Obama takes lit­tle no­tice of de­vel­op­ments in N. Korea, Iran

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

You wouldn’t know it from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but North Korea’s global threat con­tin­ues to metas­ta­size. South Korea re­cently con­cluded that ex­ten­sive cy­ber-at­tacks against civil­ian and mil­i­tary tar­gets in the South em­anated from the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (DPRK). Fol­low­ing China’s lead in in­for­ma­tion war­fare, the North is cre­at­ing yet an­other asym­met­ric mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity it can de­ploy against its ad­ver­saries and also ped­dle for hard cur­rency to other rogue states and ter­ror­ists.

Al­though Py­ongyang lim­ited its tar­get­ing of this par­tic­u­lar sor­tie to South Korea, the po­ten­tial cy­ber­war­fare bat­tle­field is global and in­cludes the United States, which al­ready is the sub­ject of ex­ten­sive cy­ber­prob­ing, ex­ploita­tion and es­pi­onage by China. For a coun­try peren­ni­ally on the brink of star­va­tion, North Korea’s mil­i­tary foray into cy­berspace demon­strates its con­tin­u­ing malev­o­lence.

The DPRK’s nu­cle­ar­weapons pro­gram has not rested on its lau­rels, ei­ther, with widely ob­served sur­face-level prepa­ra­tions for a pos­si­ble third un­der­ground test well un­der way.

The North’s de­vel­op­ment of bal­lis­tic mis­siles ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing nu­clear pay­loads is also ad­vanc­ing apace, as Rus­sian mis­sile de­signer Yuri Solomonov high­lighted last month in a Kom­m­er­sant in­ter­view. This is hardly sur­pris­ingly given Iran’s in­creas­ing long-range ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the ex­ten­sive Tehran-Py­ongyang col­lab­o­ra­tion, and their pro­grams’ com­mon base in Soviet-era Scud mis­sile tech­nol­ogy.

Mean­while, Pak­istan’s A.Q. Khan has re­leased doc­u­ments pur­port­edly show­ing prior North Korean bribery of se­nior Islamabad of­fi­cials to grease the trans­fer of nu­clear or bal­lis­tic-mis­sile tech­nol­ogy. While their au­then­tic­ity is dis­puted, the doc­u­ments are part of Mr. Khan’s con­tin­u­ing cam­paign to prove he did not act solo in the world’s il­licit nu­clear-weapons bazaar.

He long ago ad­mit­ted sup­ply­ing North Korea and Iran with crit­i­cal nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. Py­ongyang’s un­veil­ing in Novem­ber of im­pres­sive new ura­nium-en­rich­ment fa­cil­i­ties at Yong­byon and re­cent con­struc­tion there show the con­tin­u­ing fruits of Mr. Khan’s en­trepreneur­ship. His doc­u­ments — and the many oth­ers he un­doubt­edly has in a shoe­box some­where — are worth ver­i­fy­ing and ac­tu­ally might help Islamabad and Wash­ing­ton work to­gether to re­pair their frac­tured re­la­tion­ship and pre­vent China from ex­ploit­ing their cur­rent dif­fer­ences.

Clearly, North Korea’s weapons pro­grams are not de­cel­er­at­ing even amid in­ten­sive prepa­ra­tions for a pos­si­ble tran­si­tion of power, fol­low­ing Kim Jong-il’s death, to a third mem­ber of the com­mu­nist Kim dy­nasty. But faced with these chal­lenges, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been not only pub­licly silent but es­sen­tially pas- sive both diplo­mat­i­cally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally. Only the Pen­tagon and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, for­tu­nately still im­ple­ment­ing the Pro­lif­er­a­tion Se­cu­rity Ini­tia­tive, have done much be­yond not­ing pro forma that the trou­ble­mak­ing DPRK is still at it.

Pub­lic si­lence is not nec­es­sar­ily in­ap­pro­pri­ate, al­though the fail­ure to com­ment on a wide range of global threats posed by U.S. ad­ver­saries is par for the course un­der Pres­i­dent Obama. Based on pres­i­den­tial at­ten­tion lev­els, one would think Iran’s nu­clear-weapons pro­gram was with­er­ing away, Rus­sia’s ac­tive mil­i­tary pen­e­tra­tion of the Arc­tic was of merely sci­en­tific in­ter­est, and China’s ag­gres­sive ter­ri­to­rial claims in East Asia were mere legal tech­ni­cal­i­ties to be re­solved by low-level func­tionar­ies.

Far more dan­ger­ous than mere si­lence, of course, is the man­i­fest ab­sence of a be­hind-thescenes de­ter­mi­na­tion to stop the North’s nu­cle­ar­weapons and mis­sile pro­grams (not to men­tion the other threats de­tailed above and many more). Mr. Obama’s de­lib­er­ate si­lence and near-pal­pa­ble lack of in­ter­est have helped drive North Korea into me­dia ob­scu­rity while si­mul­ta­ne­ously sym­bol­iz­ing our fail­ure to con­tain — let alone elim­i­nate — the DPRK’s threat.

Through the “strate­gic pa­tience” pol­icy, the pres­i­dent has at least not been scur­ry­ing to re­vive the failed Six-Party Talks or will­fully deny­ing the North’s weapons-re­lated progress, as many did in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fi­nal years. But how­ever po­lit­i­cally self-sat­is­fy­ing “not Bush” might be, strate­gic pa­tience is a thor­oughly in­ad­e­quate re­sponse to North Korea and has been from its in­cep­tion.

A real strat­egy, which we need much sooner than later, would re­quire un­der­stand­ing that the DPRK and Ira­nian threats, in­clud­ing cy­ber­war­fare, are two sides of the same coin, not un­re­lated out­breaks of nu­clear con­ta­gion. The United States must take both se­ri­ously, re­vers­ing our present course of ig­nor­ing both.

Wait­ing pas­sively for a third DPRK nu­clear test is un­ac­cept­able, al­though that might be the only event to mo­ti­vate Mr. Obama to pay at least lip ser­vice to com­bat­ing Py­ongyang’s con­tin­u­ing threat. By re­mov­ing the pub­lic spot­light from the North — and its cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers — his ad­min­is­tra­tion has made it eas­ier to evade ex­ist­ing sanc­tions and harder to im­pose new con­straints ab­sent an­other at­ten­tion-riv­et­ing un­der­ground test. More­over, Seoul is keenly aware of the North’s im­pend­ing suc­ces­sion cri­sis and is likely pre­pared to take a much tougher line than in re­cent years. At a min­i­mum, there­fore, we must press China and Rus­sia far harder to quar­an­tine North Korea’s traf­fick­ing in nu­clear and mis­sile tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als. Un­for­tu­nately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s star­tling pas­siv­ity means miss­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, which we will all re­gret very soon.

John R. Bolton, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, is a se­nior fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

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