Stopping the Nuclear North

Kim Jong Il is rapidly building his doomsday arsenal. If Washington wants any shot to stop him, the time for negotiations is now.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement this weekend that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kae Gwan will soon visit New York City is the strongest indication yet that the six-party talks -- the negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear program between the United States, China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea -- could resume as early as this fall. If so, it would not only mark an end to what's been a two-year hiatus in the talks, but it could also signal the beginning of a new, and critical, phase of the negotiations. Indeed, while all the involved parties are by now deeply familiar with the basic issues at hand, the stakes are higher now than ever to salvage a palatable solution to North Korea's nuclear problem.

Right now, North Korea may well be at a critical transitional moment in the development of its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang has already completed the first phase of developing such an arsenal, having built a small, minimal nuclear force consisting of a handful of weapons that it may or may not be able to mount on a few short-range missiles. The issue before us now is what dangers lie ahead if the North steps up that effort. If Pyongyang is anything like other small nuclear powers such as India, Pakistan, and Israel, we can expect it to move on to building increasing numbers of more sophisticated nuclear weapons mounted on a variety of missile delivery systems.

Imagine a world in which North Korea is armed with tens of weapons mounted on missiles able to devastate Seoul and Tokyo and, conceivably, even parts of the United States. Increasingly confident of its own nuclear prowess, Pyongyang would have free rein to indulge its worst international impulses. We could expect the North to provoke frequent confrontations with South Korea and peddle its nuclear know-how on the international black market without fear of serious reprisals.

It would also represent a strategic defeat for Washington. It would undermine the credibility of the U.S. regional nuclear umbrella, triggering escalating demands from South Korea and Japan that the United States reinforce its security commitment; it might also spur the breakdown of the entire regional nonproliferation regime, as Washington's allies move to acquire their own nuclear arsenals. All this would be happening at a time when U.S. domestic pressures to cut or redeploy conventional forces abroad would make it difficult or impossible to bolster American defense commitments. It would also seriously aggravate fault lines between the United States and China, particularly if Beijing stands aside as Pyongyang's nuclear posture grows.

While many experts are concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, imagine the dangers of a politically unstable, nuclear-armed North Korea. Those weapons could become pawns in internal power struggles or even used by competing factions against each other. That may seem far-fetched, but because we are unlikely to know whether the North will have taken the proper precautions to prevent this from happening, these dangers would have to be taken seriously.

Certainly, the North has the wherewithal to expand its nuclear program if it's so inclined. Late last year, Pyongyang revealed a surprisingly sophisticated program that could eventually allow it to produce highly enriched uranium for more bombs. The North is also actively working on increasingly capable missiles at the new modern Dongchang-ri launch facility. News reports on Sunday, July 24, revealed that it had conducted rocket-engine tests late last year for those systems at that site. If North Korea is like any other small nuclear power, its scientists are probably also working on increasingly sophisticated bomb designs; the military establishment has almost certainly made plans for a bigger, more capable, nuclear arsenal.

Kim Jong Il may already have made the decision to expand his nuclear capabilities. And it's entirely possible that Pyongyang's diplomatic strategy could simply be a ploy designed to keep the world at bay while his plans move forward. But we have no way of knowing that, and only a concerted diplomatic effort will be able to find out for sure. That will mean being open to agreements, at least in the near future, that fall short of achieving full denuclearization, a negotiating stance that will no doubt be unpopular with a hostile Republican Congress in Washington and with U.S. allies nervous that America will tacitly accept a nuclear North if Pyongyang agrees not to export dangerous technologies.

The first key to successful negotiations will be to keep expectations in check. The initial task in New York and in the subsequent six-party negotiations will be both to rebuild a sufficient political foundation between the countries involved for continued talks and to outline steps to contain the expansion of North Korea's nuclear forces. On the first count one step would be to arrange for the early resumption of U.S. military missions to recover the remains of Americans missing in action during the Korean War. Pyongyang has already signaled that it is ready to do so. Washington should also push for more dialogue between the two Koreas on a range of political, economic, and other issues, including Pyongyang's provocations last year.

