North Korea Won't Fall for the Libya Disarmament Trap
When the time came for Washington and London to destroy Qaddafi’s program, the Bush administration was able to accomplish the task in less than six months. Part of this was due to the diligence and ingenuity of the American team on the ground, but another reason for such quick success was because the Libyans hardly began the process of bomb development. Robert Einhorn, a nonproliferation specialist and former State Department official in the Obama administration, summed it up this way: “Libya hardly had a nuclear weapons program. It had crates with centrifuge parts it didn’t know what to do with. U.S. transport planes could land and carry the entire ‘program’ away.”
Muammar el-Qaddafi was a beginner in the nuclear game. He was a bumbling amateur who wasn’t privy to the talent and resources required for an indigenous nuclear weapons research-and-development industry. North Korea is not only way, way ahead of where Tripoli ever was—they are already a nuclear-armed state, even if the United States and the international community fail to officially recognize it as such. Pyongyang has a deterrent that Qaddafi tried for thirty years to purchase, the major difference being that the “treasured sword” of nuclear Damocles was always valued by the Kim regime as exponentially more important to its preservation than making nice with the West.
If John Bolton is looking for a workable framework for the upcoming nuclear talks with Pyongyang, then the Libya model isn’t it. Qaddafi may have felt squeezed after decades of sanctions and grew scared about becoming the next Saddam Hussein, but Kim Jong-un has no intention of becoming the next Qaddafi—a man who was dragged out of a storm drain like a stray dog, mercilessly assaulted and executed. The sooner Bolton and the rest of the Trump administration get that reality into their heas, the more prepared they will be when the North Koreans slow-roll the nuclear negotiations or refuse to part with their operational nuclear deterrent.
Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategic consulting firm, and a freelance researcher. He has also written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal and The Diplomat.