North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation North Korea ups the nuclear ante, threatening a nuclear chain reaction in the region. We talk about the implications.
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North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation

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North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation

North Korea and Nuclear Proliferation

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JOE PALCA, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Joe Palca in Washington. Neal Conan is on assignment.

North Korea claims it tested a nuclear weapon early Monday morning, local time, in Korea. The U.S. Geological Survey says it detected a 4.2 magnitude tremor in that country. If it's true, then North Korea will expand the number of countries known to have nuclear weapons to eight along with the United States, Russia, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and China. Israel is believed to have the bomb but has not publicly declared it.

Whether real or not, the nations around the world have come out to condemn North Korea's claims. The question is what happens now? Who has the power and influence to deal with North Korea, and what are the options? And is North Korea just the start, could Iran be next, or even al-Qaida?

Later in the hour, the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page and the Amish community's ability to forgive and forget.

But first, North Korea and a post proliferation world. If you have questions about North Korea's nuclear ambitions and how seriously the world should take these claims, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is

And first, we turn to Mike Shuster. He's NPR's Diplomatic correspondent - correspondent, excuse me. And he joins us now from NPR West in Culver City, California.

Thanks for being on the show, Mike.

MIKE SHUSTER: Glad to be here, Joe.

PALCA: So what do we know about this blast that was detected? Or if it was a blast, then is there, you know, is there any other explanation for what this could be?

SHUSTER: Well, all the circumstantial evidential adds up to a nuclear test. The U.S. Geological Survey, last night, detected for the United States that there was some kind of seismic activity. And the Geological Survey gave the coordinates, and they happen to land precisely where it is believed there's a nuclear test site. That would be an extraordinary coincidence that there would be an earthquake, not a nuclear blast at the North Korean nuclear test site.

PALCA: Yeah.

SHUSTER: South Korea also perceives seismic activity there, and I believe that Japan did as well. Then the analysts started to try to figure out, well, if it was a nuclear test, what was the size of the bomb that was tested there? And this is where it gets interesting, Joe, I think, because the South Koreans have estimated that it's on the order of half a kiloton, which is a very, very small nuclear weapon. The French came up with a similar estimate. The Russians came up with a much larger estimate. And there are intelligence analysts who believe that the Russians are wrong.

So if it was a small blast in this nuclear test site, it raises the question of whether it was successful or not since. And some people think that it might have been what the nuclear weapons analysts call a fizzle or a dud.

PALCA: Huh. So it could have been a much larger bomb that didn't go off as expected?

SHUSTER: As I understand it, Joe, no nations that have initially tested a plutonium bomb - and it's believed that this was, had plutonium at its core - have ever tested anything that small as their first test. The first bomb that the United States used over Nagasaki was a plutonium bomb, and its yield was about 21 kilotons. And other nations have tested similar size plutonium bombs. It would be unusual for the North Koreans to test one so small.

PALCA: Right. And, of course, the North Koreans are claiming that this was a successful test, and that the world should be aware of their abilities. Does it really matter whether it's successful or not?

SHUSTER: I'm sure that it - I think that it does matter. It certainly will matter to the North Korean scientists and engineers. If it was a dud, it could prompt them to test again, to re-fashion their design, and to try to get it right so that there could be more tests that might come quickly. After the last nuclear tests on the globe were in 1998 - those of India and Pakistan - and they tested several at, more or less, the same time. So we can't assume that there won't be more.

But politically and diplomatically, this has really sent a tremor through all of Northeast Asia and around the world. And it's what nations may do in response that is very important. But still, understanding precisely what the North Koreans have done, and what they haven't done, will be key to the diplomacy as well.

PALCA: Right. So what has been the response and what comes next?

SHUSTER: Well, the United States called immediately for a Security Council meeting. And the Security Council has already met today, and has unanimously - the members of the council have unanimously condemned this. There is already talk about what they call a Chapter 7 Resolution, which has the power of force behind it, to come to force against North Korea. The details of this are not quite known.

But the United States is talking about economic sanctions; the possibility of intercepting cargo ships in and out of North Korea, under what the united - what the Bush administration calls the Proliferation Security Initiative. A lot of pressure on China to do something, because China has a significant border with North Korea, and is North Korea's provider of food and fuel. So a lot of diplomacy in literally the first few hours after this nuclear test.

