North Korea Nukes Not an Imminent Threat?

National Security Advisor Jim Jones declared in a speech to the Atlantic Council that the recent testing of a nuclear device and firing of Taepodong missiles by North Korea “are not an imminent threat” to the United States or the regions because “they have a long way to go” in perfecting the technology to weaponize their nukes.  He added, however that “The imminent threat is the proliferation of that type of technology to other countries and potentially terrorist organizations and non-state actors.”

Rick Moran and Ed Morrissey both challenge this statement in colorful terms while  Stephen Walt, writing a day before Jones’ talk, agrees wholeheartedly.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests are hardly good news, but they don’t justify going into full panic mode. We already knew that North Korea had a nuclear weapons capability, and though this latest test seems to have been slightly more powerful than the initial one, it doesn’t imply a qualitative shift in the strategic environment. North Korea’s defiance is annoying, perhaps, but it’s not like the act of testing a nuclear weapon tells us something new about their regime. And let’s not forget that the United States has tested a nuclear weapons 1030 times (plus another 24 joint tests with Great Britain), while Pyongyang has tested exactly twice.

In my New Atlanticist piece, “Jones: North Korea Nukes ‘Not an Imminent Threat’,” I defend the Walt-Jones position.

Look, it’s frustrating to watch rogue regimes developing nuclear weapons.  After railing about an Axis of Evil and pledging repeatedly that “We have to have policies that prevent the world’s most dangerous people from having the world’s most dangerous weapons,” the Bush administration left office with the 2/3 of said Axis not under American occupation either possessing or in the final stages of developing nuclear weapons.  Indeed, Bush proclaimed Kim’s regime “evil” in late 2002, it was well on its way to a nuclear device by early 2003, and it successful tested its first one in late 2006.  It wasn’t because Bush’s team was insufficiently tough, dedicated, or competent but because being The World’s Sole Remaining SuperpowerTM comes with much less control than people think.

Much more at the link.

FILED UNDER: National Security, World Politics, , , , , , ,
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.

Comments

  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I wonder if it will be consider an immanent threat when one is loaded on an ICBM sitting on a launch pad? It is purely speculation they have not built a bunch of these things. First one went pop, this one was a loud bang. I guess a mushroom cloud rising over a large American city might finally wake some of the left up, however it is a possibility our leader is doing this (nothing) on purpose. An attack of that nature would allow “The One” to declare a national emergency setting aside our civil rights, in the best interest of Obama. Communists had to have WWI to take power in Russia.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    I like the Z man’s way of thinking. There was someone else, who was it, that said we should not wait until they are an immanent threat? I recall they said by that time it was too late to do anything.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    I guess a mushroom cloud rising over a large American city might finally wake some of the left up, however it is a possibility our leader is doing this (nothing) on purpose.

    That same silly rationale was used to start the Iraq disaster and look how well that has turned out…hey, why not invade every country on the planet that we suspect of having or trying to acquire nuclear weapons…it shouldn’t be that hard, we could reinstate the draft…I’m sure many of the fearless warriors around here would be only too happy to sign up…

  4. Tlaloc says:

    North Korean technical know how isn’t exactly stellar. Last time they tested a bomb the usual suspects got all atizzy and then we found out it was a dud. There’s still a good probability that that will be the case this time too.

    Nor is the NoKo missile program a leader in tech. In fact it sucks.

    SO when Z above talks about a (working) NoKo nuke being loaded into a (working) NoKo ICBM I find myself filled with far more amusement than fear. It’s like the Jamaican bobsled team. Sure the scrappiness is kind of inspiring but you know they’re still gonna fail.

  5. sam says:

    I wonder if it will be consider an immanent threat when one is loaded on an ICBM sitting on a launch pad?

    Only if the launch pad is at Edwards AF Base.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    It might be more productive figuring out how we can induce China to join the interdiction regime in which South Korea’s participation has put the North in such a snit. North Korea’s air force is negligible and they don’t currently have any method of delivering a nuclear weapon to the mainland U. S. that interdiction wouldn’t prevent. As Gen. Jones pointed out we should be more concerned about their selling the stuff they’re producing than we should about their using it against us. I think the North’s recent behavior motivates China to participate which would be most welcome.

    However, while we’re on the subject of China, James, in his recent article over at ACUS Banning Garrett pooh-poohs the commonly-offered explanations of China’s likely views on North Korea without offering any alternatives of his own. Are they a secret? Does he actually agree with the conventional wisdom but just doesn’t like people less well informed than he expressing them? Turf battle? What?

  7. James Joyner says:

    Dave: Interesting question. He ended with an ellipsis so perhaps he intends a follow-on piece.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    North Korea is a distant second (if that) after Pakistan in terms of nuclear worries. Pakistan has proven nuke capacity and medium range ballistic missiles (that again actually work). Plus the country’s intelligence apparatus is connected at the hip with crazy fundamentalists like AQ.

