered with a strategy of its own. In December, Pyongyang successfully launched a multistage intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a warhead-sized payload to the U.S. mainland. On Feb. 12, the North Koreans tested an improved-design nuclear weapon.
After the test, Pyongyang announced that despite tightened United Nations sanctions that theoretically went into force last month, its latest nuclear test bolstered its defenses against U.S. “hostility.” In a lengthy broadcast on the communist dictatorship’s Korean Central News Agency, a government spokesman claimed that countries that abandoned nuclear weapons in response to U.S. pressure have suffered “tragic consequences” and that North Korea’s nuclear program is “farsighted.”
Libya is the only nation known to have quit an ongoing nuclear program in the past 20 years. Moammar Gadhafi dropped out of the nuclear weapons club after Saddam Hussein was dragged from a spider hole in 2003. A former intelligence official tells me that Pyongyang’s reference to “countries” — plural — is likely “hyperbolic propaganda, but there is no doubt Gadhafi is dead.”
The latest rant from the hermit kingdom is a diatribe against the annual monthlong series of U.S.-South Korean air, naval and ground exercises set to begin next week. On Thursday, a North Korean “diplomat” at the United Nations threatened his South Korean counterpart with “final destruction” if the U.N. tries to impose further sanctions. In a surreal twist on bizarre behavior, the confrontation apparently took place during a session of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.
All this bluster coming from a country where starvation is an existential reality and where there are fewer privately owned automobiles than there are in the city of Milwaukee would be laughable but for the relationship the North Koreans have with the ayatollahs in Tehran, Iran — and the feeble response from the Obama administration.
U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy proclaimed that she was “profoundly disturbed” by the “final destruction” threat and declared the language to be “incredibly inconsistent with the goals and objectives” of the U.N. Take that, you no good Commies!
Washington’s timid response to all this is being watched well beyond the Beltway. Intelligence sources tell me that Pyongyang already has informed Beijing that there will be further nuclear and ICBM tests in the months to come, and the nice communists running the People’s Republic of China have assured their North Korean comrades that they will veto any new U.N. economic sanctions.
All of this has to please the despotic regime in Tehran. According to my old friends in the intelligence business, Iranian scientists and technicians have been present for all of the North Korean ICBM and nuclear tests. Iran is North Korea’s only known customer for this technology, and there is no doubt that North Korean scientists have a proven ability to build nuclear bombs and the means of delivering them in spite of U.N. sanctions.
“What’s the answer?” I asked my friend.
“Regime change in both places,” he replied. And then he added ominously: “We don’t have much time. If the North Koreans aren’t stopped and the Iranians get ‘the bomb,’ there will be an explosion of others rushing to build their own bombs. Japan and South Korea are already looking at what they need. The Saudis and Turkey won’t be far behind. And because they all have money and access to skilled technicians, it won’t take them very long to build their own nuclear counter-deterrents.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Obama administration is looking for ways to make sequester cuts in U.S. defense permanent. We already have reduced carrier battle group deployments and begun cutting 80,000 troops from the U.S. Army and 20,000 out of the Marines. F-35 production workers are being furloughed, and our ballistic missile defenses for the American homeland are nonexistent.
All this is enough to make a person wonder about the Obama administration’s commitment to a so-called Pacific strategy and the oft-stated goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. Perhaps that’s why our new secretary of state headed east to make his first overseas visit a European junket. The restaurants are better.