Fallout: North Korea's Nuclear Surprise

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Two recent books may help readers sort out the shockwaves from North Korea's boast that it conducted its first nuclear test Monday. Jeffrey T. Richelson, a fellow at the National Security Archive, explains why the world keeps getting such nasty jolts in his meaty, unsettling Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence From Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (Norton, $34.95). He explores American attempts to track the atomic programs of some 15 countries, from dubious friends (wobbly Pakistan, apartheid South Africa) to outright foes (the Soviet Union then, the "axis of evil" now). U.S. intelligence agencies have to sift hard-won data from spies, satellites, intercepted communications and arcane scientific deductions -- and, ultimately, pass the right analytical conclusions about another country's most closely guarded secrets to worried policymakers.

One such set of policymakers was the Clinton administration, which considered air strikes on the Yongbyon nuclear facility after North Korea started unloading plutonium-laden fuel rods there in 1994.

In A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea's Nuclear Ambitions (PublicAffairs, $26.95), Marion V. Creekmore Jr. of Emory University divides policymakers into "hard-liners" (who think that only sanctions, blockades or force will get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program) and "bargainers" (who think that North Korea's arsenal is just an insecure regime's bargaining chip to wring carrots from America and its friends). The most ardent bargainer in 1994 was Carter, who visited the north to help pave the way for the so-called Agreed Framework that Creekmore writes "shut down the North Korean plutonium-based nuclear program for eight years." But a secret uranium-based program seems to have charged on apace; the 1994 pact collapsed in 2002 when North Korea refused to stop pushing to enrich uranium. And as this week has shown, Kim Jong Il's regime was far from done.

-- Warren Bass

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