Quick Thoughts on North Korea

Joe Klein and Steve Walt both have sober and rational takes on how to view the North Korean nuclear test, which has gotten a tad sensationalized in the media. Just a quick note on something Klein says here:

1. First, some perspective: the fact that North Korea has a bomb and missiles isn’t nearly as significant as the fact that it has plutonium it can sell to terrorists, who might actually use it. The plutonium should be the focus of our policy; the tests are just window-dressing.

As Klein points out later in the post, North Korea has used its nuclear program to extract food, aid, and energy from the international community in the past, and it’s a good bet this test is in a similar vein. As such, I’m really not so sure of the danger posed by North Korea selling plutonium to terrorists. As I understand it, making a nuclear weapon isn’t exactly easy, whether you have weaponized plutonium or not. Secondly, no matter how much money terrorists have to pay for plutonium, you can bet that the interntional community has more. Which is to say that Klein is probably right to suggest North Korea poses the largest threat to the U.S. as a plutonium broker, but that this scenario is pretty remote, so it’s really not worth all the histrionics that North Korean defiance usually provokes. The bottom line is that North Korea’s rather convenient villainry notwithstanding, the actual danger to U.S. interests is both relatively limited and unrealistic. Obviously, nonproliferation is a worthy goal in and of its own right, and North Korean disarmament should be pursued, but there’s not much reason to view the North Korean issue as one unique to the United States.


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