Many Americans assumed that when President Bush included North Korea in his famous Axis of Evil speech, that he was simply defusing a potential America versus the Islamic world confrontation. He just tossed in the North Koreans, some suggested, so that we would not polarize the Muslim world more than it already is. But to believe that is to ignore one of the most dangerous connections out there today: the North Korean-Syrian connection.
The extraordinarily secretive and intimate North Korean-Syrian connection has existed for many years. Neither side is especially concerned with the other’s politics. This is strictly a money game. The North Koreans need hard currency desperately; the Syrians have it and are willing to spend it for WMD technology, which North Korea has in abundance.
The Kim Jong Il regime has been on a long, steady economic slide since the late 1980s. This decline was accelerated by the fall of the Soviet Union. Pyongyang was once able to play the Peoples Republic of China off against the Soviets for economic and military assistance. When the Soviet Union fell, it left a single bidder in the assistance auction -- a situation hardly designed to elicit the highest price. When Kim Jong Il returned Chinese largess with spitefulness, regional disharmony and ingratitude, North Korea slid even further down China’s priority list. With the expanding, highly profitable bilateral economic relationship between the PRC and South Korea, which was stimulated by the Seoul Olympics, the North’s situation looks bleak indeed.
For the past decade and a half, consequently, North Korea has been relying on illegal arms transfers and massive drug trafficking as primary sources of income. Heroin and crystal meth may bring in big bucks, but how much more cash could North Korea receive from a wealthy terrorist group for a nuclear bomb? Maybe billions. The North Koreans seem willing to find out. They have surreptitiously developed programs to produce WMD, including both plutonium based and enriched uranium based nuclear weapons. They have developed large stockpiles of poison gases, including Sarin, blister and VX type nerve agents. We know from North Korean defectors that the regime experiments on humans with these and other lethal agents. Any regime so morally corrupt will not hesitate to sell its wares to the higest bidder, regardless of the end use. There is mounting evidence that the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo and others have trained in North Korea and may have been given Sarin gas.
Realizing that weapons without delivery systems have limited utility, the North Koreans have proceeded at a frantic pace to develop more advanced long range missiles. The Soviet-style SCUD, a rocket without sophisticated guidance systems, wasn’t good enough. So the North Koreans began manufacturing the intermediate range Nodong series of missiles with improved accuracy and range, and now we suspect they’re building the Taepodong class missiles, capable of hitting targets 3,700 miles away with reasonable accuracy. North Korea can now attack virtually all major Northeast Asian cities and some in Alaska. A Middle Eastern country like Syria, if armed with Taepodong class missiles, could threaten most capitols of Western Europe and the Middle East. Add poisonous chemicals, lethal biologicals or a nuclear device to these missiles and suddenly the balance of power is rudely tipped toward the enemy.
When we overran some of Iraq’s weapons sites we found missiles with far more range than Saddam Hussein was allowed to possess. It’s not hard to imagine that Syria either received some missiles from Iraq or has taken delivery from North Korea. Also, just prior to the Iraqi war a US Navy vessel intercepted a North Korean freighter delivering missiles marked for Yemen. There is a good chance that they were in fact headed for a buyer farther up the road. We caught that one -- but how many other shipments could have slipped through?
The fact is the links between Syria and North Korea have been expanding. These ties have solidified with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has stepped up to the role as leading regional dictator. A Baathist like Saddam, Assad rules his country with an iron fist. A recent UN weapons investigation report verified Iraq’s WMD were exported and relocated just before the war. It is highly probable that Syria was a welcome destination for the heinous devices. The recent foiled terrorist attack on Jordan – intended to be a highly coordinated poison gas/conventional explosive truck bomb attack - probably used chemicals supplied by Syria. It would be of great interest if US and UK intelligence service scientists conducted detailed analysis of the chemicals discovered so far in Iraq and Jordan , as well as the Tokyo subways following the Sarin-based terrorist attack there by the Aum Shinriko group. If similarities were discovered it would further illuminate the highly developed relationship among the terrorists and rogue regimes in the world irrespective, of nationality or ideology.
Even more revealing are reports of Syrian presence in North Korea. Last April Kim Jong Il took his special train to Beijing to meet with the Chinese. Rumors abounded that Kim acted hysterically and irrationally -- no surprise. He demanded increased support from China and threatened more propaganda attacks against the US, Japan and South Korea. The Chinese were said to be upset with him. On April 22 Kim headed back to Pyongyang. Within hours of his train passing through the small North Korean village of Ryongchon near the Chinese border, a huge explosion leveled the village, killing an unknown number of inhabitants. The North Koreans waited several days before permitting international relief agencies to enter and assist. Reports are that hundreds of bodies and secret, damning evidence was removed in the interim. Just what could be so secret in a terrible train wreck?
There was more speculation. Was this apparent accident really an assassination attempt against Kim Jong Il? While possible, such an attempt could have been made only by high level, disgruntled members of the regime itself given the tight controls within North Korea. Or the Chinese might have been sending a message. The explosion may have been a warning shot fired across the dear leader’s bow that said we can get you any time we wish!
The enormity of the explosion revealed that highly volatile military cargo was aboard. But the stunner is that reliable reporting both from inside the country and from independent Japanese sources says that 10 Syrians were killed in the explosion. Syrians killed on a munitions-laden train in North Korea! Very suspicious. Reports say the 10 bodies were covertly removed on May 1, when a Syrian aircraft delivering emergency assistance flew them out of country.
Another startling revelation is that North Korean workers and soldiers were digging through the debris following the explosion wearing bio-chemical protective clothing! Also those loading the Syrian bodies onto the aircraft wore bio-chemical protective clothing. All equipment and debris around the spot where the bodies were recovered was also collected and removed by workers in protective clothing. This work was completed before international agencies received clearance to come to the scene.
If the reports are correct, it follows that Syrian technicians were in North Korea for training and to accept delivery of chemical or biological weapons. If so, we have yet another red flag waving in the War on Terror.
While some on the left in America and Europe like to turn a blind eye toward Saddam Hussein’s terror organization connections, there is absolutely no argument in regard to Assad. Syria has long sponsored Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and has given aid and comfort to al-Qaeda. Syria occupies Lebanon and has been a major supporter to Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization. Even more openly than Saddam, Assad supports terrorists. That ought to earn Syria its own spot on the Axis of Evil.
If Syria is allowed to continue to acquire, possess and distribute WMD and missiles without hindrance, then we may abruptly find ourselves in a very untenable position in the Middle East. Certainly both the money-hungry North Koreans and the power-mad Syrians are taking advantage of international dissent, and, most especially, of the internal domestic turmoil they perceive in a vitriolic US election cycle. They are gambling that American leaders will not confront Syria prior to resolving the issues in Iraq. They are betting that the American public does not have the stomach to win the War against Terror.
Based on these highly frightening reports from North Korea we dare not ignore the deadly connections that bind the terrorist world in its web. These terror sponsors must be destroyed. Just as regime change was necessary in Iraq, so is it in Syria and North Korea, for all the same reasons: human rights, threats to neighbors, proliferation of WMD and willingness to use them. The Baathists in Syria must be overthrown and a democratic government put in place. Kim Jong Il’s Stalinist, repressive dictatorship must be eliminated. Easy? No, but vital to our survival. Cleaning out Afghanistan and Iraq successfully provides the model. But snarling threats from rogue states frighten those who desperately want America to cower and shrink before terrorists and madmen. This is a battle for survival. We cannot and will not falter.
[For additional background see Endgame, by Paul Valleley and Tom MacIntyre, and the recently released BBC shocking documentary, ‘Access to Evil,’ produced by Ewa Ewart.]