A Black Eye for America’s Nuclear Agreements

Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers

A Black Eye for America’s Nuclear Agreements

Do you know which country’s name goes in the blanks of this United States presidential speech?

Good afternoon. I am pleased that the United States and _______ yesterday reached agreement on the text of a framework document on _______’s nuclear program. … This agreement is good for the United States, good for our allies, and good for the safety of the entire world.Under the agreement, _______ has agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program and to accept international inspection of all existing facilities. This agreement represents the first step on the road to a nuclear-free _______. It does not rely on trust. Compliance will be certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

If your answer was “Iran,” you could not be faulted.

The statements sound eerily similar to speeches U.S. President Barack Obama made last year about the nuclear agreement America made with Iran.

But the statements above are not about Iran, and they weren’t delivered by President Obama. They are words spoken by Bill Clinton in 1994 about a nuclear deal his administration had reached with North Korea.

Twelve years after President Clinton made those statements, in 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear bomb—a small plutonium device with less than a kiloton of explosive force. Days later, the United Nations Security Council approved military and economic sanctions against North Korea.

But the sanctions didn’t stop the North Koreans.

In 2009 and 2013, they detonated two more plutonium-based bombs.

Then yesterday, North Korea ratcheted up its defiance and the threat it poses to a new level. It detonated what it claims was a bona fide hydrogen bomb—a weapon exponentially more powerful than the first three.

“Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said after the illegal test.

Intelligence officials are not yet sure if the bomb was indeed a full-fledged hydrogen device or not. But the explosion shook the world, drawing condemnation from Western nations, Japan, South Korea and even Russia and China—North Korea’s staunchest allies. The UN called the test “profoundly destabilizing.”

But few onlookers called attention to the parallels between America’s failed nuclear deal with North Korea and the agreement Washington recently made with Iran.

We are told everything will be different with the Iranian deal. This time around, the agreement guarantees that Iran can’t develop nuclear weapons. President Obama assured us of this, saying, “This deal is not built on trust, it is built on verification.”

But isn’t that uncannily similar to what President Clinton said about the North Korean deal? And hasn’t Iran already provided ample evidence showing that it has no more respect for its deal with America than North Korea had for its 1994 agreement?

Yesterday’s nuclear detonation represents a glaring black eye on America’s attempts to halt nuclear proliferation by making deals with belligerent entities. It shows that when dealing with powers bent on destruction, diplomacy is an ineffective substitute for force.

The question is: Can Washington learn that truth from North Korea detonating bombs in North Korea? Or will it take Iran detonating one in Israel?