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Treat Iraq, N. Korea the Same: Nonmilitary Means Can Work

November 01, 2002|Stansfield Turner

In responding to North Korea's confession of nuclear perfidy, we are missing the bigger picture.

The issue is not whether North Korea or Iraq is the greater threat to us today. It is that we have every reason to believe both countries are striving to acquire nuclear weapons. Both should be stopped cold, not just for what they might do with such weapons but for the precedent it would set for other would-be proliferators.

Back in 1990, the United Nations Security Council agreed that it was important to denuclearize Iraq. It forced a highly intrusive inspection-and-destruction regime on the Iraqis, an unprecedented interference with a sovereign nation, in the name of preventing nuclear proliferation. That regime, unfortunately, was allowed to lapse in 1998.

Why is it any less important today? Should not the Security Council be even more concerned, in light of North Korea's admitted effort to acquire nuclear weapons? Or is the world community going to give up on preventing the spread of nuclear weaponry?

If the Security Council or some other group does not reinstate the inspection/destruction regime in Iraq and begin one in North Korea, a moment of opportunity may pass.

Rather than debate whether we should deal with Iraq through war and North Korea through diplomacy, we should insist on the same treatment for both.

That would be an even more coercive approach than the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the 1990 sanctions on Iraq or the 1994 agreements with North Korea. It could include economic sanctions, such as those now in effect with Iraq; diplomatic isolation, including suspension from the U.N.; physical isolation, including flight bans; and financial isolation, including denial of access to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

This would be an ambitious undertaking. The United States would have to sell it to the Security Council, NATO or some other enforcing grouping.

That would not be easy, but there are reasons to be hopeful. One is that applying the same rules to both nations would lessen the sting for nations that support one or the other. Another is that there would be a long-range objective, limiting the numbers of nuclear powers to those existing today, with which few nations could take issue.

In short, we must look past Iraqi and North Korean programs for weapons of mass destruction to a broader purpose. The hour is getting late, but if the world community sets an objective of preventing further nuclear proliferation, there is at least a chance it could work.

The United States should not pass up such an opportunity in a rush to settle scores with Saddam Hussein, stop him from supporting terrorists or some other objective.

A world of many nuclear powers could easily be a world that experiences the use of nuclear weapons. Is that the world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren?


Retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, is on the faculty of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland.

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