We were told to expect the president was going to present his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, or at least with a great deal fewer, at the State of the Union address tonight. The idea is monstrously obtuse at a time when Iran is on the verge of gaining nuclear weapons capability, North Korea repeats its pattern of cheating on international agreements, and there are real, immediate international crises in which the president takes no interest (such as the mass murder in Syria).
Then along comes the North Korean to blow up (pun intended) any pretext of seriousness. The Post reports that on the eve of the State of the Union, “North Korea on Tuesday detonated a ‘smaller and light’ nuclear device, its state-run news agency said, marking the latest advance in a weapons program that President Obama called ‘a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security.’”
Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, observed via e-mail: “This was intended as a threat and a challenge. The world’s most dangerous despots will be eagerly awaiting the American response.” What they got was another empty threat.
The president huffed and puffed, issuing another in a long line of vacuous statements about Pyongyang:
North Korea announced today that it conducted a third nuclear test. This is a highly provocative act that, following its December 12 ballistic missile launch, undermines regional stability, violates North Korea’s obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, and increases the risk of proliferation. North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region.
These provocations do not make North Korea more secure. Far from achieving its stated goal of becoming a strong and prosperous nation, North Korea has instead increasingly isolated and impoverished its people through its ill-advised pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community. The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies. We will strengthen close coordination with allies and partners and work with our Six-Party partners, the United Nations Security Council, and other UN member states to pursue firm action.
Unfortunately, the international community is all out of “swift and credible action,” and President Obama has sought to cut missile defense programs that are “necessary to defend ourselves and our allies.” And in touting the disastrous six-party talks that have resulted in serial cheating, the president reveals himself to be entirely feckless. (It is also a reminder that his secretary of defense nominee, who backed the Global Zero initiative, is equally clueless.) Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute wryly observes, “I think Kim Jong Eun will discover that it takes more than a nuclear test to get Barack Obama’s attention in the new age of retreat and decline.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) issued a statement that read in part: “The Obama Administration must replace its failed North Korea policy with one that is energetic, creative, and focused on crippling the Kim regime’s military capabilities through stringent sanctions that tackle its illicit activities and cuts off its flow of hard currency. Otherwise, the grave North Korean threat to the region and the United States will only grow.”
This should also disabuse us of the notion that by cozying up to China we will obtain help in restraining North Korea. The Post reports:
Chinese leaders have spent recent weeks trying strenuously to dissuade Pyongyang from the nuclear test, according to Western diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity. Their failure to do so points to growing exasperation in Beijing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun and reflects a deteriorated relationship between the two countries that could have global consequences, the diplomats said.
For years, diplomats and experts have thought that if anyone could persuade North Korea of anything, it was the Chinese. Long seen as a key factor in propping up the regime in Pyongyang, China has come under considerable international pressure to use its influence to push North Korea toward denuclearization and away from provocations.
Actually, for years conservative critics of engagement with North Korea and of the idea that China could become a “responsible” partner of the United States have scoffed at the faith in China’s ability to restrain Pyongyang. Among the fiercest critics has been former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. He tells Right Turn, “His third nuclear test simply confirms 20 years of failed U.S. policies, with no sign that the Obama administration will shift course. The test is another green light for Iran and other potential proliferators worldwide.”
We’d like to think the North Korean blast is a wake-up call to the president, who will redeploy his speechwriters and present a serious policy for sanctioning North Korea and promoting regime change in the gulag. We can only hope that this also alerts the president to the unpleasant reality that rogue regimes are not always responsive to a reasoned cost-benefit analysis in deciding whether to pursue a nuclear weapons capability. (As an aside, I wonder if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) considers this as evidence that “containment” of rogue nuclear is foolhardy.)
At any rate, this is an unpleasant reminder that we live in dangerous times and that the president’s predilection for third-rate advisers is a very risky habit. One might even conclude that the nomination of a no-nukes advocate to the Pentagon, severe defense cuts and a presidential pipe dream of a no-nukes world have emboldened one of our adversaries. Unfortunately, I suspect this will be a beginning of a trend.
UPDATE: If not the president, at least the Israelis get what is going on. The Times of Israel reports:
News that North Korean conducted another nuclear test proves that the West’s approach to states unwilling to curb their nuclear ambitions has failed, Yair Shamir, an incoming Knesset member from Yisrael Beytenu who is likely to hold a senior position in the next government, said Tuesday.
Attempts to find compromise with the likes of North Korea and Iran were simply being exploited by those countries, Shamir told The Times of Israel.
“The nuclear test in North Korea this morning just emphasized that if the West will continue to look for compromise instead of looking for solutions, then those guys who are dealing with the West will take advantage of it,” he said. “Look at North Korea, they don’t give a sh*t. They’re doing what they want. And the Iranians will look at that as well.”
UPDATE II: Other reactions are coming in. From House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.): “Despite decades of multinational negotiations and multiple UNSC resolutions, North Korea has made tremendous progress in developing its missile and nuclear programs, and it has thus far been impossible to convince North Korea to reverse course after having achieved a nuclear capability. Armed with such a capability, North Korea has demonstrated its willingness to provide sensitive missile technology to Iran and to assist Syria in building a secret nuclear reactor. As we confront the threat North Korea poses today, we must also confront the risk of allowing Iran from acquiring a similar nuclear weapons capability. The international community must act with renewed urgency to prevent North Korea and Iran’s acquisition of such deadly technologies. Unfortunately, the United Nation’s track record at stopping proliferation is not encouraging.”
And White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the president wasn’t going to talk about his nuke-reduction plan tonight but that he was going forward with it. Huh? Well, the president would have to take out any reference to his nuke-reduction fantasy tonight for fear of being ridiculed, but whenever announced, his plan — along with massive defense cuts, inept nominees and his own lack of attention to national security — has already sent a message to North Korea.