By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephen Yates is former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and currently CEO of DC International Advisory, a consulting firm. The views expressed are his own.
The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed a new resolution sanctioning North Korea for its third nuclear test. North Korea's reaction to the announcement of a vote? Threatening to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
This latest verbal volley is likely bluster, but there is a troubling quality to what we see in North Korea, and it is strategically significant.
On the surface it appears to be a cyclical melodrama – a spoiled child seeking attention or a cynical rogue extracting rewards for bad behavior. But over the last 20 years we have been through multiple leadership changes, multilateral and bilateral negotiations, humanitarian aid and U.N. sanctions, and the one constant is the steady progress North Korea has made on enrichment and other requirements for nuclear weapons. And that progress appears to have accelerated since Kim Jung Un succeeded his father.
Academics and diplomats consistently find ways to minimize the nature of the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities. While dutifully couched in tough sounding analysis, their common prescription is reduced to continuing what we know has not worked for two decades – new sanctions, new negotiations, and continued assumption that China shares an interest in denuclearizing North Korea.
Unfortunately, those with responsibility for the safety of troops, allies, and the U.S. homeland cannot operate under the assumption that the academics and diplomats might one day prove correct. They have to deal with the reality of the capabilities they see emerging and the prospect that the dire warning coming from a rogue leader might one day be real.
We cannot know whether or when North Korea will choose again to demonstrate its ability to deliver and detonate a nuclear device. We do know that North Korean nuclear technology has proliferated as far as the Syrian facility destroyed in 2007, that no form of dialogue or sanctions kept North Korea from achieving breakout capability, and no sanctions targeting only North Korea or Iran have changed the enabling behavior of Russia and China.
Changing the enabling behavior of Russia and China should be the highest priority for the U.S. and its allies. Targeting the behavior of Iran and North Korea alone has not worked. These emerging threats are linked and have the potential to significantly weaken U.S. influence and interests in two vital regions. Over time, neighboring nations increasingly see that they likely cannot rely on U.S.-led efforts alone to preserve their own national and regional security.
Absent a new approach, the U.S. faces an increasingly proliferated world, weakened alliances, and a likely rebalancing of power in Asia and the Middle East that favors Iran and China. More of the same will not keep America safe.