AIR DEFENSE BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE CIVIL DEFENSE
March - April 2008
AMERICAN STRATEGIC DEFENSE ASSOCIATION
“The burden of proof is there [North Korea] . . . We and our partners will take a look at North Korea’s full declaration to determine whether or not the activities they promised they would do could be verified. And then we’ll make a judgment of our own”
President George W. Bush, April 23, 2008
Our ‘quotable quote’ above was made a few days ago during the visit to this country of the new president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. Both presidents urged patience in negotiations with Pyongyang although little progress appears to have occurred for months.
What is blocking progress is North Korea’s refusal to explain its nuclear relationship with Syria. The problem emerged when Israel bombed a building in northeast Syria last September 6. The facility was believed to be a nuclear reactor under construction. North Korea had made a secret agreement to provide technical assistance and some materials for the Syrian reactor. The Israelis destroyed the reactor but neither they nor the US nor Syria made any public statement about the attack. The strange silence in Washington and the Middle East led to all sorts of speculation. The latest explanation was offered by David Ignatius on March 23 in Washington Post. He said, “I’m told that the larger issue was a fear in Israel—especially, it’s said, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak—that disclosure would wreck the chances for serious peace negotiations with Syria, which the Israelis were exploring through back channels.” If you believe that explanation, you will believe anything.
Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, who is chief negotiator for the US at the six-party talks, began demanding an accounting of the Syrian proliferation last fall. The response from Pyongyang, as recently as Hill’s March 13 meeting in Geneva with North Korean negotiator Kim Gye Gwan, has been “We never did it, and we won’t do it again,” which Ignatius interprets as Pyongyang has promised that they have no current nuclear cooperation with Damascus and won’t have any in the future but they won’t discuss what has happened in the past. Hill says that is not enough.
Washington has begun to confirm publicly that they have hard intelligence on the Syrian affair. In February, Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, told Congress, “While Pyongyang denies a program for uranium enrichment and also denies its proliferation activities, we know North Korea continues to engage in both.” In March, a senior intelligence official told David Ignatius of the Syrian connection, “Our suspicions are justified and valid. A lot of due diligence was done on this. People are confident.” In April, the Bush administration made a presentation to Congress on the Syrian reactor, including pictures of the interior taken before it was destroyed. President Bush commented that the presentation was made to put pressure on Pyongyang.
Christopher Hill is naturally frustrated by the North Korean foot-dragging but last week at Camp David, Bush and Lee went out of their way to answer criticism of the negotiations. “Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether this is a good deal or a bad deal,” asked Bush. Lee said
talks with Pyongyang require persistent patience. “It’s difficult to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs, but it is not impossible,” Lee said.
“The North Koreans love patience,” scoffed John Bolton. “Every day of patience is another day propping up Kim Jong Il’s regime,” continued Bolton, revealing the weakness in his position. His alternative is regime change, which China is not about to let happen. China is frustrated by Kim’s regime too, but has no apparent alternative that keeps North Korea in the communist camp.
March 2008 began with a rerun of what has happened twice before with respect to Iran’s uranium enrichment activities; namely, the United Nations Security Council passed 14-0 a resolution demanding that Iran cease and desist or suffer further penalties and sanctions. A day later, Iran vowed to continue with uranium enrichment despite a third round of sanctions that Tehran called worthless and politically biased. The new sanctions order a freeze on assets of additional Iranian officials and companies with links to the country’s nuclear and missile programs and banned for the first time trade with Iran in some goods that have both civilian and military uses. Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to the UN, told reporters that Tehran’s response meant the Security Council had taken appropriate action. The new sanctions came after an IAEA report to the Council in late February confirmed Iran’s defiance of prior resolutions.
Russia and China voted to impose the new sanctions after they had been watered down somewhat but they blocked a resolution offered the same day at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The resolution called for IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to continue investigations into purported nuclear weapons experiments. Iran claimed such allegations were fabrications. Russia and China both interceded to bar a vote on the resolution. It was rumored they did so because they weren’t informed earlier that the resolution would be introduced.
Most of March and April has been occupied with Iranian claims of new technology improvements in uranium enrichment and discussions among the permanent members of the UN Security Council on further sanctions against Iran. The existence of a new Iranian centrifuge called the IR-2 was disclosed in late February by diplomats accredited to the IAEA. Iran claims that the domestically developed IR-2 could churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate of the older centrifuges that had been obtained from the Pakistani blackmarketeers. Whether this is true or not is not known since the new devices have been processing small quantities of uranium gas for test purposes.
We are all familiar with the Iranian capability to bring the science of exaggeration to a new level. Shortly after the Israeli destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor last September, an Iranian official warned that Iran had between 500 and 600 Shahab-3 missiles to launch on Israel should they attack Iran. Western intelligence agencies labeled this claim “vastly inflated” and put the likely number of Shahab-3 missiles at 50 to 60, if that. So, an order of magnitude increase is an “exaggeration.”
Iran has had trouble getting its centrifuges to work as a cascade so the new ones may well more than double the rate of the failed cascades. In April, Iran announced it was adding 6,000 IR-2s to the 3,000 older ones already at Natanz thus making 9,000, except that IAEA saw only about 60 of the older ones working.
According to Mona Charen of National Review, it was a story that could have ended very badly. Some 153 miles overhead the “bus-sized” spy satellite USA-193 was trapped in a decaying orbit. Soon the 5,000-pound craft would streak to a fiery re-entry—with a real risk of crashing in a populated area, exposing thousands of people to half a ton of toxic hydrazine. But fear not! The Navy cruiser Lake Erie was ready for action, “pitching and rolling in heavy seas west of Hawaii.” With only a 30-second firing window, the ship sent an SM-3 missile rocketing skyward last week at 17,000 mph. “A fireball and vapor cloud testified to success.”
How did the media react? Gail Collins of the New York Times considered the odds against hitting a populated area to be “astronomical.” She thought it was just an excuse to test the hardware [They do a lot of testing, Gail.] Said the National Review in an editorial, last year the Chinese shot down one of their satellites. “That was a wake-up call. If blasting our own satellite warns certain countries that we can play the game, too, it will have served its purpose. Like it or not, we live in an age of space warfare.” [Close to likely] Perhaps so, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. All it has succeeded in doing is giving our enemies, such as China, Iran, and North Korea, good incentive to have many missiles at the ready, with multiple warheads, so as to overwhelm the defenses. Does providing that incentive make strategic sense? Said Rich Lowry of the New York Post, It makes a lot more sense than the Left’s preferred option, which is an international treaty banning space arms. Such a treaty would be not only unverifiable but unenforceable.
Paula A. DeSutter, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation addressed a Marshall Institute audience at the National Press Club on March 8, 2008, on the question of whether an outer space arms control treaty would be verifiable. She outlined criteria necessary for effectively verifiable arms control and outlined the challenges in constructing such agreements for outer space. After discussing problems associated with defining space weapons, she addressed concerns about the technical capacity to monitor compliance, the risk that cheating could occur, and the potential that break-out would occur. She concluded in part:
“After considerable review, my government has concluded that it does not support additional arms control restrictions on space activities. Only part of the reason we have come to this conclusion has to do with the foregoing verification issues. Put broadly, we have reached this conclusion for two reasons: First, the types of restrictions that have been suggested by some states and some non-governmental groups are not verifiable. Second, even if they could be made verifiable, which we believe they could not, they would unduly constrain legitimate self-defense, commercial and other activities.
As our National Space Policy makes clear, the US will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit US access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the US to conduct research, development, testing, and other operations or activities in space for US national interests. Thus, we do not support such binding arms control approaches.”