August 24, 2000

August 24, 2000 | Commentary on Missile Defense

Missile Defense: No Laughing Matter

Persuading our allies to support an anti-terrorist war against the Taliban was one thing. Getting them to accept President Bush's denunciation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "Axis of Evil," though, is causing some heartburn.

It's too "simplistic," says Hubert VĂ©drine, France's foreign minister. It reflects a belief that "the projection of military power is the only basis of true security," says Christopher Patten, the European Union's foreign minister. The New York Times notes that South Korea's press is filled with warnings that the Bush administration is "undercutting years of diplomacy aimed at luring the Stalinist North out of its frightfully armed shell."

But while they question his timing, his context or his wording, virtually none has come flat out and said President Bush was wrong.

There's a good reason for that: However impolitic such blunt language might be, Iran, Iraq and North Korea do form an Axis of Evil. Each aims to overthrow legitimate governments. Each threatens America and its interests. And each is fielding vast armies and building weapons of mass destruction to further these aims.

All can be classified as dictatorships that care more about their military than their people. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has chosen to watch his people starve rather than allow international weapons inspectors to investigate his biological weapons programs. Kim Jong-il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," keeps his million-man army fed and poised to attack South Korea -- even as millions of his countrymen die from starvation. Iran has an elected president, Mohammad Khatami, but real power belongs to unelected mullahs who see nothing wrong with stoning women to death for committing adultery.

Yes, some say, but how do you separate these countries from Syria, Somalia or a dozen others that put military might ahead of doing what's right?

Consider the fact that all three are dumping tons of money into programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them over long distances. Defense Department officials say North Korea already has the materials necessary to build one or two nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence experts also say it's working on a missile with a range of 6,200 miles, which would place more than half of the United States within its reach.

Some believe we don't have much to fear from a poor, starving country that barely manages to keep the lights on. But what do the North Koreans export, and to whom? They export missile technology, and Iran is one of its top customers.

Over the past three years, Iran has tested a missile it calls the Shahab-3. However, this medium-range missile doesn't come from Iran. It's a North Korean missile with a new paint job. And experts say these countries could use a ship to launch missiles at a target nation.

And their bloody eight-year war notwithstanding, Iraq and Iran have indicated lately that they have much in common. They agree that Israel should be wiped off the map and that the United States threatens them both. Iraq even recently pledged to support Iran if the United States attacks Tehran.

Consider, too, these nation's bedfellows within the international terror community. Iran supports Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all of which have struck against Israeli and/or American targets. For Iraq, the record includes not only the 1993 plot to assassinate the elder President Bush, but support for groups such as the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Front.

North Korea doesn't get the reputation for terror that Iran and Iraq do, but its resume is no less "impressive." The North Koreans have sold weapons to such terrorist organizations as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the United Wa State Army, a drug-trafficking group active in Laos, Burma and Thailand. Also, North Korea harbors terrorists from the Japanese Red Army, has kidnapped more than 3,600 South Koreans and reportedly had soldiers training in terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

The sharing of weapons of mass destruction. The endorsements of tyranny. The long history of supporting terror. The promises of mutual support. This is why President Bush calls these nations an "axis of evil" and seeks to rally the world against them.

He didn't pick three countries out of a hat. He picked three regimes that hate America and are developing weapons of mass destruction with the United States as a likely target. These nations earned this moniker. They are, to use another presidential phrase, on the wrong side of history. The president simply pointed out the facts.

Jack Spencer is a policy analyst in defense and national security at The Heritage Foundation. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the New York Post.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

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