PALCA: Okay. And what happens next? What's the U.N., for example, going to be doing with all this?

SHUSTER: Well, I think that very soon there'll be a formal effort to actually adopt a Chapter 7 Resolution. And the Chapter 7 Resolution will say this is mandatory, the North Koreans much must do it. There is the possibility of the use of force, to force them to do it if they don't. And then it will delineate what the - enumerate what the specifics will be. And it's very likely that they'll call for some kind of economic sanctions.

It'll be very important to see whether China puts its vote behind this. And if it does, then it'll be very important to see whether China actually implements what the resolution calls for.

PALCA: Right. Mike, you're going to stay with us, I hear.


PALCA: And that's great. So good, Mike. Mike Shuster will be with us for the hour, NPR's diplomatic correspondent, but I'd like to welcome now Kurt Campbell to the program. He's a senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and participated in talks with North Korea during the Clinton administration. He joins us from Washington, Virginia, where he's on vacation. Thanks for taking some time out to talk with us.

Mr. KURT CAMPBELL (Senior Vice President, Center for Strategic and International Studies): It's good to be with you, Joe.

PALCA: So, you've probably heard President Bush's statement this morning where he condemned North Korea's claims and called it an act of provocation. What do you see the U.S. options - how can the United States respond at this point?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well first of all, I think the way Mike Shuster laid it out was very wise and extremely accurate. I think what President Bush tried to do this morning is to wrap the United States into a larger indignation of the international community, joining with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and others in condemning what is obviously a very adventuresome act in terms of testing a nuclear weapon. But the reality is the United States alone right now does not have very many good options. You know, really profoundly, North Korea is the land of lousy options and already some of those have been taken off the table.

It's very clear, militarily, we are in no position to strike North Korea or to ramp up the pressure given our preoccupation in Iraq and elsewhere. And really, we can do some very limited economic sanctions against North Korea. Let's recall we have almost no economic interaction - commercial interaction - with North Korea currently and so there's not much that we can turn off. The key here is what China - and to a lesser extent, South Korea - does, and so I think the most important aspect of diplomacy is to try to keep cohesion among these countries that are condemning these acts. However, I think it's going to be very, very difficult to get China to go from basically expressing disappointment and outrage, to the next step, which is to cut off fuel or other food support for North Korea. And so in the end, I'm not sure there's much the United States can do beyond simply expressing profound disappointment.

PALCA: But what does this mean for China's security? I mean, I don't suppose that China's particularly worried that the North Korea - would see North Korea as an antagonist, but if they're condemning this, what's their concern about North Korea?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Don't count that out. Despite the fact that you hear occasionally people talking about China and North Korea as allies, anyone who follows northeast Asia recognizes that behind the scene it's an extraordinarily tense relationship. You know, you'd have to say this is a failure for the United States, and I don't think there's very much question about that. But however, it's a profound failure for China, and it's a failure on several different levels. One, a small country - uppity country - on its border has chosen not to listen to what it's offered in terms of suggestions about how not to proceed, and so North Korea has very clearly basically listened to China and gone completely in the opposite direction.

It's also the case, that the six-party talks that have been convened over these last several years, you know, initially the Unites States was the key player in the driver's seat, but really no longer. China is the key diplomatic actor. We're playing a secondary role. The problem is when you're a great power and you want to be a great power, it's great to be able to, you know, sort of take the victory laps, but you've also got to take the blame when things do not go well, and that's exactly what's happened.

And then, two other things. One of the most important ingredients in China's strategy, currently, is to keep the United States preoccupied in the Middle East and these horrible slog-it-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while China is securing a very strengthened position in Asia, and so this brings the United States roaring back, perhaps only for a short period of time, but to this mess in northeast Asia. And then finally, the biggest worry that China has is that this will cause Japan and South Korea to reconsider their strategic and defense ambitions in light of what is clearly a deeply destabilizing act. So across the board, this is a huge failure for China.

PALCA: We only have a few minutes - or few seconds - before the break but Russia, do they have a dog in this hunt? A fight, I guess, of course they do, but is it a key one?

