A Dangerous Game

North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb on October 9th brings into sharp focus a pervasive international diplomatic and security crisis that is over two decades in the making.

It’s been known for some time that North Korea has been on a crash course to produce nuclear weapons. The United States military has long had contingency plans in case of a nuclear attack by North Korea against our allies in the area, including South Korea and Japan. But this situation has become urgent of late and requires our nation to simultaneously adhere to the current policy of seeking diplomatic solutions while reaffirming our commitment to uphold deterrent and security commitments.

Clearly, the North Korean government isn’t shy about threatening and downright outrageous public posturing. The day after the test, North Korea threatened military attack against our allies in the region—even the launch of nuclear-tipped missiles against the United States if the international community followed through with action. We must never allow threats, posturing and aggression by oppressive dictators to cow us into retreating from defending our allies and homeland.
The President made our unequivocal response clear on October 9: "The North Korean regime remains one of the world's leading proliferators of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria. The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action."

North Korea, about the size of Missouri with 23.1 million people, is ruled by a highly-oppressive communist government headed by Kim Jong Il. North Korea has an ongoing humanitarian crisis, with mass starvation and tens of thousands of refugees having fled their homes since the mid-1990s. Furthermore, the government is guilty of human rights atrocities: According to the State Department, there are continual reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, kidnappings of South Koreans and Japanese from their homes, and arbitrary detention including many political prisoners. Prison conditions are harsh; torture, common. Eyewitness reports state that pregnant women prisoners underwent forced abortions and, in other cases, babies were killed upon birth in prisons.

This is the work of a government with the 4th largest army in the world. In the early 1990s, North Korea finally honored its 1985 commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and signed a nuclear safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Its sincerity proved hollow; within a year, North Korea was preventing IAEA inspectors from examining nuclear sites. Before withdrawing in 2002, the North Korean government summarily ignored terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and attempts to enforce it. It joined six-party talks between China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States briefly between 2003 and 2005, but then ended its participation last year. In July, North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles. The potential range for the newest missile could reach Alaska and Hawaii, but that missile test in July failed 40 seconds after liftoff. Concerning negotiations between the United States and North Korea, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on October 10, bilateral negotiations with a party that doesn’t truly want to cooperate cannot succeed.

An actively nuclear North Korea clearly endangers the global balance of power, both in its military actions and its reckless commitment to supply Iran, Syria and others with nuclear technology. Actions taken by the North Korean government continue to be unacceptable and will be dealt with accordingly by the United States and the partnership of global and regional powers that understand the threat this rogue government poses.