Here is a game involving four players: North Korea, Iraq, the United States and the United Nations. The aim of the game is to deprive North Korea and Iraq of nuclear weapons. Both the U.S. and the U.N. are allowed to use various cards and counters in their plays — including military force, diplomacy, arms-control treaties, and the assistance of various allies such as China, India, Russia, and South Korea. The winner of the game is the U.N. if North Korea and Iraq disarm through diplomatic methods — its power, prestige and influence will increase as a result. The U.S. wins if military force is required to disarm them. And Iraq and North Korea win if they retain nuclear weapons at the end of the game.
Thus stated, this is a game that nobody wins. But some players can lose. And others can hope for a draw. If nuclear weapons are actually used, of course, everyone loses.
Take Iraq first. Iraq can actually lose because it does not yet possess nuclear weapons and a credible means of delivering them — and it can therefore be attacked and conquered by a greater power. It probably will lose because North Korea has just demonstrated two things:
1. the possession of nuclear weapons can give a small backward nation the power to blackmail the entire world into giving it various forms of foreign aid;
2. arms-control treaties are mere paper unless there is a body with the power to enforce them or, less securely, unless the states that sign them are trustworthy partners which in turn means democracies with public opinion to consider.
Iraq is both a small nation and, under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, an untrustworthy partner in any arms-control treaty. And though the U.N. claims the right to enforce arms-control treaties — and indeed has inspectors currently trawling through Iraq — it has no independent means of doing so.
Democratic critics of President Bush draw the conclusion that he is mistaken to concentrate upon Iraq when the greater and more-immediate danger comes from North Korea. Most people here and abroad will conclude that he should take early action to liberate Iraq before Saddam Hussein acquires nuclear weapons and-with them-the immunity from attack that North Korea currently enjoys.
So Iraq will be invaded and conquered-probably in early February. Iraq therefore loses that round and the U.S. wins it. And what of the U.N.?
Well, the U.N.’s position is tricky. It can only win if Iraq gives up nuclear weapons in response to exclusively diplomatic pressure. Since Iraq does not even admit to possessing nuclear weapons, no such victory is therefore possible. Under the rules, the U.N. also loses if military force is used to disarm Iraq without an explicit U.N. Security Council authorization. And that is the most likely outcome. Almost the best that the UN can hope for is that its inspectors will now discover some nuclear weapons in Iraq, thus enabling the U.N. to request U.S. intervention — and thus score a draw.
North Korea is chess compared to Iraq as checkers. At present the International Atomic Energy Authority — the U.N.’s regular watchdog in such matters — is threatening to refer North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for expelling its inspectors and continuing its nuclear-weapons development program in defiance of its treaty obligations.
Since the North Koreans essentially endorse these IAEA findings, the U.N. is in a quandary. It can either walk away from the problem, thus admitting that arms control diplomacy is a busted flush, or it can request the Security Council (for practical purposes, the U.S.) to enforce its rulings on Pyongyang. In the first place the U.N. loses-since diplomacy has failed altogether, and in the second, the U.N. gets a draw at best since it has to request the U.S. to enforce its rulings with some sort of force.
But the U.S. does not necessarily win. Military action is very much riskier here and consequently opposed by America’s local allies, China, Japan, and South Korea. And the risk to the U.S. comes not from North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons — that is much more a threat to China, Japan, and South Korea-but from its sale of those weapons to rogue states and terrorist groups, especially those with radical Islamist sympathies, which threaten the U.S. directly.
So the likely result here — as one of the most hard-headed commentators on this crisis, David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen, points out-is that the U.S. will engage in negotiations. And what will those negotiations eventually result in? Very likely there will be a somewhat inglorious deal under which the North Koreans agree to halt their sales of weapons of mass destruction to third parties (and to allow intrusive U.S./U.N. inspections from Day One throughout North Korea) in return for a resumption of food aid and nuclear energy assistance.
Since that will leave North Korea with nuclear weapons, that will be a victory for Pyongyang — and only a draw for the U.S. which will be reduced to waiting for North Korea to crumble internally
But that is the price of allowing bloodthirsty fanatics to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. And, besides, I never promised you a rose garden.