Mr. CAMPBELL: It's a very small dog. It's like one of those little dogs that people carry around in the bag. I think, basically, Russia's primary goal right now, diplomatically, is to try to make as much trouble quietly for the United States as possible. So I wouldn't at all doubt that at some point over the next several weeks that you'll see Russia playing a role that is uniquely unhelpful.

PALCA: Okay. We do have to take a short break. Right now, we're talking about North Korea's claim that it tested a nuclear bomb. We'll talk more with Mike Shuster and Kurt Campbell when we come back, and we'll be taking your calls: 800-989-TALK or send e-mail, I'm Joe Palca and it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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PALCA: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Joe Palca in Washington. The announcement out of North Korea that they had tested a nuclear weapon met with almost immediate condemnation from around the world. We're talking about what the claim means for U.S. policy in the region and for the future of nonproliferation. We're talking still with NPR's diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster and also Kurt Campbell, who is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia under the Clinton administration. And we're taking your calls, of course: 800-989-TALK, or you can send an e-mail,

And let's take a call now and go to Hugh in Oakland, California. Hugh, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

HUGH (Caller): Yes, thank you. I have a two-fold question. Firstly, since the Bush administration stopped talking to North Korea, does it really expect - it has essentially no relationship with North Korea - does it expect any further action through the U.N. really to make any difference?

PALCA: Why don't we stop and address that one first? Kurt Campbell.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, again, I don't think the United States has much pull in this one. I think the North Korean leadership has already decided that President Bush - and two, you know, basically a larger extent, the United States itself - is hostile to North Korea and is not serious about diplomacy. I think that's probably an accurate assessment. And so I think it's going to be difficulty to restart any diplomacy and it's going to be difficult for North Korea to fundamentally take what the United States says seriously.

It's also the case that probably North Korea looks at the example that Mike gave earlier, of Pakistan and India, and they may believe that it will be possible to basically move ahead as a nuclear state as if nothing has happened. I think that's unlikely. I think in fact, if anything, other countries are going to be much more wary and unhappy about North Korea at the same time that they're also probably disappointed at the level of diplomatic effort on the part of the United States.

PALCA: And Mike Shuster, do you see anything that the Bush administration has done or could be doing that might be helping the situation here?

SHUSTER: Actually, right now it's hard to see that, Joe. I agree with Kurt that it doesn't seem likely that the North Koreans are going to be willing to come back to the negotiating table, but other participants in the six-party talks are calling for the North Koreans to come back to negotiations.

But it seems that the North Koreans have been on again, off again - running hot and cold about these talks over the last few years. But with the test of the missiles that occurred in July - the North Korean missiles - and now this nuclear test, it seems - sending a strong signal that they're no longer interested in talking to the United States and they may have simply given up on the Bush administration. So it seems to me, very much a difficult spot for the United States as a result of this.

PALCA: Okay. Now Hugh, we come back to you for part two.

HUGH: Regarding China, China seems to have a more complicated role to play in this situation. The current Bush administration - the current administration always says - Oh, China's doing things, China's doing things - and well, maybe they are, maybe they aren't - but it doesn't look like they are. And if they continue to not make a difference, will the U.S. be able to push China to be more aggressive in forcing the Chinese to actually make some policy changes towards North Korea, because if they aren't, nothing's going to make a difference.

PALCA: Kurt Campbell?

Mr. CAMPBELL: Well, let's just keep in mind here that China is a powerful state in Asia, and there's no America telling China what to do any longer. We can encourage them, we can explain to them what we think their interests are, but fundamentally, China makes their own calculations. China faces - has faced two very difficult choices on North Korea. One is that it could see North Korea become a nuclear state. Or it could turn up the pressure, perhaps to the point that it would have major instability on its borders, i.e. topple the very dangerous regime in Pyongyang, with all the complications associated with that: the U.S. role, South Korea, Japan. And I think between those two choices - obviously they'd love a choice C: none of the above - but if they had to face - take one of those two options - I think they've made that choice. It's Option A.