On the second count, some nuclear steps forward appear to be in reach, if not at the planned U.S.-North Korea meeting this fall, then soon after the resumption of the six-party talks. A temporary moratorium on nuclear weapons and missiles tests would not be a permanent solution, but it could delay the North's ability to develop more sophisticated weapons. A new package of measures could irreversibly and verifiably end Pyongyang's plutonium program. We should take the North up on its offer, made in Track II contacts, to ship out of the country its fresh fuel rods -- which contain enough plutonium for maybe five to eight bombs -- in return for some compensation, such as heavy fuel oil. Add to that the permanent disablement of its only plutonium production reactor, and Pyongyang's program will have been effectively ended.

The big nuclear elephant in the room, however, will be Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program, which it claims is only intended to churn out fuel for its new power reactors, but, in reality, is also a front for producing bomb-making material. Moreover, Pyongyang's plans to increasingly use its own natively designed and built reactors -- a prototype is scheduled for completion in 2012 -- could pose a serious nuclear safety hazard for the entire region. The United States' first priority should be to seek greater transparency for these programs. During recent Track II meetings, North Koreans said their country might be willing to share more information on its plans with the United States in the context of formal talks with Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, Washington's special envoy to the region.

But Washington should also be prepared to cut quickly to the chase or Pyongyang might use ongoing talks as cover to continue development of its enrichment program. Because demands from the United States that the North unilaterally suspend or end its programs are likely to fall on deaf ears, any hope of a solution will depend on providing significant incentives to Pyongyang. For example, the North Korean government has signaled in Track II sessions that it might be willing to trash its reactor and enrichment programs if it receives nuclear reactor assistance that could well cost billions of dollars. We don't know whether that demand is serious, set in stone, or subject to negotiation. But only through sustained, direct -- and what will no doubt prove to be politically controversial -- diplomacy will we find out.

Having charted a course that will hopefully lead back to talks, Barack Obama's administration and its allies will now have to address these tough questions. Although getting Pyongyang to give up its handful of bombs should remain the objective, the most pressing problem is stopping further expansion. Finding a way through this thicket will prove difficult and may well be impossible. But decision-makers in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo don't have much more room to delay. It's time that they ask themselves just what they're willing to do in order to prevent North Korea from becoming an emerging nuclear power.


We're Winning in Somalia

With a little more donor support, international forces can help drive al-Shabab out of Mogadishu.

In the early hours of a June day, a black Toyota four-by-four tried to run a checkpoint manned by Somali government forces in the capital of Mogadishu. The soldiers opened fire on the vehicle, and a brief firefight ensued; when the dust settled, it soon became clear that the Somali troops had killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was both a founder of the Somali extremist group al-Shabab and the leader of al Qaeda in Somalia.

This success represents a stark reminder to us all that the African Union's mission in this benighted country is of immediate consequence to the security of the whole world. What's more, it reflects a fundamental, and often overlooked, truth: Slowly but surely, we are bringing security to the Somali people.

For too long, Somalia has been synonymous in the international lexicon with "lost cause." This image, however, is woefully out of date. Recent battlefield successes by joint African Union and Somali government forces have fundamentally changed the picture in Mogadishu. For the first time in two decades, there is now a real opportunity to restore security and calm to the city's long-suffering population. It could quickly unravel, however, unless backers of our efforts step up their support -- and soon.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has 9,000 troops serving in Mogadishu in support of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Our forces have been deployed in Somalia with support from the United Nations since 2007 -- longer than any other international assistance mission in Somalia. In recent months, these troops have taken much ground from the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow the internationally recognized government and impose its radical Islamist ideology on the Somali people.

Our efforts to defeat al-Shabab have gained momentum throughout the past year. In February, Somali government forces supported by AMISOM troops seized control of key positions in northwest Mogadishu, including the former Defense Ministry, which had served as the extremists' main logistical and operational base in the city.

In May, AMISOM again supported government forces in an operation to drive al-Shabab out of western Mogadishu by consolidating our hold on Hodan district and squeezing the extremists out of Bakara Market, the city's commercial hub. The operation has already resulted in the capture of the Damanyo Military Camp in the west and Wadnaha Road on the southern fringe of Bakara Market, which had long been closed to civilian traffic by the insurgents.

