The Axis Bomb
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It was President Bush who, more than four years ago, in his first State of the Union Address after the attacks of September 11, linked Iran and North Korea in an “Axis of Evil.” The alliance is more than a rhetorical flourish. The countries share both weapons technology and repressive, non-democratic governments. When North Korea launched its Fourth of July missile test earlier this year, Iranian engineers were on the ground watching in the hermit kingdom. Yesterday, American intelligence was scrambling to determine the extent of Iranian involvement in what appears to have been a North Korean attempt at a nuclear test. In remarks yesterday, President Bush himself again connected North Korea to Iran, saying, “The North Korean regime remains one of the world’s leading proliferator of missile technology, including transfers to Iran and Syria. The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable of the consequences of such action.”
Much of the reaction yesterday — predictably, in the month before the election — focused on the test as a failure of the Bush administration. But it’s just as much a failure of the other parties of the six-party talks, Communist China, free South Korea, Russia, and Japan. All those countries are closer to Pyongyang geographically than America is. South Korea, in particular, has failed to take seriously the nuclear threat in its own backyard, preferring to let American troops serve as a tripwire. The South Koreans, unlike the West Germans, appear to value their own prosperity more than the prospect of national reunification that would free their northern neighbors. The South Korean government represents a sad falling away from, a spurning of the sacrifice of American GIs and other free world soldiers whose blood went into the soil of free Korea.
To the extent that America needs to be particularly wary, it is of the danger that the North Korean test could be, like the war in Lebanon and Israel this summer, an Iranian-Syrian stunt aimed at diverting world attention from Tehran’s own nuclear program. The North Korean test has prompted predictable calls for renewed and invigorated diplomacy, but America has been dealing with North Korea diplomatically since the 1994 “Agreed Framework,” negotiated by our most hapless president, Jimmy Carter. In 2000, President Clinton went so far as to dispatch Secretary Albright to pay homage and clink glasses with Kim Jong Il, a toast that will live in infamy as one of the lowest points to which an American state secretary has ever sunk. North Korea has reveled in the diplomacy while moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program.
Iran has been watching and learning. The mullahs were caught a few years ago lying for almost two decades about their nuclear program. Nothing happened. There were no consequences. Instead they too were offered sweeteners in exchange for giving up what they shouldn’t have in the first place. There has been a merry-go-round of broken deadlines and then more concessions. In early June, Mr. Bush warned that Iran had “weeks not months.” At the United Nations, the Security Council gave Iran an August 31 deadline to suspend enrichment, a deadline Iran mocked. It’s now October 10 and there have been no consequences for Iran.
Conventional diplomatic wisdom views North Korea as a nuclear proliferation problem, but it is an opportunity as well. It could spur America to join with Asian allies such as Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan, making sure that those countries have the missile defense and offense necessary to deter and defend against North Korea. If diplomacy is in order here, it is between not America and North Korea but America and our allies in Asia. The need is to stress to them the importance of the approach outlined by the North Korean Human Rights Act that Mr. Bush signed into law in 2004. That act is being indefatigably implemented by the special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz. We were struck by Mr. Bush’s comment after an April 28, 2006 meeting in the Oval Office with North Korean refugees. He called it “one of the most moving meetings since I’ve been the president.”
“I talked to a courageous man who escaped from North Korea,” Mr. Bush said. “He was in the North Korean military. He saw first hand the brutal nature of the regime, and he couldn’t — his heart could no longer take it. He followed his conscience and escaped. He speaks for thousands who have escaped North Korea and thousands who live inside the country; he speaks eloquently about the need for their freedom.” Continued Mr. Bush: “We strongly will work for freedom, so that the people of North Korea can raise their children in a world that’s free and hopeful.” Mr. Bush recognizes that threat isn’t so much the nuclear arms themselves but the nature of the regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang. Mr. Bush recognizes, we have little doubt, that the best weapon in this struggle, one more powerful than any nuclear missile or Axis bomb, is the idea of freedom with which our arsenal is so well-armed.