Weighing the Impact of N. Korea's Nuclear Test If North Korea's nuclear ambitions are not reined in, will other nations press ahead with their own nuclear weapons programs? Graham Allison, former assistant secretary of defense under President Clinton, thinks they will.
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Weighing the Impact of N. Korea's Nuclear Test

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Weighing the Impact of N. Korea's Nuclear Test

Weighing the Impact of N. Korea's Nuclear Test

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

North Korea has been defiant this week after announcing a nuclear test and said that it would regard any economic sanctions as a declaration of war. The U.N. Security Council is once again considering how to respond to North Korea. They also have to worry about making a response that could impress, provoke or irritate Iran and other potential nuclear powers.

Graham Allison is a former assistant secretary of defense under President Clinton, now director of the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Allison, thanks for being with us.

Mr. GRAHAM ALLISON (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University): Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And you recently presented - I guess to the International Atomic Energy Agency - a kind of fantasy scenario that had North Korea exploding a device in January of 2007. So they're a little bit ahead of your scenario, but tell us how that played out.

Mr. ALLISON: Well, this was meant to be a provocation, essentially a dystopia, not the most likely, but not an impossible scenario in which I imagined North Korea conducting a nuclear weapons test in January of '07. Most people said that couldn't conceivably happen, but I was a little too late. But then it progressed to an Iranian nuclear test in 2008, to the sale of a weapon, or two weapons, actually, to terrorists, and then ultimately to a terrorist bomb exploding, one in New York City and one in Moscow, and then the deluge of - this was meant to just be, you know, how bad could it get?

SIMON: Yeah, well, you also had Taiwan and Japan deciding to develop nuclear devices out of fear of South Korea, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia out of fear of Iran.

Mr. ALLISON: Absolutely. The U.N. high-level panel in 2004 warned that on the current course we were going to see a cascade of proliferation. In the North Korean case there will be a knock-on effect in Japan and South Korea, and Taiwan is certainly looking. And in the Mideast, if Iran breaks through, you'll see Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. So those are not inevitable outcomes, but those are possible outcomes.

And I would say, despite the appropriate words from Japan and South Korea, and despite what should become now a major U.S. effort to reassure them about American credibility, Kim Jong Il's success in stiffing everybody is certainly causing people there today to look secretly at their Plan B for their own independent nuclear deterrent. And my bet would be, pessimistically, that more likely than not, not inevitably, but 51 percent or greater, a decade on we'll see both Japan and South Korea nuclear weapon states, if the North Korean situation stands.

SIMON: Mr. Allison, I apologize for having to ask you what amounts to the question of the 21st century with just 45 seconds left, but what can be done to stop it, and stop it now, before any country uses a device?

Mr. ALLISON: Well, the first thing is to notice that because of the failures of our policies to date, we have only bad options. So they go from bad to worse. And there's three or four things to be done, but the most crucial, and what Secretary Rice should take out to Asia next week if she goes, is a proposal that I've been pushing for a principle of nuclear accountability. And the principle of nuclear accountability would say to Kim Jong Il, if a bomb originates in North Korea, or the material from which the bomb is made originates in North Korea, and that bomb explodes in Los Angeles or Tokyo, even if bought by whomever, however, so Osama bin Laden or whatever, in any case, if that bomb explodes, we'll treat that precisely like an attack by North Korea upon Los Angeles.

SIMON: Thank you very much, Graham Allison, at Harvard.

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