The Nuclear Double Standard: North Korea's Recent Test Is Both a Crisis and an Opportunity

Article excerpt

North 'Korea's apparently successful nuclear test Oct. 9 will surely be viewed as one of the major foreign policy failures of the Bush administration.

There were many warnings from North Korea that this test was coming. As far back as 1993, North Korea announced that it would leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but later suspended its withdrawal. The Clinton administration tried to resolve the issue by working out a deal with North Korea to give it two nuclear power plants in exchange for North Korea's freezing and eventually dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

When the Bush administration came into office, however, it scrapped the deal worked out by the Clinton administration and began talking tough to North Korea. In 2001, Mr. Bush told North Korea that it would be "held accountable" if it develops weapons of mass destruction. In his State of the Union Address the following year, Mr. Bush labeled North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil," along with Iraq and Iran.

North Korea all along was asking Washington to meet with it in one-to-one discussions, and made clear that its objectives were to receive development assistance and security assurances, including normalizing post-Korean War relations with the United States. The Bush administration opted instead for six-party talks that included China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, but not before the North Koreans had withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

To gain perspective on the North Korean nuclear test in October, a global overview is helpful. Globally, there have been more than 2,000 nuclear tests since the inception of the Nuclear Age. The United States has conducted 1,054 nuclear weapons tests, including 331 atmospheric tests. India and Pakistan joined the nuclear club in 1998 with multiple nuclear tests and received much international condemnation. Today, however, the Bush administration wants to change the U.S. non-proliferation laws as well as international agreements in order to provide India with nuclear technology and materials. The Bush administration is also silent on Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Clearly, the Bush administration does not treat nuclear weapons as the problem, but rather specific regimes that might possess them--acceptable for some countries, but not for others. In adopting this posture, the United States promotes an untenable nuclear double standard. Countries such as North Korea and Iran, having been branded as part of the Axis of Evil and having seen what happened to the regime in Iraq at the hands of the United States, are encouraged to develop nuclear weapons if only to prevent U. …