War rumblings are nothing new on the Korean peninsula. Since the 1950s, the “hermit kingdom” of the North has been involved in literally dozens of incidents against South Korean and American forces. What makes the current situation more serious than those of the past is North Korea’s newfound strategic nuclear capability. The current situation is so serious that President Obama deployed missile interceptors to protect the American West Coast and sent two B-2 Stealth bombers on mission to South Korea to show force.
The North Korean nuclear program was discovered in 1992, six years after the country signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) according to the Arms Control Association. The years following gave saw a now familiar pattern of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, subterfuge by the North Koreans, and an “Agreed Framework,” negotiated in part by Jimmy Carter, which the former president might well have hailed as the key to “peace in our time.”
The Agreed Framework was followed by 12 years of diplomatic maneuvering in which the U.S. repeatedly imposed sanctions on North Korea and the North Koreans repeatedly assured the world at several rounds of Six Party Talks that they were willing to stop working toward nuclear weapons. In 2006, the North Koreans finally exploded their first nuclear weapon. A second nuclear weapon was tested in 2009 and a third on February 12, 2013.
While working on nuclear weapons, the North Koreans were also developing their ability to deliver their nuclear payloads to South Korea and beyond. One of North Korea’s newest missiles, the Unha-3, potentially has the ability to carry a nuclear payload to the American West Coast.
While the danger presented by the North Koreans is real (the North Koreans have routinely fired upon and killed South Korean and American soldiers and sailors and have even kidnapped Japanese citizens from their homes), many foreign policy experts believe that Kim Jong Un is merely making a show of force either to get concessions from the international community or to consolidate power at home. The North Korean dictator must realize that if he provokes a nuclear war with South Korea, and by extension the United States, he and his nation will cease to exist. A materialistic leader like Kim is unlikely to be suicidal.
As the crisis is resolved or fades away, the world should learn a lesson from the Korean nuclear proliferation. North Korea’s path to nuclear status is strikingly similar to Iran’s recent nuclear history. Since Iran’s nuclear program was unveiled to the world in 2002, the country has engaged in the same pattern of engaging in diplomatic talks to delay and mitigate sanctions that was so successful for the North Koreans.
Iran’s nuclear program was delayed on several occasions by sabotage ranging from the Stuxnet computer virus to the assassinations of prominent Iranian nuclear scientists. Nevertheless the Iranian government is drawing ever closer to becoming a nuclear power.
The danger of a nuclear Iran can be seen in North Korea’s war rumblings and threats toward its neighbors. Likewise, as a conventional power, Iran has long waged covert wars and operations against its neighbors. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon, aid President Assad’s struggle against rebels in Syria, and have engaged in combat with American soldiers in Iraq.
Iranian proxies have engaged in terror attacks around the world. In 1983, Iran was linked to the Beirut car bomb that killed 241 American soldiers. Iranian agents were responsible for the murder of four dissidents in Germany in 1992. More recently, Iran was implicated in a plot to use Mexican drug gangs to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 2011.
Iran is an avowed enemy of both Israel and the United States. Although Iran has not joined directly in the previous Arab-Israeli Wars (Iranians are Persians, not Arabs), Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made no secret of Iran’s goal of destroying Israel. As previously documented by Examiner, Ahmadinejad has said that his goal is “to have a world without the United States and Zionism.”
Unlike North Korea, Iran cannot be reliably assumed to not be suicidal. In recent years, the Iranian government has become more and more apocalyptic. When giving speeches, President Ahmadinejad routinely invokes the Mahdi, a messianic figure in Shia Muslim theology, who many believe will return in the latter days to usher in a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It is quite possible that Ahmadinejad believes that it would be worth risking his entire nation to destroy Israel and to summon the Mahdi.
In fact, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one time president of Iran and still a highly placed Iranian official said as quoted in Examiner “… application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” In other words, a nuclear strike that did not destroy the entire Muslim world would be an acceptable sacrifice to destroy Israel.
Iran’s links to terrorism also mean that it would be dangerous as a nuclear power. North Korea, also a state sponsor of terrorism, began trying to export its nuclear technology as soon as it acquired it. Less than a year after North Korea’s first nuclear test, Israeli warplanes destroyed a secret North Korean nuclear facility in Syria. The Syrian civil war might present an entirely different and more serious threat to the region if this site had not been attacked prior to the Arab Spring.
There is every reason to believe that Iran would also be an active proliferator of nuclear technology. Iran might be able to avoid national destruction by transferring a nuclear weapon to a terrorist group that would detonate it anonymously. Without a visible missile launch to point to the origin of the attack, the world might never know who was responsible for the nuclear terrorism.
Iran has worked hard in recent years to expand its sphere of influence in the Middle East, working with both sympathetic Muslim governments and terrorist proxies. With the U.S. role in the region fading as President Obama retreats from Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran’s stature in the region is growing. Even without actually using a nuclear weapon, Iran could exert its influence on the Persian Gulf to threaten vital oil supplies to the rest of the world. An Iranian nuclear weapon would necessarily spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as other powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey struggle to defend themselves from Iranian pressure.
It is becomingly increasingly apparent that Iran and North Korea may actually be working together. The World Tribune notes that since the 1980s, when Iran faced a threat, North Korea would rattle its sabers to distract the world. According to Reuters, collaboration between Iran and North Korea may go even further. A United Nations report from 2010 suggested that North Korea may have aided Iran and Myanmar with nuclear technology in addition to Syria.
In the best case scenario, the current North Korean threat will soon fade away, leaving the world to deal with the rapidly maturing Iranian threat. In the worst case scenario, the current North Korean threat may be purposely distracting from an Iranian threat that is more advanced that believed. In either case, President Obama and the United States should watch Iran closely while dealing with North Korea.
Originally published on Examiner.com: