ShareThis Page
Featured Commentary

John Bolton's Trib exclusive: Syria's N. Korean chemical connection

| Saturday, March 10, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Abdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies, who were killed last April during a suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.
Abdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies, who were killed last April during a suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria.

Security Council weapons inspectors monitoring North Korea's compliance with United Nations sanctions have reportedly concluded that, for several years, the North has been selling Syria materials for the production of chemical weapons. Additional sanctions violations also are reported, but none compare to the gravity of this evidence that Pyongyang is trafficking in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology.

This information should be a pivot point for the United States and European governments that truly care about stopping North Korea's nuclear programs and WMD proliferation. Pyongyang's dangerous behavior today dramatically foreshadows exactly what it will do with nuclear and ballistic-missile technology as soon as it thinks it is safe to do so.

The U.N. report and other sources also indicate considerable involvement by Iran, China and Russia in financing and transporting North Korea's chemical and other weapons-related materials to Syria. The complex web of business dealings shows serious, perhaps insoluble, problems in the enforcement of international sanctions applicable to both Pyongyang and Damascus. Of course, we cannot assume that the U.N. inspectors have uncovered the full extent of North Korea's evasion of the applicable sanctions provisions. So Kim Jung-Un's evasions and revenues might well be considerably greater than the information possessed by the U.N.

Significantly, we are considering a U.N. report — not the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies. The information U.N. inspectors relied upon may well have come from American and other intelligence services, but the judgments are entirely those of U.N. officials. Tired (not to mention inaccurate) references to WMDs in Saddam Hussein's Iraq can remain unsaid.

North Korea's chemical-weapons dealings with Syria are not the first time the two rogue states have partnered on WMDs. Starting in the late 1990s, they laid plans for a nuclear reactor. It was under construction in the Syrian desert when Israel's air force destroyed it in September 2007. That reactor was almost certainly financed by Tehran, evidence of the nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea that continues to this day.

The communist dictatorship is, by all accounts, perilously close to being able to hit targets in the continental United States with thermonuclear warheads. Once that day arrives, any possibility of using military force to stop Pyongyang almost certainly disappears because of the risk that the North would retaliate with nuclear weapons. Accordingly, the Trump administration's time to decide whether to act pre-emptively, or be required to accept a nuclear North Korea forever, is fast disappearing. The mere passage of time may decide the question for us.

Those content with living with a nuclear North Korea have argued that it can be contained and deterred like the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This assessment is deeply flawed because the Kim family's bizarre government is hardly likely to conform to our expectations of responsible behavior by a nuclear power. Moreover, we are near entering not a bipolar nuclear standoff like the Cold War, but a multipolar nuclear world where deterrence is utterly untested and unknown.

And even worse, the number of countries that might quickly become nuclear-weapon states is limitless if North Korea is prepared to sell nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile technology for hard currency.

Time is running out before this nightmare becomes reality.

John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me