P.T. Barnum and the Seoul Nuclear Talks
Heads of state and foreign ministers from 50-plus countries will gather next week in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the threat of nuclear terrorism, a follow-up to the first “nuclear-security summit” convened two years ago in Washington by President Obama.
Ironically, as the Seoul summit opens, North Korea will be preparing to launch a ballistic missile next month, blatantly flouting repeated UN Security Council resolutions and its own prior commitments, particularly a recent deal with the United States made public on Feb. 29.
Yes, Pyongyang says it’s merely sending a communications satellite into orbit; it blithely announced last Friday that this “satellite” will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the founder of its hereditary communist dictatorship.
But no one doubts that the launch’s real purpose is to advance North Korea’s capacity to target and deliver its nuclear weapons anywhere on earth.
Yet, under the Leap Day deal, Pyongyang agreed to a partial moratorium on nuclear activities and missile launches in exchange for “humanitarian” food aid. Its contemptuous violation of that agreement after a mere two weeks punctures two myths simultaneously.
Most visibly, it shows yet again that North Korea is profoundly unserious about the commitments it makes to limit, suspend or abandon its nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
For more than 20 years, the regime has contemptuously exploited P.T. Barnum’s insight that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Time and time again, it has promised to set aside its nuclear objectives in exchange for tangible economic and political benefits; and time and time again, it has broken those commitments.
The United States, Japan, South Korea and others have consistently fallen for Pyongyang’s ploys. George W. Bush’s administration, for example and to its eternal shame, removed North Korea from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in hopes it would advance US nuclear negotiations with the North.As so often before, Pyongyang pocketed the concession and moved on to its next objective, leaving the State Department bewildered.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me dozens of times, shame on me.
But let us not miss the less visible lesson. The world leaders gathering in Seoul will make solemn speeches about nuclear proliferation and terrorism — but not to actually do much to grapple with real threats.
The Seoul Summit, like its Washington predecessor, is essentially political theater, disconnected from the real-world menace daily growing out of control.The rhetoric may be commendable, but the results will be insignificant or irrelevant. That menace is most apparent in Iran’s continuing progress toward both nuclear weapons and a ballistic-missile-delivery capability.
Iran is also the most important state sponsor of terrorism worldwide; it has long armed and financed terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, as well as terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan targeting US and other coalition personnel.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified recently about Iran’s continued sheltering of al Qaeda leaders in Iran itself — an alliance of convenience overriding their adherence to different versions of Islam. Nor is Iran’s terrorist reach merely regional. Members of its Revolutionary Guards were indicted by the Obama Justice Department for conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Nuclear missiles in the wrong hands are bad enough. Butit is also entirely possible for a North Korea or (all too soon) an Iran simply to package a nuclear device in a truck or boxcar, load it onto a tramp steamer and sail it into virtually any harbor in the world. Alternatively, such a device can be passed quietly to terrorists who can transport it clandestinely and detonate it in completely unsuspecting cities.
This is real, palpable nuclear terrorism, which the fine speeches at the summit will not cure. We deserve better from our political leaders. Sadly, we won’t get it in Seoul.
This article first appeared in the New York Post.
John Bolton is a former US ambassador to the United Nations.