North Korea Announces It Has Nuclear Weapons

North Korea Announces It Has Nuclear Weapons (AP)

North Korea on Thursday announced for the first time that it has nuclear arms and rejected moves to restart disarmament talks anytime soon, saying it needs the weapons as protection against an increasingly hostile United States. The communist state’s pronouncement dramatically raised the stakes in the two-year-old nuclear confrontation and posed a grave challenge to President Bush, who started his second term with a vow to end North Korea’s nuclear program through six-nation talks. “We … have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North),” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The claim could not be independently verified. North Korea expelled the last U.N. nuclear monitors in late 2002 and has never tested a nuclear bomb, although international officials have long suspected it has one or two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more.

An interesting diplomatic maneuver but hardly surprising. Indeed, this announcement differs only in nuance from that made two years ago about their program.* Even Condi Rice acknowledges, “We have for some time taken account of the capability of the North Koreans to perhaps have a few nuclear weapons.”

The problem, of course, is what to do about it. In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush famously proclaimed,

North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.

[…]

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.

[…]

I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

The Iraqi regime–the Axis member furthest from an active nuclear weapon–has been ousted. Iran has or is near having nuclear weapons but appears the most amenable of the three to diplomatic resolution. North Korea almost certainly has nuclear weapons and is run by a madman with whom negotiation is unlikely to work.

Our options are very limited at this stage of the game. Indeed, that fact was what finally pushed me into supporting the war in Iraq. Once the world’s most dangerous regimes acquire the world’s most destructive weapons, there’s not a hell of a lot one can do.

*Update: Chad Evans has a good chronology of previous DPRK announcements.

FILED UNDER: Asia, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.