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Unproven

November 21st, 2010 - 3:12 pm

The Wall Street Journal describes a NATO agreement to expand a missile defense shield to cover all member countries in Europe. “Speaking to reporters on the summit’s sidelines, President Barack Obama said the allies had for the first time ‘agreed to develop a missile-defense capability that’s strong enough to cover all NATO European territory and populations, as well as the United States.’” This announcement came as the administration pushed an arms control treaty with Russia and discovered a new threat from North Korea.

The shield agreement will set up communications links to various missile-defense systems the allies, including the U.S., already have or are putting place. It will also set up a command and control network along the lines of that currently protecting NATO airspace.

The shield is being extended as the administration tries to get the Senate to approve the START arms-control agreement. The agreement aims to cap U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals at lower levels. The obvious benefit of the treaty would be to allow the U.S. to concentrate defensive assets against other threats. But  START has been criticized largely on whether it can be robustly verified. Some doubts remain. Pete Hoekstra has suggested that consideration of the START treaty should wait until the newly elected senators are installed.

The developments suggest a pivot in U.S. concerns away from an attack by Russia to an attack by newly emerging nuclear powers. In the Pacific, the obvious threat is North Korea. The New York Times says that evidence of additional North Korean nuclear facilities means that Pyongyang has not given up its nuclear ambitions.

“This validates a long-standing concern we’ve had with regard to North Korea and its enrichment of uranium,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour.”

The new plant, whose modernistic technology, rich collection of centrifuges and up-to-date control room astonished Dr. Hecker, did not exist in the spring of 2009, just before international weapons inspectors were thrown out of the country. While North Korea has already tested two atomic bombs and produced other nuclear weapons, those were manufactured from the spent fuel harvested from a nuclear reactor, not from enriched uranium.

The New York Times itself detected Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment efforts — the “second path” to nuclear weapons aside from plutonium — in late 2009. However, Wired reports that the U.S. suspected that North Korea was on the second path as early as 2002.  The NYT wrote:

SEOUL — North Korea’s announcement on Friday that its experiment in enriching uranium is at “completion stage” marks the strongest signal yet from Pyongyang that it is racing to develop a second method of making nuclear bombs. … For years, officials in Washington and elsewhere have debated whether North Korea was pursuing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program. After years of denial, North Korea announced in April that it intended to enrich uranium.

“Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory who is regularly given rare glimpses of the North’s secretive nuclear program, said the program had been built in secret and with remarkable speed.” He described North Korea’s uranium enrichment facilities as “stunning.” The fact that the signal was purposely sent by North Korea to the press in advance of a U.S. announcement of these stunning facilities suggests that either the administration wanted to keep hidden what North Korea intended to showcase or that it was genuinely surprised.

Reacting to these developments, the State Department dispatched a diplomat to Asia to talk to allies about the situation.

The U.S. State Department dispatched its North Korea envoy, Stephen Bosworth, to discuss the development with North Korea’s neighbors. He will arrive in Seoul on Sunday night local time for meetings on Monday with South Korean diplomats, then visit Japan and China later in the week.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association called the North Korea development a “tipping point” and urged the administration to ramp up its “engagement.” He characterized each previous crisis as a ploy by North Korea to move towards normalization and improve trade, which have led to agreements with verifiable constraints.

We’ve seen this behavior before. In each of the past three major nuclear-related crises in 1994, 2002, and 2006, North Korea has raised the stakes with provocative actions. Each time, U.S.-led diplomacy, backed by sanctions, has led to agreements involving food aid, fuel, and offers of normalized relations in exchange for verifiable constraints on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

This new surprise is nothing more than the same. “As he has done with his policy toward Iran, Obama must reject the false ideology that dialogue with adversaries is a reward for bad behavior.” What’s needed are more victuals for Pyongyang’s table.

Most importantly, such talks are needed not only to clarify the costs of further defiance, but also to highlight the benefits of cooperation. The United States must outline, again and in detail, the security assurances, trade benefits, and energy support that the U.S. and other regional allies would be prepared to provide if North Korea once again halted its nuclear and missile programs, ended its proliferation behavior, and dismantled its nuclear complex.

The New York Times is less certain the situation can be handled so easily this time.  It admits that the North Korean provocation is a serious challenge to the president’s attempt to build peace. “Whether the calculated revelation is a negotiating ploy by North Korea or a signal that it plans to accelerate its weapons program even as it goes through a perilous leadership change, it creates a new challenge for President Obama at a moment when his program for gradual, global nuclear disarmament appears imperiled at home and abroad. The administration hurriedly began to brief allies and lawmakers on Friday and Saturday — and braced for an international debate over the repercussions.”

One side in that international debate should ask whether Obama’s strategy of engagement, as presently constituted, has failed miserably. The NATO decision to pull the anti-missile defense blanket over itself is a tacit admission that diplomacy does not always work and must be supplemented by missile defense and deterrence, which relieved of the need to watch Russia can focus on keeping North Korea in its box. But maybe those assumptions will prove false as well.  Rep. Hoekstra says that President Obama has a history of rushing things through and getting them spectacularly wrong.

President Obama should have learned by now that when his administration rushes to force something through Congress, it does not work out well in the end. The president rushed to close Gitmo and he failed. He rushed to conduct civilian trials of Gitmo detainees, and the Ghailani ruling left him with another failure. He rushed through a stimulus, and while it succeeded in boosting America’s debt, it failed to create jobs or decrease the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. He rushed health care, and the negative consequences of that rush job are still reverberating through the system.

There is no reason that the START treaty needs to be crammed through at the end of this Congress given serious concerns that have been raised about verification and how the treaty was negotiated. Political expediency is no reason for the president to force this issue now, especially when the decision could impact our national security.

No reason to rush, but if the past is any indication, the president will probably rush forward anyway. As Joe Biden said, “I think what it is, is he’s so brilliant. He is an intellectual.”

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