The impact of these operations cannot be overstated. With the joint force on the verge of securing Bakara Market, we will soon sever this source of illegal revenue for the extremists. Bakara sees sales of millions of dollars per month and therefore represents a major financial stronghold for the insurgents. Once the operation has accomplished its objectives, the roads will be reopened to civilians, increasing the flow of goods and traders to Bakara Market and facilitating the return of some measure of normalcy to many parts of the city.

These gains are part of a steady advance our forces have been making since last summer. At that time, we controlled only a small portion of Mogadishu, situated around the airport and seaport -- journalists regularly referred to the areas under our control as "a few square blocks." We now effectively control two-thirds of the city -- some 16 square miles -- with more than two dozen security outposts scattered throughout the city. More importantly, this has created a relatively safe haven for 80 percent of the estimated 2 million people who live in Mogadishu's southwestern neighborhoods.

Our expanding presence has pushed al-Shabab out of much of Mogadishu. By the end of the summer, 3,000 more AMISOM troops will be joining those already in Somalia, following last year's decision by the U.N. Security Council to authorize an increase in our troop strength. The Somali Army, which is also steadily gaining strength and effectiveness, has also launched an offensive against the militants in the southern regions of the country, forcing the extremists to divert their resources from the city to the hinterland.

As the push to secure Mogadishu continues, AMISOM must prove that it can not only drive out the extremists, but that it can deliver the fruits of peace to the Somali people. To this end, we provide free medical care to more than 12,000 people every month at two AMISOM hospitals in Mogadishu. Our troops also provide over 60,000 liters of safe drinking water per day to civilians living near the AMISOM camps. Admittedly, these efforts aren't nearly enough, but the potential for more humanitarian initiatives -- by both AMISOM and international agencies -- is increasing as more and more territory falls under the authority of the Somali government.

Working with the Somali government, AMISOM will soon take on a number of new projects in Mogadishu. AMISOM will continue to determinedly extend the area that the Somali government controls, enabling other organizations to deliver the emergency aid needed in this time of crisis. Despite AMISOM's limited mandate and resources, we are providing emergency medical assistance to tackle a measles outbreak in a camp of displaced Somalis that has sprung up near the airport. Meanwhile, our police component has established a training program, which has offered instruction to nearly 3,000 Somali police officers, and our political division remains hard at work on training the nascent Somali civil service, and the difficult tasks surrounding the burgeoning peace process.

In the coming months, AMISOM's troop strength will reach 12,000. Burundi and Uganda, currently the mission's main troop contributors, plan to deploy yet more forces. Other African countries, including Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Djibouti have also pledged troops. But this is not enough. We hope the United Nations will in time agree to the African Union's proposal to further expand the AMISOM troop ceiling to 20,000, which our ground commanders say is necessary to drive the extremists out of Somalia.

AMISOM forces, of course, simply could not operate in Somalia without the array of resources of the United Nations and bilateral supporters. The mission, however, is still lacking in a number of areas. We have no combat aircraft; in particular, we need helicopters to support our forces on the ground as they advance. We also need a sophisticated mortar radar system that would help us more accurately target the insurgents, who routinely use innocent Somalis as human shields. Such a system would minimize the risk of inadvertently harming the civilian population. NATO routinely deploys these systems whenever its forces are active in similar theaters, such as Afghanistan.

At some point, we also hope countries with more advanced militaries that support our mission will take it upon themselves to establish a naval blockade and a no-fly zone over Somalia. These requests were contained in the African Union's proposals forwarded to the U.N. Security Council in October 2010, but the council has yet to take a decision on the matter.

Virtually everything we do at AMISOM revolves around donor support. If that support were to stall now, amid our biggest gains to date, the results for Somalia would be disastrous. The extremists, now on the brink of defeat, would regroup and renew their campaign of terror -- not just in Somalia, but as they have shown, across the region and potentially the globe. Somalis in the newly liberated areas of Mogadishu would suffer further from a lack of basic aid. Recurrent challenges, like the ongoing drought, would take an even harsher toll on the country. And the best chance Somalia has had in a generation of stabilizing and building toward a positive future would slip away.