RAND analyst says short-term view will hurt United StatesRAND Corp. senior analyst Greg Jones criticized the United States for it's "kick-the-can" attitude toward North Korea's nuclear weapons threat during a Monday night presentation to a Columbia Forum audience at the Duncan Law Seafood Consumer Center.
Jones said that nuclear proliferation has taken a back seat among United States' leaders to "broader policy considerations." While these may seem prudent in the short term, in the long term they have allowed nations such as Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons and delivery systems, he said.
"North Korea is a slowly festering problem and the U.S. has developed a 'kick-the-can' policy," Jones said. "If we just kick it further down the road, it's not our problem." Jones noted that this was his personal observation and he was not speaking for the RAND Corp.
Jones also addressed nuclear terrorism fears and the United Nation's treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT).
The United States has been concerned about North Korea since the late 1980s when the country developed nuclear research reactors. In 1992, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors discovered that North Korea had been testing nuclear weapons. North Korea denounced inspector's sanctions, and it "looked like there could be a war," Jones said.
But thanks to President Jimmy Carter's diplomatic mission in 1994, North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear program and allow inspectors to remain, monitoring compliance. In turn, the United States would provide the country with oil for power.
However, in 2002, North Korea announced that it had started up nuclear reactors and withdrawn from the NPT.
"It seems that the U.S. has not wanted to negotiate directly with North Korea and no one really knows what to do," Jones said. "It might take war to do something about it."
Jones also addressed fears of nuclear terrorism.
"There's concern that countries could provide nuclear weapons as hard currency," he said. "And if they fall into terrorist hands, they can be smuggled into the United States. The al-Qaida have shown that they would do anything. But the al-Qaida don't seem to be anywhere close to having nuclear weapons. If they did, 9/11 would have been a very different day."
Jones distinguished between the terrorists of the 1970s, such as the Irish Republican Army, and al-Qaida, which recognizes no limits in its desire to wage war against the United States.
"We can see clearly now that some of these Islamic terrorist groups want to cause mass destruction," he said.
In an effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the United Nations created the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The agreement also promotes the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and works to achieve nuclear disarmament. The treaty entered into force in 1970 and 187 parties have joined. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, according to the treaty's official Internet Web site located at (www.un.org/Depts/dda/WMD/treaty
To further these goals, the treaty established a safeguard system administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify compliance through inspections.
And while the NPT has helped reduce the amount of nuclear arsenals, not every country has complied with the IAEA inspections and treaty agreements. North Korea has actually withdrawn from the NPT, Jones said.
And, in August 2002, for example, Iranian opposition groups announced two sites where "naughty activity" was going on, in the form of nuclear centrifuge and heavy water reactor plants.
The announcement didn't get too much attention at first, then satellite photos showed the IAEA that it faced a serious concern. The IAEA has issued an ultimatum to Iran, stating that it would like a full explanation of how the reactor plants got there and how its scientists got the parts.
"Again, we don't know where things are going to go," Jones said. "There has been quite a reduction in nuclear arsenals, but I don't see any practical way to completely eliminate nuclear weapons."
One other problem facing the nuclear arena today is that scientists who developed weapons and technology are aging, retiring and dying.
"They are trying to pass the technology on, but are having difficulties doing it," he said. "The quality of people coming in is not as good as of those who are retiring. And it's hard to get the best to work on nothing."
Jones said the United States is on "fast forward" to develop nuclear bunker-busting technology. But he believes the work is a waste of money and simply a way to keep nuclear scientists busy.
"I can't see ever really practically using the thing," he said.
In response to a forum member's question about aging U.S. nuclear plants, Jones said that beyond economic concerns, there was no reason to worry.