The nuke whisperers…

By David Rothkopf On Monday, North Korea’s rogue regime detonated a nuclear weapon that they asserted packed the punch of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Immediately afterward the United Nations Security Council leapt into action, convening to determine whether or not the world should either a.) Send the country to bed without its supper or ...

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585557_090526_roth2.jpg

By David Rothkopf

On Monday, North Korea's rogue regime detonated a nuclear weapon that they asserted packed the punch of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Immediately afterward the United Nations Security Council leapt into action, convening to determine whether or not the world should either a.) Send the country to bed without its supper or b.) Give it a time out. Analysts consider this a major escalation in UN efforts to get North Korea to quit its nukes. Earlier this year, for example, following North Korea's test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Security Council only just dared to assert that they were "disappointed" in Kim Jong Il, following up the statement with a long withering glance in the direction of the Korean Peninsula.   

By David Rothkopf

On Monday, North Korea’s rogue regime detonated a nuclear weapon that they asserted packed the punch of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Immediately afterward the United Nations Security Council leapt into action, convening to determine whether or not the world should either a.) Send the country to bed without its supper or b.) Give it a time out. Analysts consider this a major escalation in UN efforts to get North Korea to quit its nukes. Earlier this year, for example, following North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Security Council only just dared to assert that they were “disappointed” in Kim Jong Il, following up the statement with a long withering glance in the direction of the Korean Peninsula.   

While it must be acknowledged that due to North Korea’s history of famine, isolation, and decades of suffering that even these stern measures from the Security Council are unlikely to be very effective, they themselves represent a major step forward from other recent responses by the international community to the threat posed by the rapid proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. (Based on the tough tactics involved, not unlike those involved in disciplining an unruly child, reality television watchers have come to the conclusion that the UN’s non-proliferation efforts are now being overseen by none other than Jo Frost, better known as television’s Super Nanny. Although others speculate that given the UN’s purposeful but comparatively gentle approach, their approach owes more to certain prominent animal discipline experts than to Nanny Frost. This in turn has led to calling the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon “the Nuke Whisperer.”) 

Still, the world is getting tougher. For example, prior to this new steely-spined initiative from the UN, the response of the world’s leading powers to proliferation threats have been even less confrontational — hard as that may be to imagine. Pakistan’s development of nuclear capabilities was, in fact, followed by the embrace of the United States, more Chinese missile technology, and billions in international aid. India got its own special nuclear deal from the United States and the response to Iran’s nuclear aspirations has been a global effort to make their efforts as stress-free as possible. Most recently, this has meant responding to every belligerent Iranian step with new efforts to give them more time for the developing their weapons (while cautioning Israel not to bother them.) Indeed, the primary United States response to recent, escalating Iranian threats has actually been to seek a thaw in the relationship.  

In fact, a cynical observer (or anyone with a brain) might conclude that nothing enhances a country’s international standing like the acquisition or threatened acquisition of nuclear weapons. At least, that is, until the stirring actions of the past day at the UN. In fact, U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice and her colleagues at the Security Council have vowed to follow up their expressions of disappointment on Monday with the drafting a new resolution to replace the one violated by North Korea Monday. (Silly me.  When I was a boy, I thought you needed a deeply buried concreted bunker lined with lead to protect against a nuclear attack. Who knew press releases were enough?)

President Obama himself stepped to the microphones Monday to lend the force of his words to the onslaught of wind being directed at North Korea.  This was particularly timely given that only two weeks ago, the U.S. special envoy for disarmament talks with North Korea was quoted as saying “everyone is feeling relatively relaxed about where we are at this point in the process.” Obama condemned North Korea’s actions, saying that they were not the way for the country to achieve either “security or respect.” (Sounds like Jo Frost wrote his remarks, too.)

Even as North Korea was dominating the headlines Monday, the Associated Press reported that a secret Israeli analysis asserts that Iran is being supplied with uranium for its nuclear program by Venezuela and Bolivia. While it might be supposed that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales are cannily trying to ride Iran’s coat-tails to international political relevance, this story does suggest that perhaps…just maybe…the current outbreak of indignation among the world’s great powers might have to be prelude to something all of them have been reluctant to consider thus far: meaningful action.

If the Israeli report is substantiated, can the United States continue to trade with Venezuela and Bolivia? Can we let their companies have access to our markets? Shouldn’t they be penalized in a meaningful way…in fact, in every way that the Iranians or other proliferators are…or ought to be? 

Rueful joking aside… and truly, nothing is less funny than this failure of the international community to confront and contain the greatest threat the world faces…when you look at what is happening in North Korea, Pakistan, Iran and  the other countries involved in the rapid expansion of the world’s trade in nuclear technologies, components and fuel, it may just be that the single greatest test the Obama administration faces is finding a successor policy to the current and recent posture on WMD proliferation…which can only be described as supine. Thus far, all that has been produced is a thin gruel of empty words. But gradually and unmistakably, the president is being tested…prodded…poked at…by enemies who would like to see what it will take to provoke action and whether the United States can manage to lead other countries in a unified effort or whether multilateralism under Obama will continue to be a euphemism for impotent posturing.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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