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Double Trouble: Iran and North Korea as Challenges to International Security

Double Trouble: Iran and North Korea as Challenges to International Security edited by Patrick M. Cronin. Praeger Security International, 2008, 255 pp.

The security situation regarding North Korea and Iran and their nuclear programs is subject to frequent change. In September 2009, Iran floated new proposals on inspections designed to relieve international pressure on them for their refusal to comply with requests to permit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to their nuclear facilities. Questions of sincerity, transparency, and a genuine willingness to work within the international community to minimize tensions are a central element of the discussions both in the press and in this book.

Double Trouble showcases contributors who discuss the similarities and differences between the situations in both North Korea and Iran and their respective nuclear programs and their possible responses from the international community. Patrick M. Cronin and other authors argue that either country having a viable nuclear weapons capability is destabilizing at best and potentially disastrous. They briefly discuss how these countries arrived where they are in their programs, their future possibilities, and what can be done to mitigate or reverse the trend of continuing proliferation in these countries.

The chapters on Iran focus on whether Iran’s gaining nuclear weapons capability is inevitable, on understanding Iran’s motivations in pursuing such a capability, and on how the current trend in relations between Iran and the West may make such a capability inevitable. In the first instance, the author does not see the capability as inevitable, although he acknowledges it will be difficult to forestall. He argues that engagement is the correct strategy in that it could encourage them to slow development and thus buy time for the Iranians to vote Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of power and install a more moderate government. Recent events show this hope to have been chimerical.

The second chapter was clearly the most useful of all. The author assumes a better understanding of Iran’s motivations will help Western leaders craft a more realistic and effective policy on this issue. Americans in particular frequently don’t seem to understand our adversaries are often as politically fractured as we sometimes are, and this fracture can be used to our advantage. Imagining every Iranian wants to annihilate Israel along with Ahmadinejad is as counterproductive to our efforts as many people’s belief during the Cold War in a monolithic communist threat that assumed all communists had the same goals and aspirations regardless of nationality. The author points out that the clerics who hold significant political power and the politicians disagree and that a variety of views can be found within the political spectrum. The end goal for the West therefore is to engage the moderates while not alienating the clerics and to reach some sort of rapprochement that preserves peace and stability.

The chapters on North Korea focus on the problems of verifying the status of the country’s nuclear weapons program and the uncertainty that brings. These chapters also highlight the difficulties of finding ways to engage the country’s notoriously fickle leadership. Worth noting is that the authors do not see North Korea as the loose cannon and irrational player as do many in the West. Much like Iran, the issue is to understand North Korean motivations from a North Korean point of view so we can respond appropriately. Too often, the United States in particular has entered into agreements and then become frustrated when North Korea fails to abide by the terms when their actions appear to us contrary to their own interests. Mirror imaging your enemies as yourself has always been a dangerous practice and is especially so with North Korea. The most important point made in this section besides understanding motivations is the emphasis on China’s role in ensuring any sustainable progress. The authors are under no illusions that China can strong-arm North Korea into following any specific course of action, but they believe China’s relationship and interests make them the most likely to be able to influence North Korean actions. China, of the nations involved in the six party talks on North Korea, is seen as having the most to lose politically if the situation remains unstable and therefore is seen as possessing the strongest motivation to see the situation resolved peacefully.

Overall this is a well organized and well written book. Some issues are to some degree inherent in this type of work. The chapters are somewhat redundant in describing elements of the two situations, and this redundancy becomes tedious after a while. In addition, the technical discussions of the uranium enrichment process that probably aren’t common knowledge to the layman have neither notes nor appendices to explain the process. The appendices are however detailed, and they include maps of known facilities and a chronology of both situations. This is quite useful in placing things in context as you read the various chapters. The appendices also list short biographical profiles of the Americans, Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and Korean writers. There was no obvious bias, and the recommendations were pragmatic and equally applicable regardless of one’s political views. The tremendously fluid situation with Iran’s nuclear program has already dated that part of the text. But the basic discussions are sound, and this work serves as a good primer for those seeking a better understanding of the situations in both countries.

Lt Col Golda T. Eldridge Jr., USAF

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"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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