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    A twenty foot ocean container would make a fine delivery device. Who needs ballistic missiles?

  10. An Interested Party says:

    A twenty foot ocean container would make a fine delivery device. Who needs ballistic missiles?

    That was a great Frederick Forsyth plot device…who knows, maybe someone in North Korea reads his novels…

  11. Eric Florack says:

    I guess a mushroom cloud rising over a large American city might finally wake some of the left up

    Nah. It’s all the fault of Bushcheney McHitler. That excuse has always worked (They think) before…

  12. Tlaloc says:

    Nah. It’s all the fault of Bushcheney McHitler. That excuse has always worked (They think) before…

    I’m getting this weird Deja Vu. Last time somebody claimed there was going to be a mushroom cloud above an American city they too were full of ^%$#.

    We were told that Iraq had WMD, no ifs ands or buts. They have tons of anthrax and nerve gas plus an attempt to reconstitute a nuclear program.

    Remember what we found? Freaking balsa wood drones.

    Oh yeah. Good times.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    Thanks for providing me an example of liberals blaming Bush, Tlaloc. Glad I can count on you.

  14. Tlaloc says:

    Thanks for providing me an example of liberals blaming Bush, Tlaloc. Glad I can count on you.

    No problem, man. If you enjoy tying your personal credibility to the Bush quest for mythical WMD I’m only too happy to work the knot.

  15. Tlaloc says:

    BTW…
    if it’s declasse to mention Bush’s myriad failures four months after he left office does that mean the wingnut right has set a date to stop blaming things on Clinton? Just curious.

  16. The Strategic MC says:

    “That was a great Frederick Forsyth plot device…who knows, maybe someone in North Korea reads his novels…”

    Don’t know about the folks in Pyongyang, but the people inside the Beltway must read his stuff.

    Ever hear of Maritime Domain Awareness? Either the concept or the technology program?

    Multinational and U.S. inter-agency initiative to protect against, among other things, the smuggling of WMDs into U.S. ports. We pay particular attention to containerized cargo.

    The technology alone is funded to the tune of 10s of millions on an annual basis. Neat stuff, right out of a high-tech thriller.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    re: The Strategic MC May 28, 2009 22:57

    My my, how impressive! Tell me, are you scared of NK nukes? Have you built a bomb shelter yet? Oh wait, a bomb shelter wouldn’t do you any good…nevermind…

  18. The Strategic MC says:

    Sigh…

    Actually, I’m not afraid of much, especially the NORKs. As someone posted earlier, they haven’t put together the complete package. If we keep allowing them practice shots, they’ll get there in time.

    Regardless, I have a lot of confidence in the countermeasures already in place.

  19. The Strategic MC says:

    Oh, and back to the thread.

    While I also agree with Jones and Walt, I think that they “talk the talk” about countering proliferation, but I question whether this administration will “walk the walk” in stopping the proliferators. Will we call N.K.’s bluff wrt the PSI?

    Fearing the confrontation that would result, we have turned a blind eye to violations of the NPT.

  20. DC Loser says:

    Fearing the confrontation that would result, we have turned a blind eye to violations of the NPT.

    We crossed that Rubicon many years ago with the tacit “wink” at Israel obtaining nuclear weapons and complicity with her ambiguous status as a nuclear power. Same with the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs, and now rewarding India’s violation of NPT with access to nuclear technology. I should also mention noncompliance with Article VI of the NPT which states all states should undertake to pursue “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”, and towards a “Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.

  21. DavidL says:

    In the parallel reality which we call Obamaland, somehow the Nork’s growing nuclear ambitions are somehow not a threat, but anthropogenic global warming is. I suppose this what the MSM will laud as “judgement.”

    It would be assuring to believe that the Obamatards had a plan, but Obama had plan to fix the economy, remember the Stimulus. Plans based on fictional reality don’t work in the real world.

  22. The Strategic MC says:

    “We crossed that Rubicon many years ago with the tacit “wink” at Israel…”

    No major disagreement with this.

    Unfortunately, pragmatism trumps principle. As the ultimate guarantor of Israeli security, Israeli nukes relieve the U.S. of some of that burden. I seem to recall that Israeli offered to openly declare and relinquish her nuclear arsenal in exchange for a formal security pact with the U.S. In response, we tacitly “told” Israel that she could keep her nukes.

    While it doesn’t make it right, Israeli is considered by most non-Arabs to be a responsible possessor of nuclear weapons. Additionally, her development and possession of a nuclear weapons capability most probably precedes the NPT, to which, by the way, she is not a signatory.

  23. The Strategic MC says:

    …most non-Muslims