INTELLIGENCE officials yesterday briefed key members of Congress on
evidence that North Korea was helping Syria build a nuclear reactor
like the one that cranks out plutonium for Kim Jong-Il's nuke factory.
US and Israeli evidence even includes a damning covert video.
The Israelis took the place out last year - with justification. Any
nation with a nuclear weapon can hold its neighbors hostage - and
Syria's rulers are about as civilized as your average mafia don.
No one should be particularly surprised that North Korea continues to
serve as the world's Wal-Mart for weapon technology. We've been down
this road before.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan
struggled to keep Pakistan from getting the bomb. But at the same time,
he sent the country bucket-loads of cash to finance the muhjahadin's fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistan took the money and built the bomb.
Then Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist, AQ Khan, started peddling
nuclear secrets to North Korea in a cash-and-carry deal that also
brought longer-range ballistic missiles to Pakistan. Khan also marketed
missile and nuclear technology to Syria and other Mideast countries,
US intelligence eventually figured out what was
going on. In 2004, no longer willing to stand by as Khan hawked the
world's most dangerous weapons, the United States got Pakistan to shut
You'd think we would've learned a lesson. But now
the Bush administration seems to be playing a double game - trying to
keep North Korea from proliferating weapon and missile technology,
while at the same time negotiating in the Six-Party talks (among the
US, North Korea and neighboring countries) to get Kim Jong-Il to give
up his nuclear-weapons program.
Here's the problem. Desperate
for cash, Kim has tried everything from selling nuclear secrets to
counterfeiting US money to keep himself in cognac and DVDs. North
Korea's ruling elite has only one ideology: Stay in power and keep
themselves plush and secure. The one thing we can trust is: Never trust
Some will argue that, after its intelligence
debacle on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the United
States has no credibility in producing evidence of nuclear cheating.
That's just whistling past the graveyard.
Nuclear smuggling is
just too serious a business to ignore - the cost could be a lot higher
than getting involved in a ground war. It could be the death of a
Others will declare the Six Party talks officially
dead. That's a bad idea, too. The world can't ignore the problem of
What we can do is to return to some Reagan-era
wisdom: "Trust, but verify." Reagan didn't win every battle in the Cold
War, but he did win more than he lost, and we ought to sustain his
passion for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the reckless.
What we should do is keep talking to North Korea and
carry a big stick. First, insist that any agreement be crystal clear
about what Kim is required to do: Shut down any and all nuclear
programs (not just the specific sites we know about) and stop sharing
or selling the know-how. And the deal must include rigorous
verification measures against cheating - because he will try to cheat again.
At the same time, America needs to press ahead with building robust
missile defenses and maintaining a strong conventional military
capability in Northeast Asia.
Keeping Kim in a small box is the best way to keep mushroom clouds off Manhattan.