May 28, 2009
By Peter Brookes
A North Korean nuclear- weapons test, taken in isolation, is bad
enough. But put into a wider context, the underground blast over
the Memorial Day weekend is worse than many realize.
A lot worse.
First, on the political front, North Korea's Kim Jong Il has
challenged President Obama more in four months than he did
President George W. Bush in eight years.
Since Obama has taken office, North Korea has kicked out UN
nuclear inspectors, launched both short- and long-range missiles
and tested a nuclear weapon.
It's not clear why the dictator has chosen to badger Obama,
especially considering the president's promises of a kinder,
gentler touch when it comes to rogues. But it's definitely
not good news for Uncle Sam -- and the conclusion has to
be that more provocations are coming in our direction.
The question is: When and how big will the next one
Second, this nuclear test appears to have been more successful
than North Korea's first in October 2006.
The analysis of the test continues, but we already know that
this plutonium-based weapon's yield (that is, its explosive power)
was greater than that of the first, running perhaps in the 2- to
8-kiloton range. (A kiloton equals the explosive force of 1,000
tons of TNT.)
The situation appears even darker upon consideration that the
blast comes in the shadow of North Korea's launch just last month
of a Taepodong -- a missile thought to have intercontinental-range
The missile shot, conducted under cover of a satellite launch,
wasn't a complete success. But it did demonstrate some key ICBM
building blocks, such as using multiple stages for long-range
Adding to that concern, US intelligence believes that "North
Korea may be able to successfully mate a nuclear warhead to a
In other words, the threat that a North Korean nuke could reach
us is on the horizon. We don't know how distant that horizon is,
but it appears to have moved closer last weekend.
Third, North Korea's successes make it a popular merchant for
those that want to obtain nukes and missiles, raising concerns that
technology, material and know-how will proliferate among
Pyongyang was caught red-handed once by the Israelis, who in
September 2007 destroyed a nuclear facility the North Koreans were
building for the Syrians.
North Korea, which has been trading ballistic missiles with
Tehran for some time now, could help move along the Islamic
Republic's atomic ambitions, too.
We certainly don't want that pair training ICBMs on us.
Sure, some Western analysts are saying this blast is but another
of the irascible Kim's "I will not be ignored" moments, but it's
really a lot more serious than that.
In light of the string of setbacks experienced since Obama took
office, his policy of engaging with North Korea (and other rogue
regimes) has to be considered under severe strain, if not
Sure, you can try more diplomacy, more UN resolutions and even
more economic sanctions to get North Koreans back to the
negotiating table. But time isn't on our side.
We must be able to defend ourselves from a position of strength
against the prospect of more North Korean belligerence, including a
nuclear-capable ICBM arsenal.
Unfortunately, changes in our defense posture and budget, such
as declining efforts on US missile defense, appear to be putting
that goal in jeopardy.
With the North Korean missile and nuclear threat growing, the
need for a more robust missile defense has never been greater.
It's time the Obama administration realizes this -- and makes
the continued development of missile defense integral to any
strategy for dealing with the North Korean challenge.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for
National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage
First appeared in the New York Post
A North Korean nuclear- weapons test, taken in isolation, is bad enough. But put into a wider context, the underground blast over the Memorial Day weekend is worse than many realize.
Protect America Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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