I offer another take on the North Korean nuclear situation.
The day of the announcement of North Korea's first nuclear test, a specialist on North Korea was interviewed on a public television program. The gentleman said that he had visited North Korea immediately prior to the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq. In the course of a conversation with a North Korean official he was told by the North Korean: "We see what you are about to do in Iraq, and we will not let you do it to us."
The statement by the North Korean official confirmed a conclusion that I had come to about the Iraq crisis: Contrary to everything that President George W. Bush stated about showing force in order to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. invasion of Iraq sent a very different but quite simple message — obtain weapons of mass destruction as quickly and quietly as you can to discourage big powers from pushing you around.
In the U.S. media, the North Korean crisis has focused on the alleged madness of the current leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. That is both speculative and fundamentally irrelevant. The United States, contrary to what many of us may believe, was the first power to introduce nuclear weapons onto the Korean peninsula. These weapons were introduced back in the 1950s/1960s and were allegedly tactical, but they were still powerful enough to make one glow in the dark. The reported paranoia of the North Korean government could certainly have a bit to do with having experienced nuclear weapons pointed at them.
Have the North Koreans been sneaky? I suppose the conclusion is "yes," but here's the interesting point: so have been both the Indians and Israelis. While North Korea did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (later to drop out of it), India and Israel both possess nuclear weapons, and neither of them are signatories to the treaty (indeed, Israel will not admit to having weapons of mass destruction even though the South Africans blew the whistle on them some time ago).
Yet, the Bush administration seems to find a way to play paddy-cake with them. What sort of signal is the Bush administration conveying when it rewards countries that have not signed the treaty?
It is also a bit odd that after North Korea exploded its nuclear device, countries that possess nuclear weapons have taken few, if any, steps to reduce their nuclear arsenals (something that is supposed to take place under the provisions of the treaty) and started yelling about another country possessing nuclear weapons. Perhaps if there were an example of major nuclear powers eliminating nuclear weapons, the protests against the North Korean test would be a bit more credible.
The North Koreans have almost literally begged the United States for one-on-one talks. The Bush administration refuses to talk with them unless there are six-party discussions (involving China, Russia, South Korea and Japan). The North Koreans have been insisting on direct talks with the United States because they are extremely fearful that we are going to attack them.
Paranoid? With the United States contemplating the construction of a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons and implying (or stating outright) that they could be used against North Korea, and with the example of the illegal invasion of Iraq, why should this be surprising?
Should North Korea possess a nuclear weapon? The short answer is, in my opinion, "no." The entire Korean peninsula should be free and clear of nuclear weapons.
That said, we in the United States have to understand that our government speaks with a forked tongue when it comes to nuclear weapons. Bush wants to decide who can and cannot have weapons of mass destruction and then threatens war against those he has chosen as the undesirables. Such an approach lacks any maturity — not to mention common sense.
Backed up against a wall, any opponent — legitimate or illegitimate — in seeing no way out will decide to maximize their ability to hit back. The consequences can be catastrophic.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international writer and activist.