Ignoring both international calls for moderation and Washington's warnings, North Korea launched seven missiles on July 4 and 5, including the long-range Taepogdong-2, which will be capable of delivering a nuclear payload to the United States. That the Taepogdong-2 apparently failed after 40 seconds is irrelevant; engineers test missiles to identify and rectify problems, and so each test brings them closer to their goal.
The Bush administration denounced Pyongyang's actions. "The United States strongly condemns these missile launches and North Korea's unwillingness to heed calls for restraint from the international community," a July 4 White House statement read. Unfortunately, recent U.S. diplomacy has undercut the value of such condemnation. Pyongyang need only look at Tehran for an understanding of how illusionary U.S. red lines are.
Both North Korea and Iran's nuclear diplomacy are testaments to how Western diplomats reward intransigence. Take North Korea: During a June 30, 2006, American Enterprise Institute panel, Danielle Pletka pointed out the pattern: On August 31, 1998, Pyongyang fired the Taepodong-1 missile over Japan. Three months later, U.S. officials held the first round of high-level talks in Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il demanded to be rewarded for ceasing his provocations. He was. The following year, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry visited North Korea to offer normalized relations and a lifting of economic sanctions if Pyongyang froze and eventually dismantled its long-range-missile program and stopped its missile exports. On September 17, 1999, President Clinton eased sanctions against the north. Two months later, a U.S.-led consortium signed a $4.6 billion contract for two Western light-water nuclear reactors for the Stalinist police state. The Clinton administration began shipping food aid to the famine-ridden north, which Pyongyang used to grease its war machine even as ordinary citizens starved.
Having been given everything it had asked for, Kim Jong Il decided he wanted more. On July 1, 2000, he threatened to restart the nuclear program if Washington did not compensate it for electricity lost by delays in plant construction. Pyongyang then threatened to reverse course on its missile test moratorium. It did. On July 2001, it conducted a Taepodong-1 engine test.
All the while, Kim Jong Il cheated. The Bush administration did not initially agree to accept North Korean smoke-and-mirrors. In October 2002, the Bush administration announced that Pyongyang had operated a covert nuclear-weapons program in violation of its 1994 agreement. Diplomats may celebrate treaties. Many who helped negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework have meritorious service certificates framed on their wall. But agreements are meaningless if not adhered to, and seldom do autocracies stick to agreements if they gain more through noncompliance.
The Iranian government has followed a similar pattern. In order to moderate hardliners and encourage Iran both to scale back terror financing and cease its obstruction of the Middle East peace process, the European Union pursued a policy of critical dialogue and engagement. It did not work. In 1992, the same year that Germany launched its critical engagement policy, Tehran purchased what it anointed the Shihab-2 missile from Pyongyang. The Shihab-3 missile, basically the North Korean Nodong-1 by another name, soon followed.
Meanwhile, Europe's dialogue continued. Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union almost tripled its trade with the Islamic Republic. But rather than invest its hard currency windfall in hospitals, schools, and civilian infrastructure, the Iranian leadership accelerated its military and nuclear programs. In March 2001, just a year after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright lifted tariffs on Iranian products as an olive branch to the regime, Iranian president Muhammad Khatami traveled to Moscow to arrange a $7 billion arms purchase. The Iranian arms binge continued, even as Khatami promoted his Dialogue of Civilizations and his U.N. ambassador charmed U.S. officials.
On September 24, 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran to be in noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's safeguards agreement. It may be fashionable to blame Bush and the War on Terror for all the Middle East's ills, but the Islamic Republic built up its nuclear program during the terms of former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Khatami (1997-2005), both of whom took advantage of Western naïveté and the willingness of European governments to subordinate long-term security to short-term commercial interests.
In a January 12, 2006, the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany, along with European Union high representative Javier Solana issued a statement tacitly acknowledging the failure of years of engagement and dialogue with their Iranian counterparts. Their proposal to break the impasse? Further incentives. Without demanding either a firm timeline for negotiations or reaching agreement upon measures to be taken in event of Iranian noncompliance, Condoleezza Rice signed on. She directed U.S. negotiators to agree to a European request for Washington to offer Iran several hundred million dollars in nuclear and aviation technology. Today, Tehran refuses to give a direct answer, and instead demands more. Her State Department can talk about new deadlines and red lines, but the Iranian government has every reason to believe Rice will offer further concessions.
In some quarters, concession is popular. The New York Times cheered both Warren Christopher's concessions to Pyongyang and Rice's outreach to Tehran. On October 19, 1994, the paper's editorial board opined, "Diplomacy with North Korea has scored a resounding triumph," while on June 3, 2006, it declared, "Smart diplomacy scored a rare victory inside the Bush administration this week." But as the tests show, the North Korea model is one of failure, not success. Condoleezza Rice should not believe her own press.
The White House should condemn Pyongyang's provocations. But it should also recognize the process by which the Stalinist state acquired such capabilities. That the Bush administration now seeks to replicate the same process with the Islamic Republic is little more than dereliction. The future of Iran's nuclear program lies in the North Korean crystal ball.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.