But the problem is, is that it doesn't end there, and now there's going to be recalculations in all the regional power centers in northeast Asia. And I think in the end, China will rue the day that they did not press North Korea harder. And I think there is at least a chance in the coming weeks that China will put more pressure on North Korea, but if you were asking me to bet today, I'd say that it's unlikely.

PALCA: Okay. Hugh, thanks very much for that. Mike, did you want to add something?

SHUSTER: Well, I just would like to add that I've talked to some analysts in the last week - since North Korea's threat to test a nuclear weapon, which came last Tuesday - and there are some out there who watch this very closely - have been watching this for years - who have not thought that China would be willing to put serious economic pressure on North Korea - In effect, close the border for a while - who have come around to believe that they will.

Now, that just shows, I think, a wider universe of analysts and what they're thinking about what might take place. But at least there's some out there who think that - at least initially, as Kurt said - China might be willing to act but no so far as to strangle the government in Pyongyang and bring about a collapse and chaos in North Korea.

PALCA: Okay, let's take another call now and go to Brad in Palo Alto, California. Brad, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

BRAD (Caller): Good morning. I'm calling on a cell phone so the signal may cut out.

PALCA: Okay.

BRAD: North Korea clearly wants to be perceived as a nuclear nation, but given the small yield of the test, is it possible that it put together a conventional weapon in order to try to fool people into thinking that they have developed a nuclear weapon?

PALCA: Mike Shuster, do you have any insight on that?

SHUSTER: I'm not sure I have any insight, Joe. I know others have suggested this since the test took place. It's possible, but 500 tons of dynamite is a fairly large amount of conventional explosives. There are other explanations, possible explanations, for why the yield might have been so low. I don't think that the United States or U.S. analysts know the geology of the test site. And depending upon how the shaft was dug, where it was dug, and what the rock formations around it are that could have muffled a bigger test. Or, as I said earlier, some analysts believe that it simply might have been a dud, that it was carried off poorly by North Korean scientists and engineers.

PALCA: Brad, thanks very much for that call. The news about North Korea's test, of course, raises the question of that famous Tom Lehrer song, Who's Next? I guess, which is - maybe it would be Iran or possibly a non-state entity like al-Qaida. Stephen Peter Rosen is professor of national security and military affairs and director of the John M. Owen Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. He wrote an article titled After Proliferation: What to do if More States Go Nuclear. It appears in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine. He joins us now from member station WBUR in Massachusetts. Thank you for joining us today.

Mr. STEPHEN PETER ROSEN (John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University): Thank you, Joe, for asking me.

PALCA: So, what does nuclear proliferation mean today?

Mr. ROSEN: Well, if you listen to what Kurt Campbell has been saying, and with which I largely agree, there are no good options that the United States has with regards to North Korea. It is unlikely that China will bring to bear sufficient pressure as to reverse the North Korean development of nuclear weapons. So countries around the world, and particularly in the region, are going to deal with the fact that North Korea is now an open nuclear power.

The country that we will be watching most closely is Japan. Japan reacted very sharply to the earlier ballistic missile tests launched by North Korea. Japan has been very unhappy about the development of Chinese power in the region. And Japan is the country which is most likely to be looking to defend itself and take care of itself if the United States is demonstrated to be incapable of dealing effectively with a North Korean nuclear threat.

The Japanese today are not the Japanese that we are familiar with from the 1970s and 1980s. They are increasingly more willing to talking about taking care of themselves militarily, they are nationalistic, they are tired - from their point of view - of being pushed around by the Chinese.

I think one of the things that we may be learning to live with over the next five to ten years, is a northeast Asia - which includes, not only a nuclear North Korea, but a nuclear Japan. This would be shocking. This is something for which we're not prepared to think about very much, because it's something that we've ruled out.

But if you look at the logic of their position and their situation, it may not be rogue states or in actors like al-Qaida that go nuclear, it maybe countries like Japan - who in their own legitimate self-defense - think they must take care of themselves by acquiring their own nuclear weapons.

The fact that we can't right now rule out the fact that the test was a non-nuclear explosion, that it might have been 500 tons of TNT, also points out the fact that the United States has allowed it's inability to monitor and track nuclear tests so that we are not really sure what's going on, we have to rely on reports from other countries. This is something that we should take into consideration for the next possible nuclear proliferators, which might be Iran.

