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North Korea Ratchets Up Its Threats

June 29, 2009

IBD

25 June 09

Nuclear Terror: North Korea’s threats have escalated to new levels in recent days. Ordinarily, this might not be a big concern. But it’s an unstable regime with nuclear weapons, so we have to be ready to act — and fast.

President Obama doesn’t seemed too concerned about the North Korean threat, saying the U.S. has “dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s” on a potential response to the country’s increasingly hysteric provocations. On Wednesday, for example, it threatened to “wipe out” the U.S. “once and for all.”

It sounds laughable, since North Korea’s military doesn’t match up too well with ours. And yes, it could just be routine saber-rattling as we near the 59th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, which ended in a truce.

Still, there are signs of growing desperation in North Korea as family members and the military jockey to succeed the country’s ailing totalitarian despot, Kim Jong-Il. This raises the risks for us.

In April, North Korea tested a new long-range Taepodong-2 missile capable of hitting Hawaii and parts of the continental U.S. In late May, it conducted an underground test of an atomic bomb. After both the U.S. and U.N. condemned its moves, the North Koreans stalked out of nuclear disarmament talks and — what else? — again threatened the U.S.

Earlier this month, North Korea suspended its truce with the U.S. — in effect, saying the Korean War has restarted.

Just a week ago, the U.S. detected a ship leaving the North Korean port of Nampo. The Kang Nam is thought to be carrying illicit nuclear material and is being shadowed by the USS John S. McCain, a U.S. naval destroyer.

What’s it all mean? North Korea is emerging as a serious threat, even hinting that it might soon launch missiles at Hawaii.

Right now, of course, it’s doubtful they could seriously deliver a nuclear bomb to our shores. They’re still ascending the nuclear learning curve. But as their missile and nuclear technology improves, they’ll have know-how that will make them truly dangerous — like a mini-China during the reign of Mao.

This is already happening. In 2006, when North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb yielded less than 1 kiloton of explosive power, many people shrugged it off. Last month’s test yielded as much as 20 kilotons. What will the next one bring?

We wouldn’t be in this spot if we had nipped it in the bud. Going back to the bogus disarmament deal signed in 1994 by the Clinton administration and its envoy, former President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. has had chances to stop North Korea’s nuclear program.

Unfortunately, the Clinton White House was in denial. In 1998, its military adviser even claimed the North Koreans didn’t have a nuclear weapons program. He was spectacularly wrong.

During this time, we were told repeatedly not to “provoke” the North Koreans. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t build nuclear weapons. Well, we spent the better part of two decades not provoking them. In fact, we gave them aid, provided them with millions of barrels of fuel oil and even helped them build a light-water nuclear facility.

All the while, North Korea’s government played us for patsies, starving millions of its own people, threatening neighboring South Korea and Japan with military attack and building up its nuclear threat to the point where, now, it’s quite serious.

You’d think such a threat to us would be met with resolute force. Instead, we’re cutting our missile defense budget — the best way to defend against rogue nuclear attacks — by 15%, or $1.4 billion.

There’s a lesson in this for us, if we’ll only pay attention. We’re going down the very same wrong-headed road today with Iran as we did in the 1990s with North Korea.

We appease, we bribe, we provide more carrots and remove sticks, and still the threats come. North Korea is now nuclear. If we had been smart, we would have bombed that country’s nuclear facilities into rubble a decade ago. We wouldn’t have this problem today.

Unfortunately, we didn’t. Nor are we likely to do anything about Iran’s nuclear weapons, either. But that too is a growing threat. As IBD noted last month, Iran has already tested a solid-fuel Sajjil-2 missile that can travel 1,200 miles — enough to hit Europe or Israel.

Why develop such a weapon unless you plan to load something truly devastating on it — like a nuclear warhead? Soon, Iran will be another rogue nation with nuclear weapons — just as President Bush repeatedly warned. The whole world will be less safe.

The bottom line is the U.S. needs at the very least to have the best missile defense in the world — one that works so well that none would dare challenge us. Better still would be a plan of zero tolerance for those developing nuclear weapons outside international law — enforced, if necessary, by America’s military.

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