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Analysis: North Korea just tip of iceberg

By CHRISTIAN BOURGE, UPI Think Tanks Correspondent   |   Jan. 13, 2003 at 7:34 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The nuclear weapons crisis in North Korea represents only a part of a far larger global problem with the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, according to a recent policy report from a prominent national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The author of the report, Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh Burke chair in strategy at CSIS, says that although diplomacy-centered efforts have not been totally effective in stopping the spread of such weapons to countries around the world, they remain an integral part of any effective non-proliferation strategy.

"When you look at North Korean nuclear capability, it is easy to forget that North Korea also has chemical weapons, including nerve agents and crude biological weapons," Cordesman told UPI. "What we are really looking at is a world in which most modern developing states have the capacity to produce, at a minimum, biological weapons which are as lethal as nuclear weapon. Virtually all of those states can produce chemical weapons and many can produce nuclear weapons."

Cordesman's paper, "Is There a Crisis in U.S. and North Korean Relations? Yes, There Are Two!" examines the debate over how the United States should respond to North Korea's pursuit of a secret nuclear weapons program, and its announced intention to restart a shuttered nuclear reactor which is capable of adding up to five additional nuclear weapons to the country's stockpile, estimated at between one and four weapons.

Cordesman and other experts say North Korea's actions threaten to destabilize the region by starting a nuclear arms race. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have the capability to develop nuclear weapons, while China already has them along with chemical and biological weapons.

In addition, many analysts are fearful of the impact if North Korea, a supplier of weapons such as ballistic missiles and nuclear technology, expands its sales of weapons to even more countries or terrorist groups.

The secret nuclear weapons program and the restart of the nuclear reactor are violations of a 1994 agreement that the Pyongyang government entered into with the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which it agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for aid from the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Greg Jones, a senior researcher at the Rand Corp. and an expert on non-proliferation policy, said that until the 1990s, nuclear non-proliferation efforts worked far better than many people had thought they could. Over the years, countries like Argentina, Brazil and South Africa all abandoned their nuclear aspirations. But such successes have stalled in recent years. Currently, not only has North Korea developed nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India have entered into a bilateral nuclear race and other countries, such as Iran, are looking at developing nuclear weapons.

"Nuclear proliferation is the one that bothers me the most," said Jones. "We seem to now be losing ground."

Although the nuclear threat remains significant, Cordesman said he believes the danger of focusing so intensely on nuclear proliferation is that people tend to ignore the proliferation of all types of weapons of mass destruction, some potentially as dangerous as small nuclear weapons.

For instance, he said that unclassified U.S. government reports show that North Korea has mass-produced chemical weapons, including persistent nerve gas, since the 1980s. If properly distributed in a populous area, some chemical weapons agents have the potential to produce a number of fatalities equal to that produced by the nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War II.

Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees with Cordesman.

"He makes a good point and one that is sometimes lost when we focus just on North Korea's nuclear program," said Wolfsthal. "When you look at what a final solution in Korea would look like, it would need to include all of those (weapons) issues, the nuclear, chemical, and biological."

Cordesman also noted that many smaller nations are acting to offset the American advantage in conventional weapons by developing weapons of mass destruction, known as WMD. He notes that in the Middle East, for example, the focus has been on Iraq's weapons programs. But Israel has had nuclear weapons for years, and Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Libya have shown interest in developing or developing different types of WMD.

Daniel Pinkston, a senior research associate and Korea specialist at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said that the global proliferation of all types of non-conventional weapons is a critical security issue.

"The global part is important," he said. "It is not just concern about North Korea, which is a security problem in itself, but the possible cascading effects, and the precedent-setting implications for non-proliferation (efforts and treaties) globally."

According to Wolfsthal, two schools of thought currently dominate the Washington discussion of weapons proliferation.

The first says that non-proliferation efforts have failed and the number of states developing non-conventional weapons is out of control. Proponents of this view argue that the best hope is to try and eliminate dangerous regimes that are pursuing WMD, possibly through military force.

The more traditional view, held by Wolfsthal and others, is that while non-proliferation efforts are not perfect, they have succeeded in many cases.

"Even today proliferation is contained to a small number of cases which we have the means to control, and we do it well," he said.

Wolfsthal added that both sides of this debate are being argued within the administration of President George W. Bush. He says that Secretary of State Colin Powell promotes the traditional view of non-proliferation, while Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Vice President Dick Cheney and others take the more militaristic point of view.

"What really concerns me is if these hard-line elements gain the upper hand and are able to push their agenda, it may be very difficult to repair any damage done," said Wolfsthal.

The Bush administration currently seems to be taking a balanced approach to North Korea.

Following meetings between the American, Japanese and South Korean officials, the White House announced last week that it would agree to direct talks with the North Korea despite earlier indications that they were not a possibility.

Larry M. Wortzel, vice president and director of the David Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said that although the United States and its allies cannot abandon diplomacy-based efforts, the response to proliferation threats must be multi-pronged.

"There have to be clear costs to countries that pursue these weapons, both economic and political," said Wortzel. "The United Nations, among other bilateral or multilateral means, is a way to do that."

He also said the United States must rethink its own policies of nuclear deterrence and non-proliferation, many of which are still mired in Cold War thinking. For instance, he said the concept of mutually assured destruction -- which helped keep the United States and the Soviet Union from nuclear war -- does not work with countries like North Korea, where the government has little interest in the well-being of its populace.

He added that more militaristic responses like missile defense must also be included in the equation.

"It is important to make it very clear to the leadership of a country that if they begin to move towards the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, that it (the country) has to be gone. I mean dead," said Wortzel. "That creates a more volatile world, but I think it is what partially informs the Bush administration's willingness to discuss pre-emption."

According to Cordesman, although traditional arms-control efforts based on treaties and diplomacy have many weaknesses, they are still a meaningful part of any broad non-proliferation effort.

"A combination of arms control, defense, deterrence and homeland security is certainly not going to be leak proof, but at least it provides a security structure which can protect a country," he said.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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