2002 December 16 Monday
North Korea and Iran Busy Developing Nukes

North Korea is already pursuing the production of weapons grade uranium. Yongbyon will provide them with weapons grade plutonium as well.

Although Yongbyon has been effectively mothballed since an October 1994 agreement with Washington, U.S. intelligence sources believe its small, Soviet-designed, five-megawatt reactor might be operable within two months. It would be capable of producing enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons a year.

Iran is similarly pursuing weapons grade plutonium and uranium production.

Russia's atomic energy minister, Aleksandr Rumyantsev, was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency today as contending that Iran had violated no international rules in building the two nuclear sites that were disclosed last week through commercial satellite photographs. The United States said it was "deeply concerned" about the two sites, which have been known to American intelligence agencies for more than a year. One of the photographs appears to show a heavy water plant, critical for the production of a plutonium bomb. Another shows a separate facility for producing highly enriched uranium, another path to producing a nuclear weapon. Like North Korea, which just announced it would restart its plutonium program, Iran appears to be pursuing both approaches simultaneously.

Some people claim that North Korea can be deterred from using its nuclear weapons. But just as it has demonstrated a willingness to sell missiles and nuclear weapons development technology to other states it seems reasonable to expect it will be similiarly willing to sell weapons grade plutonium or uranium once it has enough for its own needs. Its not inconceivable that it would even be willing to sell complete nuclear weapons.

The Iranian regime is in some ways worse than the North Korean regime because it has an ideological motivation to pass technology for weapons of mass destruction on to terrorist groups. It also has many more ties with terrorists and provides haven and support for them.

The Bush Administration is going to do a big push against only one Axis Of Evil WMD proliferating regime at a time. So the question becomes which regime will be next once the Iraqi regime is ousted, North Korea or Iran? Iran seems like a convenient next target because the US military will be well installed next door in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf once the war against Saddam is completed. Also, Iran is involved in supporting terrorists. But its nuclear weapons development program is not as far along as the North Korean program. Plus, if the US holds off from direct military action or sanctions against Iran there is probably some hope that Iranian student protests will expand into a general uprising that will overthrow the regime. However, the Mullahs probably run a more effectively repressive regime than did the Shan and the Mullahs may be much harder to overthrow. Keep in mind that the success of the popular revolt against the Shah was actually an exception for the region. Still, Persian culture is probably more favorable for revolt than is the culture of any Arab country.

North Korea as a next candidate for US efforts toward regime change makes sense because North Korea is further along in WMD development, its a source of weapons and weapons technology for other regimes, and its causing terrible poverty, suffering, and death from famine. Plus, the regime is so poor that it might be possible to cause its collapse by cutting off all outside supplies. But the US isn't going to directly attack North Korea and it is not clear that the other major relevant powers will go along with sanctions that are severe enough to cause the collapse of the regime.

So what will the Bush Administration do next after Iraq? Hard to say. Keep in mind that it is very unlikely that the Iranian and North Korean regimes will abandon their WMD developments and other activities that cause us problems. The only certain way to eliminate the threats that they pose is to cause, one way or another, regime change. If George W. Bush is really dedicated to the strategy of preemption then another regime will be targeted after Iraq. A lot of diplomatic-speak will be made claiming that the US is not determined to force regime change in the next major focus of US attention. But when that talk starts just remember that in December 2002 Colin Powell is still claiming that the removal of the Iraqi regime is not inevitable.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 16 10:19 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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