October 19, 2006

October 19, 2006 | Commentary on Political Thought

Spiteful defiance

Some people always blame America first, as Jeanne Kirkpatrick memorably said at the Republican Convention in 1988. And they are at it again. Former Clinton administration officials are now -- believe it or not -- accusing the White House of having created "the axis of evil" by articulating the concept. "?'Axis of Evil' comes back to haunt the United States," stated a Washington Post headline on Oct. 10. As though by stating the obvious in President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address, he had created the reality we now have to deal with, as North Korea and Iran pursue their quest for nuclear weapons. 

"With respect to the axis of evil," said James Steinberg deputy national security advisor to Bill Clinton, "are you better off today than you were four year ago?...it's clear that the answer is that we are worse off with respect to the nuclear proliferation problem in both North Korea and Iran..." Well, if we are going to trade accusations, there's a fair likelihood that the Bush team will have some finger pointing of its own at its predecessors. 

The fact is that at least we have reached some kind of international consensus on the unacceptability of North Korea's ambitions as a nuclear power. At long last, China and Russia have agreed to take a stand -- which has to be considered a major victory for the United States and in particular U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. That the vote was unanimous makes it even more important. Let no one accuse the United States of going it alone this time. 

Not surprisingly, North Korea has reacted with a mighty temper tantrum at the unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to impose sanctions following the country's nuclear test on Oct. 9. "The resolution cannot be construed otherwise than a declaration of war," huffed the North Korean official state news agency. While the test appears now to have been a low yield nuclear blast, nearby South Korea and Japan are warning that the North might be preparing for another demonstration of defiance with a second nuclear test. 

The good news is that the Security Council finally got serious about the spiteful defiance North Korea has shown the international community, and put some teeth into its demands for disarmament. The resolution calls for North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms program and demands that its negotiators return to the six-party talks. If not, North Korea will face an embargo on heavy weapons systems, and a variety of other items, which interestingly include "luxury items," a phrase that appears aimed at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il's appetite for fine wines. 

The bad news, unfortunately, is that China almost immediately announced that it would not do any enforcement of the embargo, and as China has the longest land border with North Korea and acts as its unofficial protector, the embargo will have serious loopholes from the get go. Furthermore, due to the wording of the resolution, force cannot be used in its implementation. 

Yet, according to the rules of the United Nations, we will have a record of who is doing what to North Korea -- or not as the case may be. According to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Carter, mandatory sanctions include a review after 30 days. 

It is of the greatest importance that we continue to focus the spotlight on where the problem really lies -- with Pyongyang and its friends, few and far between as they are. In South Korea, as among Democrats here, the problem is widely perceived to be the United States, not the crazy, saber rattling, communist dictatorship in the north. The fear among many South Koreans is not what the North will do with its nuclear program, which they are willing to turn a blind eye to, but that the United States will do something to stop it. 

In this, they bear a good deal of resemblance to Europeans who by wide margins identify the United States as the greatest threat to international security today, whether that be in dealing with Iraq, Iran or other international menaces. The word for this line of thinking is, of course, "appeasement." 

Were it possible that the U.N. resolution on North Korea represented a first step towards changing this perception, it could bear important fruit as relates to other international crises. It took tough diplomacy, patience and hard work, however, to make it happen.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Political Thought

First appeared in the Washington Times