Terrorism has since grown in popularity, ambition and menace. Its practitioners are in the market for nuclear weapons. North Korea has little else to sell.
Hence Bush's attempt to codify a second form of deterrence: "The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or nonstate entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action."
A good first draft, but it could use some Kennedyesque clarity. The phrase "fully accountable" does not exactly instill fear, as it has been used promiscuously by several administrations in warnings to both terrorists and rogue states -- after which we did absolutely nothing. A better formulation would be the following:
Given the fact that there is no other nuclear power so recklessly in violation of its nuclear obligations, it shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any detonation of a nuclear explosive on the United States or its allies as an attack by North Korea on the United States requiring a full retaliatory response upon North Korea.
This is how you keep Kim Jong Il from proliferating. Make him understand that his survival would be hostage to the actions of whatever terror group he sold his weapons to. Any terrorist detonation would be assumed to have his address on it. The United States would then return postage. Automaticity of this kind concentrates the mind.
This policy has a hitch, however. It only works in a world where there is but a single rogue nuclear state. Once that club expands to two, the policy evaporates because a nuclear terror attack would no longer have a single automatic return address.
Which is another reason why keeping Iran from going nuclear is so important. With North Korea there is no going back. But Iran is not there yet. One rogue country is tolerable because it can be held accountable. Two rogue countries guarantees undeterrable and therefore inevitable nuclear terrorism.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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