Halifax — As news spreads that the failed Iranian nuclear talks require a second extension, this time for seven-months, U.S. officials at an international security conference here essentially admitted that North Korea was now a nuclear power, underscoring the failure of decades of high-level diplomacy. Yet the White House is doubling-down on its equally suspect negotiations with Tehran.
General Charles H. Jacoby, outgoing commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, told the Halifax International Security Forum that he was treating North Korea as a “practical threat” due to its nuclear and ballistic missile capability that could potentially reach the U.S. homeland. Jacoby did not specify whether this meant that North Korea’s missiles and nukes were an operational threat, nor how he had changed NORAD’s operating posture, if at all. Admiral Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (in control of all of America’s nuclear weapons), refused to answer whether he also considered Pyongyang a practical threat, but noted that he wanted more focus on trying to understand North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The generals’ comments came just weeks after General Curtis Scaparotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, testified before Congress that he believed Pyongyang could build a nuclear warhead and mount it on a ballistic missile.
There is little doubt that America’s policy towards North Korea has failed, and that Pyongyang has played Democratic and Republican administrations alike, promising concessions, making agreements, and playing for time. Time enough to be close to a nuclear break out, which may be imminent. When Pyongyang mates a functional nuclear warhead with a reliable long-range or intercontinental ballistic missile, then two things will happen: first, the nuclear balance in Asia will tip, second, the Iranians will be opening their checkbooks immediately for access to both technologies. Above all, Japan will begin thinking seriously about either dramatically expanding its strike capabilities or maybe even its own nuclear deterrent. After all, given that two decades of American diplomacy resulted in a rogue regime with nukes, how much can the U.S. nuclear umbrella be trusted? Will Washington really be willing to trade Los Angeles for Tokyo? Our ally won’t admit it publicly, but highly doubts it.
To paraphrase: Diplomacy has consequences. Unfortunately, it seems that Washington doesn’t quite get that. Instead, the dialogue dependency trap continues to ensnare our top officials, who convince themselves that talking is always better than the opposite, that rationality and self-interest will ultimately win out. That’s probably true, but the Obama administration’s problem (like the Bush administration’s) is that they don’t understand North Korean concepts of self-interest. Hence, an Asia about to get much more dangerous.
The real dangers of our failed diplomacy were summed up by Senator John McCain in Halifax, who bluntly stated that the North Koreans have nuclear weapons and delivery systems. “It’s a wake up call,” said McCain, who topped it off by looking at the greater danger of Iran. “The same people who negotiated with North Korea are now negotiating with the Iranians,” McCain explained, likely referring to Acting Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Sherman, who is lead negotiator for the flailing Iranian talks, was the point person for talks with the North Koreans back in the Clinton administration, under Madeleine Albright. If McCain is right, then expect years more of failed negotiations and a nuclear Iran sometime this decade or next.