by Stephen Bryen
States that pursue nuclear weapons hardly ever give them up. The only country known to have abandoned atomic weapons is South Africa, and even that raises many question marks since much of the bomb’s industrial infrastructure survives. South Africa agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons and convert the radioactive parts to civilian use and in 1994 the IAEA (not known for their reliability, to say the least) confirmed that South Africa had dismantled six nuclear bombs and one partially completed nuclear bomb. The big South African reprocessing station at Valindaba was shuttered but is still there and recently there has been talk of restarting it.
In addition to South Africa some former Soviet Republics including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine either returned the weapons to Russia or in partnership with Russia destroyed them (in the case of Ukraine). In all these cases the weapons belonged to the former USSR and thereafter to Russia.
Iraq was on the road to nuclear weapons, but Saddam’s reactor and other material was destroyed by Israel first and the Coalition thereafter. Syria, in cahoots with Iran and North Korea was also building a Yongbyon type reactor. Israel destroyed it. The fact that Iran was doing this while allegedly agreeing to stop nuclear weapons development, if only for a fixed time, proves they were liars. More proof came after the Israeli secret services liberated a huge Iranian nuclear archive, stolen under the noses of the Iranian regime. Independent experts say it shows conclusively Iran’s attempt to conceal its program from exposure.
Libya under Qaddafi was working on nuclear weapon designs (although very far from having anything tangible) when the United States persuaded Qaddafi to make a deal and surrender them. He did, only to get killed by his own people with US connivance.
Now, after Trump’s second Summit with Kim Jong Un, the effort to bring a halt to North Korea’s nuclear program appears to have failed. Whether it remains in failure mode is open to question, but the reality is that North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons.
Designing and building nuclear weapons is a massive and expensive undertaking, made easier these days by proliferator states that supply equipment and know-how. North Korea has benefited immensely from help coming from Pakistan, China and Russia but also from Western sources, especially Germany, France and Italy (the usual suspects).
Despite all sorts of sanctions and prohibitions, North Korea has been able to get the equipment it has needed and even to supply it to others (such as Iran and Syria). While current-day North Korean weapons probably are not yet missile or aircraft deliverable, the North Koreans are certainly working to make missile delivery possible.
President Trump’s decision to put the THAAD system in South Korea may help checkmate limited launches of North Korean missiles once they are nuclear capable, but in the longer term North Korea will build enough weapons and delivery systems to flood THAAD type defenses.
Here are ten reasons North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons:
1. Nuclear weapons are the only asset the North Koreans have that anyone will bargain over. Missiles are not even on the table
2. North Korean nuclear weapons give it a trump card over the US and its allies South Korea, Japan and Taiwan (no pun intended)
3. North Korea’s income depends on its nuclear and missile programs which gives it billions of dollars in secret revenues
4. North Korea’s nukes keeps the Chinese and Russians at bay as much as it keeps the Americans away
5. The notion that North Korea is ready to rapidly modernize its economy is mostly Western wishful thinking and is not a credible trade for its nuclear weapons
6. At best the North Koreans are willing to trade some pieces for lifting all sanctions (all of the sanctions for one concession)
7. The Kim regime has been threatened multiple times and has taken strict measures to deal with the threats (mainly executions, kidnappings and assassinations). Removing nuclear weapons would mean the Great Leader would lose face and the opposition to him would grow out of hand. He can’t take this risk
8. North Korea has always preferred salami tactics in arms negotiations, and after wait for an opportunity to break the deal (when they get maximum advantage)
9. North Korea does not think it needs to make important nuclear weapons concessions to keep wooing South Korea where the current government has a different agenda (economic cooperation, family reunification, national reunification)
10. It is at least credible to think that nuclear weapons help North Korea in deals with South Korea, mainly because the presence of such weapons on the Korean peninsula strengthens the overall leverage of both states toward the outside world (especially US and China)
None of this is to say President Trump was wasting his time, but he probably now has to climb down from his gushing support of Kim, who stays in power largely by using terror against his potential opponents.
Trump’s embrace has the pernicious effect of encouraging other murderous dictators, and weakens his effort to get rid of Iran’s hostile leadership and also Venezuela’s Maduro. Trump should embrace Democratic states and be far more careful in his approach to problematic non-democratic regimes, especially those that use terror against their own people.