Do we have the intelligence capabilities that allow us, accurately to determine whether or not countries are doing what they say they are doing - testing nuclear weapons - or bluffing us for a variety of reasons?

PALCA: No, no in your article you talk about people who look to the future with pessimism and - versus those who look with optimism. Is there any scenario that says this isn't such a terrible thing?

There have been people who have written, that if states acquire nuclear weapons, they will not use them against the United States because they could be sure that the United States would retaliate against them, and therefore a stable nuclear balance between North Korea and the United States might emerge. A stable nuclear balance between Iran and the United States might emerge. And I agree, what will be different, or what could be different in the future is that you could have multi polar nuclear interactions, both in northeast Asia and possibly in the Middle East. That's something we're totally unfamiliar with. We're used to dealing with a bi-polar U.S. - soviet nuclear deterrent relationship which was stable over a number of decades.

What happens when there are multiple nuclear powers interacting with each other in the Far East - China, Korea, Japan, Russia, the United States? Or, in the Middle East there would be Israel, Iran. The Saudi Arabian government would not be very happy to see Iran, a Shiite state, as being the only Muslim nuclear state in its region.

These are countries which live close by each other, will have nuclear weapons and we could have multi polar arms races? These multi polar arms races in competitions might not be directly threatening to the United States - at least not right away - but they will fundamentally change the character of the politics within the regions. They'll be much less stable because they are multi polar, there'll be ambiguities because these states will have nuclear weapons delivery systems that look very much like they're non-nuclear weapons delivery systems.

In the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, we could count up the number of nuclear weapons systems that we had - because they were special, they were different, they looked different from the non nuclear weapon systems and the same on the soviet side.

In this new era, we may be looking at states like North Korea - which have non nuclear ballistic missiles, and nuclear ballistic missiles - and we wont be able to count up which are which. They won't look different from the outside. It's going to be a more opaque world, a more unstable world, and one that we're not used to thinking about.

PALCA: We're talking about the explosion of some sort that went off in North Korea Monday morning in North Korea time. We're talking with Kurt Campbell, he's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia under the Clinton administration. You just heard from Stephen Peter Rosen who's is the Professor of National Security and Military Affairs, and the Director of the John W. Olin Institute for strategic studies at Harvard University. And also with us, is Mike Shuster, NPR's Diplomatic Correspondent.

We're taking your calls at 1-800-989-8255 you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's take another call now from Chuck in San Francisco, Chuck welcome to the program.

CHUCK (Caller): Thank you very much. I guess I'm kind of pessimistic, short term, but I'd like to be a lot more optimistic, long term. And I'd say that the boundary between those two - between short and long term is around 2008.

And I'm wondering if what we really need to do to reduce the threat posed by North Korea in the long term end, from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is to change the nature of our foreign policy and stop saber rattling and threatening countries we don't like, and refusing to negotiate with countries we don't like, and engaging in destabilizing military adventures - for example, in Iraq - and start making a major effort to stop undermining the non-proliferation treaty by doing things like dealing with India and transferring technology outside of that regime, and developing nuclear weapons programs ourselves.

PALCA: Okay.

CHUCK: And start getting a system in place where you can have a strong inspection program, which seems to be the most promising long term. That seems to really require that you have a kind of broad agreement among nations like the NPT.

PALCA: Okay Chuck, thanks for the call. Stephen Rosen, is it too late to achieve the goals that Chuck is describing with foreign policy, or is this juggernaut rolling along?

Mr. ROSEN: Well I don't think it's American actions which have driven nuclear proliferation, largely. South Africa acquired nuclear weapons, not because it was worried about the United States, but because he was worried about our possible race war between the apartheid regime and black African nations.

Israel certainly didn't acquire nuclear weapons because it was afraid of the United States, nor did India, nor did Pakistan. Countries by in large acquire nuclear weapons because of local problems and local threats, that is why I put so much emphasis before on Japan. Japan will be responding to North Korea in one way or another.

