For the past few months, government officials, journalists, and military strategists have been trying to analyze the threat that Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s nuclear weapons play to the world. Now a new threat has been presented to the media: the possibility that North Korea is selling nuclear weapons to terrorists.
Retired Army General Jack Keane, a Vietnam veteran who later served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Somalia, has publically voiced concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Now serving as a national security advisor for Fox News, the four-star general alerted the network to the potential new threat.
Ret. Gen. Keane said about the notoriously unstable dictator Kim Jong-un:
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“Listen, if he acquires these miniaturised nuclear weapons he’s going to sell them, would he sell them to a terrorist who gave him lot of money? Of course he would. So this proliferation is going to go on and his cousin, his kissing cousin is Iran, so it’s not just about their missiles pointed at the United States.”
The highly decorated general was not shy to praise the Trump administration, insisting that North Korea is a serious military threat that should not be ignored.
“This is a clear-eyed and reality-looking President Trump administration, they see the world as it truly is and you can see that in their national security strategy that they unfolded about a week or so ago,” he said. “They see this North Korea threat as being totally unacceptable.”
The Trump administration prominently features widely admired military figures like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and previously, Retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who served as national security advisor.
Sanctions or war?
Ret. Gen. Keane ensured Fox News that military options are on the table along with sanctions, saying: “These military options are back on the table, the economic effort led by the diplomatic effort is clearly the United States’ main effort. And we’re doing everything we possibly can with China and the other allies to get these guys to shut down.”
The latest UN sanctions against Pyongyang were passed just last week. They cut exports of refined oil products, like gasoline, to North Korea by 89%. The resolution also requires the nation-states party to the agreement to prevent oil smuggling to North Korea.
Despite China’s agreement to earlier sanctions this fall and the additional sanctions imposed last week, Chinese tankards have already been caught by U.S. satellites 30 times in the past three months transferring oil to North Korean ships. Sanctions declared in September prohibit ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean vessels in an effort to prevent smuggling.
For the North Korean people, the sanctions have hardly been a success, as they have caused economic damage to the already-depressed country. After the sanctions imposed in the fall, many fishermen lost their jobs, causing even more food insecurity and hunger in the starving communist nation.
On the other hand, reports surfaced last week that the Trump administration was contemplating an attack on North Korea, either to destroy nuclear launch sites or weapons stockpiles. Other reports and images led experts to speculate that the U.S. may be training for a boots-on-the-ground operation to capture North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Reports from defectors seem to confirm what international experts and NGOs have long suspected, which is that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is draining the nation of resources. Between the cost of the program, the imposed sanctions, and the cost of maintaining its 1 million-strong army, North Korea has been forced to further cut the rations which 70% of North Korean citizens rely on for sustenance. Selling nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations would provide much-needed funds, which could, in turn, further bolster Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Why it’s a threat
The balance of nuclear weapons among states is meant to ensure peace and prevent an all-out nuclear war, in keeping with the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which posits that the use of nuclear arms by two or more states would ensure the destruction of both parties. If North Korea is putting nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, it will greatly destabilize the global nuclear arena.
Ret. Gen. Keane did not specify which terrorists he was referring to, but nuclear-armed Islamic militants present a unique threat as opposed to secular nations. Unlike some other religions, Islam does not teach immediate entry into Paradise after death. Rather, Muslims believe that individuals, whether “good” or “bad,” must wait until Judgement Day at the end of times, to ascend into heaven or descend into hell.
However, Islam also teaches that martyrs are able to circumvent this delay and gain immediate entry into Paradise. Radical, fundamentalist terrorists often use this argument as justification for causing mass casualties, even to fellow Muslims. In comparison, the Soviet Union, technically an atheist state, did not present the same complications as far as religious philosophy and dogma. Although people were certainly willing to die for their communist ideals and Mother Russia, the state could hardly teach literal rebirth and redemption in the afterlife.
A more dangerous place
North Korea’s rapidly growing nuclear weapons program has been unsettling for the entire world. November saw Pyongyang’s most successful missile launch to date, with the regime claiming it now has the capability to reach the entire continental United States with missiles. North Korea’s nuclear armament has led many to worry about the onset of World War III, while others have voiced concerns that China is utilizing its communist ally to instigate a proxy war with the United States. China’s violation of the UN sanctions against North Korea has only stoked these fears.
An unstable dictator sitting atop a stockpile of nuclear weapons is already a great threat to the international community, but the risk of nuclear proliferation via North Korea adds even more instability. There’s no telling which groups the regime would be willing to sell its weapons to. Presumably, the list would include any group willing to pay up.
Ret. Gen. Keane highlighted this point, reminding viewers that there is more to consider than the immediate nuclear threat North Korea plays to the U.S. The U.S. must also consider Pyongyang’s role in potentially destabilizing the international community.
“It’s not just about their missiles pointed at the United States,” he said. “It’s that the world becomes a much more dangerous place.”