“North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday in defiance of U.N. resolutions, drawing condemnation from around the world, including from its only major ally, China, which summoned the North Korean ambassador to protest,” Reuters reports. “North Korea said the test had ‘greater explosive force’ than those it conducted in 2006 and 2009. Its KCNA news agency said it had used a ‘miniaturized’ and lighter nuclear device, indicating it had again used plutonium, which is suitable for use as a missile warhead.”
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called North Korea a “rogue state” whose nuclear weapons program poses a “serious threat” to U.S. national security. “We just saw what North Korea’s done in these last few weeks — a missile test and now a nuclear test,” Panetta said. “They represent a serious threat to the United States of America. We’ve got to be prepared to deal with that.”
Panetta is right. The leadership of the DPRK is off the reservation and highly unstable. We can’t rule out the possibility Pyongyang is building nuclear warheads to attach to ballistic missiles to fire at the U.S., a horrifying scenario like the one I envisioned in my 2008 novel, Dead Heat (in which four U.S. cities are hit with nuclear missiles during a presidential election.)
But there is another disturbing possibility as well: the Iranians may be paying the North Koreans to test nuclear warheads for them, and transferring the data to Tehran to help Iran further accelerate their bid for The Bomb. This strikes me as a more likely scenario, and thus one I wrote about in The Tehran Initiative (and play forward in my forthcoming thriller, Damascus Countdown.)
Unfortunately, what we’re seeing in the headlines today is not the stuff of geopolitical thrillers. It is real and it is dangerous. Today, the Weekly Standard — picking up on a story in the New York Times — notes that “an unnamed ‘senior American official’ suggests that North Korea is not just testing nukes for itself, but also for (and possibly with) the Iranians.”
The New York Times reports:
No country is more interested in the results of the North’s nuclear program, or the Western reaction, than Iran, which is pursuing its own uranium enrichment program. The two countries have long cooperated on missile technology, and many intelligence officials believe they share nuclear knowledge as well, though so far there is no hard evidence.
The Iranians are also pursuing uranium enrichment, and one senior American official said two weeks ago that “it’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.” Some believe that the country may have been planning two simultaneous tests, but it could take time to sort out the data.
This is precisely why President Obama and his administration must take decisive action to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat — and build effective missile defenses — before it’s too late to protect ourselves from Iran, North Korea or other rogue states. Will the President discuss his plans in these areas during tonight’s State of the Union address? Let us pray he does.