So changing America's foreign policy, maybe a good thing or maybe a bad thing. But in fact, when you look at the historical record, nations have acquired nuclear weapons because of local threats. Even the Shaw of Iran - an ally of the United States - had a nuclear weapons program, because, as he used to say, he lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. And those neighborhoods are going to remain dangerous, regardless of American foreign policy, for better or for worse.

PALCA: Okay let me hear - I'd like to hear Kurt Campbell's response to that question.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Yes, I like generally what Steve said and I certainly agree with all of what he said in the first part of his answer. I would say there are two elements that sort of address some of the questions that the caller had. And I would say that one of the problems that I have with North Korea, is I don't think we gave it the college try, diplomatically. I think there are a host of reasons for that. I mean I think there is a deep fear by really engaging North Korea, that you were somehow blessing a deeply reprehensible regime. And I accept that I understand that, but I do think that that's what actually diplomacy is often for.

And I would have actually - I believe that even if we'd engaged, there'd be a fairly substantial chance that we would have a failed diplomacy. But even if we fail in diplomacy, in trying to sort of woo North Korea out in terms of it's nuclear capability, at least we would have a better shot with our allies to get them with us as we sort of consider more draconian steps.

Now privately everyone in northeast Asia appreciates that the United States has been hopelessly unable to come up with a position in terms of what are diplomatic or strategic approach should be towards North Korea. It doesn't help us now, but it does make people sort of uncertain about our level of engagement.

The second thing, and this gets to Steve's point that I do worry very much about, calculations about nuclear weapons and the like are based on a whole host of sometimes esoteric matters. And the real question now about countries that he referred to who have the capability - maybe who've had it for twenty or thirty years - who are...

PALCA: Eric Campbell, I'm sorry I'm going to have to cut you off because we have to go to a break, but will let you come back and finish that thought.


PALCA: We're talking about the nuclear test that Korea apparently did this morning. And later will be talking about why the Amish forgive and forget. I'm Joe Palca, it's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

PALCA: Uh, I'm sorry, this is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Joe Palca in Washington. Here are some of the headlines and other stories we're following today here at NPR News.

A California grower has recalled its green leaf lettuce because of possible E. coli contamination. Lettuce packaged under the Foxy brand name have been pulled mainly from Western States because water used for irrigation, may have been contaminated. There are no reports of illnesses associated with the lettuce.

And the Columbia University Professor, Edmund Phelps, is the winner of this years Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. Phelps work in the 1960s helped to explain better the relationship between inflation and unemployment and had a profound impact on decisions made by corporate and government leaders.

You can hear details on those stories and much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, mid term elections are weeks away and nothing less than control of congress is at stake. Join Neal Conan and NPR political Junkie Ken Rudin for a special broadcast from Columbus, Ohio. November 2006 and What's at Stake, that's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

In a few minutes, the TALK OF THE NATION opinion page. But first we're wrapping up our discussion on North Korea's claim of a nuclear weapons test. Our guest our Mike Shuster, NPR's Diplomatic Correspondent. Also Kurt Campbell, he worked at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration and now Heads the International Security Program at CSIS, and Stephen Rosen a Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

And Kurt Campbell if you could remember the thought that you were trying to finish you're welcome to go ahead and finish it now.

Mr. CAMPBELL: Sure. The only point that I was going to make is that a lot of these countries that might reconsider their nuclear options have very important security ties with the United States. And it is the nuclear umbrella, the commitment of the United States to their security that has in many cases been a deterrent for them reconsidering their options.

The worry I have and I think many of us have, is that over a substantial period of time, when the United States is clearly preoccupied in Iraq, that that causes people to reconsider their options. But more worrisome, if things go badly in Iraq and then there are questions again about American credibility, then you can see exactly the kind of process that I think Steve Rosen accurately described. And I think the most likely places that it will occur is in northeast Asia and in and around Iran. So I'd say, probably the next couple of years, are about as difficult a period of American diplomacy as I've seen in the last several decades.

PALCA: Okay, I think we have time for one more call in this segment. And let's go to Joseph in Binghamton, New York. Joseph, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JOSEPH (Caller): Hello?

PALCA: Hello.

JOSEPH: How you doing?

PALCA: Good.

