The Bush administration’s recent announcement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) admission to developing a nuclear weapons program has thrust the fact that Iraq is not an isolated nuclear weapons proliferator into the center of the war debate. The announcement highlights startling questions as to the administration’s lack of a consistent and comprehensive nonproliferation strategy and has evoked serious accusations as to why Congress was not told about the DPRK’s admission prior to voting on the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

The parallels between the DPRK and Iraq’s nuclear weapons program are undeniable. Both countries are known to have had programs to develop nuclear weapons and have been designated as members of the “axis of evil” by the Bush administration. The United States even came close to war with North Korea over their nuclear weapons program in 1994.

In fact the DPRK’s weapons program may be far more advanced than Iraq’s. North Korea has enough plutonium to construct an estimated six nuclear weapons within six months, is pursuing technology to enrich uranium, and has consistently resisted the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) push for full inspections. Iraq, on the other hand, is not thought to have the materials necessary to build a nuclear weapon, and has stated that it will allow United Nations lead weapons inspections.

Yet the administration has made clear its commitment to find a diplomatic solution to crisis with North Korea and to pursue the option to use force against Iraq, without providing convincing answers as to why its response to the two nations should differ so greatly.

This glaring inconsistency puts a spot light on the fact that the Bush administration’s Iraq policy does not provide a comprehensive, long-term solution to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If we must wage war on Iraq because of the threat of nuclear weapons, why not Israel, which is thought to possess approximately 200 nuclear weapons? Why not Pakistan, which is nuclear capable and is thought to have provided North Korea with enrichment technology? Why not China which provided Pakistan with that technology in the first place? It is clear the United States cannot and should not take pre-emptive military action against each of these proliferators.

On the other hand, if the Bush Administration is confident that diplomacy is the correct option for North Korea, Israel, India, Pakistan and other potential proliferators, why not Iraq? The very fact that the United States is treating Iraq differently from other proliferators is infuriating many countries, particularly Arab ones, and threatening US interests in the region. This was made very clear in the recent Security Council emergency session on Iraq where country after country condemned Iraq’s violation of disarmament obligations, but also opposed the US push for authorization for the use of force against Iraq.

Though the administration claims that its militant Iraqi policy proves that it is hard on proliferation, the White House has, in fact, impeded effective arms control not only by thwarting multilateral treaties such as the CTBT and the protocol to the Biological weapons convention and but also by providing insufficient funds for efforts to control nuclear materials. The administration’s expectation that other nations will embrace disarmament and nonproliferation principles while the United States continues to disengage from multilateral solutions and advance its nuclear weapons technology seems clearly unreasonable.

Congress Kept in the Dark

Democrats in Congress have, through their aids, voiced criticism that they were not told of North Korea’s admission to its nuclear weapons program while they were considering the resolution authorizing the administration to use force against Iraq. The Washington Post quoted one aid as stating, “Senators are concerned and troubled by it…This cloud of secrecy raises questions about whether there are other pieces to this puzzle they don’t know about” (October 19, 2002).

Informing Congress about the DPRK’s admission could have delayed the vote on the war resolution to allow further consideration of the precedent that would be set in Iraq and how that could affect US policy towards proliferators such as the DPRK. Congress would have been forced to address the Iraq situation in the broader context of global proliferation through the concrete example of North Korea.

The White House’s explanation for the delay is that analysts were still considering a response to the DPRK. Yet when the announcement was eventually made no planned response was released, and the administration is clearly still in the process of consulting other nations.

Though Congress had been briefed on evidence of North Korea’s nuclear weapons effort, the outright admission by the DPRK significantly increases pressure on the United States to deal with the program in a timely manner. Keeping such clearly relevant information from Congress during a debate on whether the United States should go to war is likely to damage even further the credibility of the administration’s intelligence claims.

Solution Remains Unclear

Exactly what the DPRK hoped to get out of the admission that it has an active nuclear weapons program is still far from clear. It may be that the Kim John Il felt he had little left to lose in relations with the United States besides nuclear power reactors its deteriorated electrical grid cannot accommodate and heating fuel shipments which make up less than five percent of the country’s yearly energy needs.

North Korea has responded to criticism by pointing out that, by neglecting for years its commitment through the 1994 Agreed Framework to make significant efforts to end hostile relations and normalize diplomatic and economic ties, it was the United States that first violated the bilateral pact.

Some analysts suggest that North Korea made the announcement in preparation to make significant concessions in dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Such negotiations will depend on the commitment of both the Kim regime and the Bush administration to finding a peaceful resolution to this looming conflict, and the ability of Bush administration to navigate diplomatic avenues without relying on military action.
*Devon Chaffee is the Research and Advocacy Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.