North Korea declared on Monday that it had conducted its first nuclear test, asserting a claim to be the world's newest nuclear power and drawing strong international condemnation.
The South Korean government informed officials in Washington that an explosion occurred at 10:36 a.m. local time. Minutes later, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced the test, calling it "a historical event that has brought our military and our people huge joy."
The announcement brought a hailstorm of swift international denunciations and touched off a chain reaction of security jitters that caused the Japanese yen to fall to seven-month lows and sent the South Korean currency and stock market plunging. South Korean officials said they detected a significant man-made explosion in the barren northeast of the peninsula, and were substantiating the Pyongyang government's claim. The test would make the Stalinist state the world's eighth proven nuclear power, as well as its most volatile.
This is a direct result of the Bush administration's repeated, inexplicable failure to act on North Korea. A Washington Post analysis bluntly concludes the same thing:
North Korea's apparent nuclear test last night may well be regarded as a failure of the Bush administration's nuclear nonproliferation policy. Since George W. Bush became president, North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor and increased its stock of weapons-grade plutonium, so it may now have enough for 10 or 11 weapons, compared with one or two when Bush took office. North Korea's test could also unleash a nuclear arms race in Asia, with Japan and South Korea feeling pressure to build nuclear weapons for defensive reasons.
"Senior Officials" in the Bush administration stupidly and unsurprisingly rush to the wrong conclusion:
Yet a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.
Now U.S. officials will push for tough sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, and are considering a raft of largely unilateral measures, including stopping and inspecting every ship that goes in and out of North Korea.
"This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night.
A "clarifying event"? They welcome the test? Are they joking?
The "debate" within the Bush administration hasn't been about whether to use diplomacy or force; it's been whether they should do anything at all beyond pestering China into cleaning up North Korea for us. It hardly bears repeating that this is the same administration that has been telling us for years now about the grave threat of a Iran, a country that is years away from possessing a nuclear weapon, and yet seems to have nothing to say about North Korea beyond foolishly lumping it into the ridiculous "axis of evil." And although the threat to us posed by Iran is far greater than it was before we foolishly invaded Iraq, the threat to us posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea that is presently testing long-range missiles far exceeds that threat. Quite simply, Iran is a fairly stable country that we can trust to act rationally in it's own self-interest. North Korea is a country that teeters on the brink of collapse; it's population starves repeatedly and regularly, it's economy is backwards, and it's leaders retain their grip on power only by indocrination and brutal repression. North Korea is a basket case, a basket case with nuclear weapons in an extremely delicate part of the world, who happens to be in the corner of the one country on Earth that is in any position to rival our influence around the world. And yet despite this threat, this administration has seen fit to do even less than Clinton did while he was in office:
Meanwhile, the Bush administration, hampered by internal disputes, struggled to fashion a diplomatic effort to confront North Korea. Unlike the Clinton administration -- which suggested to North Korea that it would attack if Pyongyang moved to reprocess the plutonium -- the Bush administration never set out "red lines" that North Korea must not cross. Bush administration officials argued that doing so would only tempt North Korea to cross those lines.
Whereas Clinton had reached the Agreed Framework through lengthy bilateral negotiations, the Bush administration felt that North Korea would be less likely to wiggle out of a future deal if it also included its regional neighbors -- China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. But it took months of internal struggles to arrange the meetings -- and North Korea insisted it wanted to have only bilateral talks with the United States.
Before now, the proper lesson to have drawn from the Bush administration's inaction would be that we need to sit back down with North Korea and cajole, convince and coerce them into realizing that nuclear weapons in no way furthered their interest; that they did not need them to get our attention, that retaining and testing them would invite our extreme displeasure, but that in doing away with them they would secure valuable concessions with us in the form of aid, engagement, and security. We are now beyond that point, and we are beyond it as a direct result of the Bush administration's failure to act on the threat of North Korea. The neo-cons never had a plan for North Korea and there is no oil in North Korea, so there was only inaction on North Korea. And now these "senior officials" talk as if this has resolved some absurd inner debate in the administration, and that coercion and force are now our only options...but North Korea is in a position to have a say about how much coercion they will tolerate because they have nukes to back them up.
This morning I ask this question of you: as you go throughout your day in the knowledge that tyrannical, unstable enemy of our country now has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have nuclear weapons, as they continue to work on a missile that can hit us here at home, as you contemplate how the Bush administration allowed this situation to deteriorate to this point, as you contemplate the other mistakes of this administration that are incredible in their foolhardiness, do you feel safer knowing that President George W. Bush is at the helm?