JOSEPH: My question is for Kurt and Stephen both. And what it is - I was in the Marine Corps for five years and I spent time over in Afghanistan. And my question is if the nuclear capability gets put into the hands of al-Qaida and Iran and so on and gets into that location over there in the Middle East, what is the possibilities of it being like a nuclear war breaking out over there? Because you don't really need to send it any distance to take care of 30,000 troops, you know? And that's pretty much my question.

PALCA: Okay. Joseph, thanks very much for that question. Why don't we start with Stephen Rosen.

Mr. ROSEN: Look, the issue or problem of a nuclear weapon in the hands of al-Qaida or in the Middle East is a very real one. A nuclear weapon in a merchant ship off the coast of Israel, if detonated, would kill millions of people. It might be very unclear who had done it. The establishment of a stable deterrent relationship depends on being able to identify who's launched an attack so you can threaten them beforehand.

So making sure that nuclear weapons do not, or nuclear weapons technology, does not get out of North Korea into the hands of other countries is very important. That's why the Bush administration has been emphasizing the Proliferation Security Initiative to make sure that nothing gets out of North Korea into other people's hands.

But as I said, we're dealing with a new kind of problem where deterrence, which was based on identifiable, stable powers which had something to lose from being hit back, may not be the countries that we have to worry about as much as people who are attacking anonymously.

Just with regard to Kurt's comments on Japan, I agree very much. American guarantees and effective action may be very important. People may want to ask themselves the following question: What would you rather see the Japanese do in reaction to the North Korean nuclear tests - get nuclear weapons of their own or build very robust anti-missile defenses, which are not nuclear but which could deal with the possibility of the North Koreans launching a ballistic missile against Japan.

I think most people would say rather than have Japan get nuclear weapons, we might be happier to see them with a very serious anti-missile defense, which is something which they are discussing with the United States.

PALCA: All right. I think we're just about out of time for this segment, but I'd like to turn to my colleague, Mike Shuster, who's been listening to that. He's NPR's diplomatic correspondent, and probably - I'd like to ask him if he has any final questions or thoughts for Kurt Campbell or Stephen Rosen.

SHUSTER: I don't know, Joe. I don't know how much time we have.

PALCA: We have about two minutes, I think, so that's the timing.

SHUSTER: I guess, simply put, is this - is the world - the discussion seems to have essentially concluded that not much is going to take place, so the question is: Is the world going to, in effect, accept North Korea as a nuclear power now?

PALCA: Okay, we have, again, about a minute and a half for the answer, so why don't I ask Stephen Rosen first to respond.

Mr. ROSEN: Well, I think so. And I mean, that was why I wrote this article After Proliferation. I wrote it back in the spring, and just by accident it came out now. I think we are witnessing the culmination of a number of trends, both political and technological, which makes nuclear proliferation a fact - and not easily reversed. And I think the result of that will be further proliferation.

I think the intellectual and political task that faces us now is to think about a very new kind of world, different kinds of problems, and not to think that because we had a stable nuclear relationship with the Soviet Union in the past, which we did, that we can expect those kinds of relationships automatically to emerge in the future.

PALCA: Okay, Kurt Campbell, you get the last word on this.

Mr. CAMPBELL: We're not going to accept it, but we're going to have to live with it, and so that's the fundamental reality. We will not acknowledge that North Korea fundamentally is a nuclear state. We'll continue to say that this is unacceptable. But as is often said in Hollywood and elsewhere, it is what it is.

China, over time, South Korea might suddenly re-engage with North Korea. I think basically it depends on what part of the world you're living in, and I think in northeast Asia, at least those two states will find it in their interest to have modest re-engagement. But Japan and the United States I think will largely stay away.

PALCA: Okay, we have to end it there. Gentlemen, thank you all very much. Kurt Campbell is former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He joined us from Washington, Virginia. Stephen Rosen is a professor of national security and military affairs and director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. His article After Proliferation: What to Do If More States Go Nuclear, appears in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. He joined us from member station WBUR in Boston. And finally, special thanks to Mike Shuster, who probably had more questions to ask than I gave him time to ask, but he helped very much in getting this segment off to a rousing start. So Mike, thanks very much to you. And we'll be back in a sec.

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