U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, center right, answers reporters' questions with his South Korean counterpart Kim Sook, center left, after their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Oct. 3, 2008.
(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Op-Ed, International Herald Tribune
October 9, 2008
Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
North Korea's decision to expel nuclear inspectors and restart production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium at its Yongbyon reactor is a stark reminder of what the Bush administration is leaving its successor.
This came just a week after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran now has 3,820 centrifuges operating at 85 percent efficiency and has produced 1,056 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU). That is three-quarters of what it needs, after further enrichment, for its first nuclear bomb.
Together, these brute facts puncture the administration's attempt to construct a narrative of achievement in addressing what President Bush has rightly called "the single most serious threat to the national security of the United States."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been the lead advocate for the administration's case, arguing recently that in addressing the nonproliferation challenge, "we have left the issue in far better shape than we found it."
The scoreboard, however, does not lie. During the Bush presidency, the score is: Kim Jong Il: 8 (new nukes), Bush: 0; Ahmadinejad: 3,820 (new centrifuges), Bush: 0.
When Bush came to office, North Korea had two bombs-worth of plutonium, 8,000 spent fuel rods that contained plutonium for six additional bombs, and a reactor at Yongbyon that was frozen. The facility was fully inspected by the IAEA, which operated round-the-clock camera surveillance.
Moreover, both North Korea and the United States recognized that this arrangement left the reactor, its reprocessing facility and the spent fuel visible, vulnerable targets, easily destroyed by a missile attack.
In 2002, the Bush administration confronted North Korea over suspicions about a separate uranium enrichment program and withheld further heavy fuel oil shipments. In reaction, North Korea withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), ejected the IAEA inspectors, restarted the Yongbyon reactor and proceeded to reprocess the spent fuel to harvest six additional weapons. Furthermore, because the U.S. was fixated on Iraq, North Korea took each of these steps with impunity.
By the fall of 2006, as North Korea prepared to cross the final red line by conducting its first nuclear weapons test, the Bush administration demanded that it halt this "unacceptable threat to peace and stability in Asia and the world." North Korea's great power neighbor, China, threatened "serious consequences."
Undeterred, Kim Jong Il proceeded to test, staking North Korea's unique claim as the world's only self-declared but unrecognized nuclear weapons state.
Awakened by the weapons test, the Bush administration returned to traditional diplomacy in which it provided benefits to induce desired actions. Together with its partners in the six-party talks, it negotiated an agreement with North Korea to freeze, disable, and ultimately dismantle the Yongbyon facility.
The quid for this quo was a combination of fuel and food aid and a path toward normalization of relations. Touting this agreement, Rice claimed that Pyongyang was put "out of the plutonium-making business." This "breakthrough" achievement, however, proved more temporary than the administration imagined.
Similarities between developments in North Korea and Iran are not coincidental. Both are, in effect, tests of the Bolton-Cheney theory of nonproliferation policy that offers no engagement, no carrots and no sticks. As late as 2005, Iran was spinning zero centrifuges and had zero pounds of enriched uranium. After four years of demonstrative non-engagement, Rice managed to persuade Bush to join the Britain, France and Germany in an offer of negotiations - but only on the precondition that Iran suspend all enrichment activity. Rejecting this and defying three rounds of international sanctions, Iran has predictably continued to march toward its nuclear goal line.
Rice is right to insist that the administration has some accomplishments in nonproliferation of which it can be proud. These include the denuclearization of Libya, the dismantling of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network and progress in securing Russian nuclear weapons and materials. But in dealing with the two most dangerous proliferators, North Korea and Iran, the bottom lines are impossible to ignore.
In 2004, the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change warned that the NPT regime is eroding to the point of "irreversibility" beyond which there could be a "cascade of proliferation." Four years later, the cracks in the architecture that has for four decades held back powerful pressures for the proliferation of nuclear weapons are clear for all to see.
Having failed to heed repeated warning signs of rot in the American-led global financial system, we dare not wait for catastrophic collapse of the nonproliferation regime. From the consequences of such an event, there is no feasible bailout.
Graham Allison is director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and author of "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe."
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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