UC Prof Suggests Solutions for North Korean Missile Threat and More

North Korea continues to threaten to step up its nuclear missile drive. And just this week it demanded that Japan be excluded from further talks on the matter. The best way for the United States to deal with this menace, says Dinshaw Mistry, director of UC’s Asian studies program and assistant professor of political science in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, is to try what has worked well in the past: diplomacy.

“If one stays the course and builds the right strategy and puts resources into it, diplomacy works,” says Mistry, author of a new book, Containing Missile Proliferation (University of Washington Press). Mistry is a former analyst at the Brookings Institute and pursued further research on his book during a fellowship at Harvard.

His new book examines the nuclear missile race and the effectiveness of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which was formed in 1987 to contain the missile threat. This multilateral agreement of more than 30 states works to restrict the transfer of missiles and related technologies around the globe. In its first decade, it helped keep several countries from advancing their missile plans, including Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. In fact, the MTCR’s 10th anniversary was marked with much satisfaction, Mistry notes.

Since then, however, weaknesses have become apparent as North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India and Israel tested medium-range missiles and several additional states retained missile arsenals and pursued missile plans.

In the case of North Korea, a turning point seemed to come when the diplomatic dialogue was halted, after a nuclear posture review and a U.S. national security strategy document mentioned North Korea as a possible target of preemptive strikes. North Korea was also mentioned as one of the countries in the “Axis of Evil” speech in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Up until that time, Mistry says, North Korea was willing to halt its nuclear arms race in exchange for long-term assurances that there was no threat to it from the United States or from the nations around it. That understanding came after extensive mid-level negotiations followed by high-level diplomatic exchanges. But the halting of talks and the Axis of Evil speech, in North Korea’s eyes, categorized North Korea as a possible target for a U.S. invasion or nuclear strike, says Mistry.

“The dialogue stopped and from that point on North Korea perceived that our relationship was changed. At the same time, they were opportunistic and saw that American forces were headed to Afghanistan and Iraq. North Korea saw that it would be a good time to go ahead with its own nuclear breakout. They feared that the United States would launch a preemptive strike against them after the war in Iraq, but with the Americans pre-occupied in Iraq, this was a good time to act without too much fear of a strike.”

Mistry suggests that returning to what the United States knows has worked in the past may be the best avenue to pursue at this point. He contends that a focused diplomatic effort is a good place to start, although he also warns that the problem “may already be past the point of no return.”

When it comes to nuclear missile containment around the world, Mistry recommends  long-term strengthening of international law and regional security structures, backed by economic and political resources. Up till now, preventing the spread of technology has been a primary tool used to keeping nuclear missiles from dispersing from country to country, group to group. But as time passes, Mistry warns, missile technology will indeed spread and will no longer be an effective safeguard. “It is wrong to assume that countries won’t have the technology available. Instead, international law and international political arrangements will have to become the main barriers to proliferation,” Mistry says.

Mistry’s book also reviews the current status of nuclear missile capabilities. Hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles can strike states in Europe and Asia, he notes. But the most threatening aspect to the United States – intercontinental ballistic systems (ICBMs) – is limited at least for now. Very few countries have ICBMs that can reach the United States, but that threat could grow in time. Five counties have ICBMs, among them the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China.

More than 25 countries in the Middle East, South Asia, Northeast Asia and Eastern Europe have short-range ballistic missile systems such as Scuds. Five regional powers – Israel, India, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan – have built and tested intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). Saudi Arabia and China can be counted among those nations that hold IRBMs –  Saudi Arabia purchased some from China, while China builds its own. The United States and Russia scrapped their IRBMs under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Nov. 19
UC Bookstore
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., with a presentation at noon on North Korea

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