The world currently faces two atomic crises in Iran and North Korea, despite long strides in the effort of nuclear non-proliferation. Deep military and nuclear cooperation between the two states makes dealing with these challenges even more difficult. One may have thought lessons would have been learnt from the devastating lessons of appeasement from World War II – yet the approaches adopted vis-à-vis North Korea and Iran in signing nuclear agreements have raised accusations that Neville Chamberlain’s famous policy is still alive and well.
It’s obvious that Iran has learned from North Korea, and vice-versa, in both military and diplomatic spheres: in a recent Raddington Report article we argue that there are few nations that view North Korean missile tests with more interest than Iran. The Islamic Republic yearns to be in the position North Korea finds itself in – to have developed a nuclear arsenal, along with the means of deliver the payload. And North Korea covets to have had the opportunity Iran found: usurping Obama’s desperate need for a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement to garner a slate of concessions.
There is seemingly little appetite for a military confrontation with North Korea or Iran – yet the appeasement of these two rogue regimes have left the international community in more of a quagmire. North Korea is holding South Korea and Japan hostage (along with tens of thousands of stationed US troops) while Iran continues its regional meddling, support for terrorism, ballistic missile advances and human rights violations, all whilst reaching an agreement with the P5+1.
Pyongyang and Tehran have both sought nuclear weapons as insurance for their notorious regimes. Enjoying enticement by US administrations since the 1990s, North Korea has reached its objective, at the expense of it’s starving people – and economy more broadly. Iran, whilst seeking nuclear capability, began feeling the heat of international sanctions and escalating public anger, which forced it to trade a curbing of its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. What goes unnoticed, however, is how agreements signed by the international community with these two regimes provide a green light to the ruling autocrats to pursue the oppression of their own populations.
Iran has continued its practice of abducting American citizens and sentencing them to long prison terms. A situation in which Kim Jung Un was provided more inducements to come to the negotiating table – as in Iran’s case – could possibly result in further abductions, assassinations and more tens of thousands of political prisoners held in facilities so large they are visible in satellite images. Concessions have already provided Iran a green light to expand its domestic crackdown and meddling abroad. The definition of insanity, famously, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
Offering a possible insight into the Trump administration’s future approach to Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Nikki Haley delivered a speech recently in the American Enterprise Institute, stating that; “…if the President does not certify Iranian compliance, the Corker-Cardin law also tells us what happens next. What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands,” she explained, in reference to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail. We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations continued.
Following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, which led to claims that the DPRK has acquired the ability to test a hydrogen bomb, there is belief amongst high circles in Washington that North Korea is supporting Iran in return to the path of obtaining nuclear weapons. While Washington is weighing its options in responding to North Korea’s latest nuclear bomb test, most concerning are obvious shows of allegiance, such as a recent 10-day visit to Tehran by Pyongyang’s parliament speaker Kim Yong Nam.
Thanks to a ‘windfall’ of billions of dollars provided by the Obama-blueprinted nuclear deal, Iran has the hard currency and financial assets North Korea needs. In return, Pyongyang can deliver the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology Tehran wants to acquire. It has become increasingly obvious these regimes are far from rational actors who can be persuaded into taking action for the better benefit of the international community. North Korea must be made to bow before demands to give up nuclear weapons, whilst Iran must be made to understand that following the path of its East Asian partner is not an option.
The response Tehran receives from the international community, with the US at the helm, is of vital importance. The failure of previous US administrations to take any meaningful action to prevent the growth of such a dangerous nexus leaves us with the circumstances we face today. It is a known fact that many of Tehran’s ballistic missile designs, such as the Hwasong series, are based on Pyongyang prototypes. This is the result of political and military ties leading back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Concerns escalate to a highly lethal level when we realize Iran’s missiles, mirroring those of its North Korean sisters, could enjoy the capability of delivering nuclear payloads. These decades-long close exchanges have now also provided Iran the ability to construct missile production factories in Syria and Libya, some underground.
It is increasingly difficult to deny Tehran’s diplomatic, economic and military ties with Pyongyang. It is even possible the two country’s scientists have been present at each other’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests, one after another. Tehran and Pyongyang must be made to comprehend that a continuation of their provocations cannot not be tolerated – senior Iranian and North Korean leaders, along with the institutions maintaining their rule, should be the target of crippling international sanctions. Kim, Khamenei and their henchmen, must find it far more difficult to plunder their people’s wealth for their own interests, while the two populations suffer in poverty. The international community should also boost campaigns aimed at drying up the two regimes’ supply chains providing the needs for their missile and nuclear drives.
This question is now raised over the meaning of seeking a new nuclear arrangement with North Korea, especially as the JCPOA is currently being usurped by Iran. Surely rapprochement will only encourage Pyongyang to continue its current aggressive nature – and what lessons would Tehran, a regime enjoying a dangerous reach across the Middle East, learn from this? There is no need to explain how Tehran and Pyongyang have most likely followed each other’s negotiations with the international community, the deals sealed to buy time, the successful and unsuccessful lies and deceptions and how to come to each other’s support when needed. Most importantly, however, they have learned how to create rifts amongst Western countries, such as the United States, France and Britain, and to utilise Russian and Chinese postures, to divide in the UN Security Council.
As Haley correctly said, “Enough is enough.” War is neither needed nor welcomed. An international consensus to impose crippling sanctions on the regimes of Iran and North Korea is necessary.
Although watered down to garner the support of Beijing and Moscow, the sanctions adopted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council on Monday against North Korea, capping the regime’s oil imports from China and banning its profitable textile exports, is a step in the right direction. One hopes this is the beginning of a continuing trend to bring an end to Pyongyang’s dangerous bellicosities, and sends a powerful message to Tehran of the international community’s resolve and intolerance for such rogue behavior.
If history is to teach us any lesson, it is that of rapprochement rendering nothing but death and destruction. If we seek an end to the current nuclear standoffs, all parties must further set aside their short term interests and think for the better good of all.