That’s just part of the picture, however. A further danger — an even greater danger — that comes with North Korea restarting this reactor is the example it sets, yet again, for Iran. Behold: North Korea is pressing ahead, again, with its nuclear weapons program, and getting away with it. When a State Department spokeswoman was asked last month by Reuters if North Korea was restarting its Yongbyon reactor, the over-stuffed reply was: “Suffice it to say, if it was true, it would be a violation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and of course contrary to North Korea’s commitments under its September 19, 2005, joint statement.” Well, yes, but it’s way past time for the State Department to acknowledge flat out that North Korea has no “commitments.” That fantasy should have ended with the three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013, that North Korea has conducted since that 2005 joint statement. The promises North Korea made in 2005 were not commitments. They were lies.
For North Korea, diplomatic deals are made to be broken. There has never been a penalty so large or painful as to truly derail the regime’s nuclear program — the truth being that probably the only way to do that is to derail the regime itself. In on-again off-again bouts over the past 19 years, North Korea has struck diplomatic deals meant to stop its nuclear weapons program; winning aid and concessions only to renege, cheat and carry on building bombs. This is the North Korean nuclear playbook that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned about in his speech earlier this month to the UN.
This is the example North Korea has pioneered for Iran. Despite sanctions and the disapproval of the U.S. superpower, North Korea has demonstrated, repeatedly, that it is possible for even a desperately impoverished and bizarre state to produce and test nuclear weapons — as well as missiles to deliver them. The nuclear program itself becomes an instrument for extortion of deference and aid from the free world, a twist that in North Korea’s case has worked not to stop the nuclear program, but to help sustain the regime. In this rogue calculus, diplomacy is not a path to nuclear disarmament, but a way of bleeding off pressure when sanctions become too onerous, or when U.S. disapproval threatens to translate into a direct threat to the regime itself.
Worse, North Korea is not merely an example for Iran. It is also a longtime ally and business-partner-in-arms. Iran doesn’t have to puzzle out the North Korean playbook from a great distance. Delegations and personnel routinely go back and forth. In the realms of both diplomacy and weapons, there is plenty of evidence of a shared playbook, going all the way back to the early years of Iran’s Islamic regime, when according to North Korean officialdom the current Iranian president Rouhani paid a visit to the late North Korean founding tyrant, Kim Il Sung. More on this in my column on “Iran’s Sequel to North Korea’s Nuclear Playbook.”
(Artwork created using images by Shutterstock.com.)