Accessibility links

Interview With Charles Peńa - 2002-10-23


VOA-TV’s David Borgida spoke with Charles Peńa, Senior Defense Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute, to evaluate the amount of threat North Korean poses to peace in eastern Asia and to the United States in comparison to Iraq’s situation. Mr. Peńa offers suggestions on how the United States should approach North Korea in efforts to not create an adversarial relationship, as with Iraq.

MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us live now to talk about North Korea and a bit about Iraq, Charles Peńa, a defense and security expert at Washington's Cato Institute. Thank you, Mr. Peńa, for joining us.

The North Korean situation, how serious, regionally, is this nuclear weapons program?

MR. PEŃA:
To begin with, it's not a real surprise that North Korea made this announcement. Most experts have thought since the early or mid-1990's that North Korea had at least the materials, if not the actual warheads -- maybe two warheads. And in terms of actual military capability, North Korea does not have any way to reach the United States, so it is not really a threat to the United States. Within the region, it might be a little bit worrisome.

But I think there is one positive fallout from this. And that is it appears that North Korea and South Korea are actually moving towards greater engagement rather than less, and without the U.S. acting as sort of big brother, trying to intervene and impose our will.

I think you might actually see more positive movement as a result of all of that.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk about all of that. What is your sense of confidence that those talks could bear fruit here?

MR. PEŃA:
I'm relatively confident, because I think countries like North Korea seek to acquire nuclear weapons capability not because they want to directly challenge or threaten the United States -- because, quite honestly, they can't, given our large nuclear arsenal -- but what they want to do is deter the United States from being able to engage in military intervention and to keep the United States from meddling in the internal affairs of their country and their region.

And, quite frankly, I think the U.S. would be a lot better off in terms of security by letting countries in these regions come to terms with their own tensions and disputes and resolve them on their own rather than the U.S. trying to impose some resolution from the outside.

MR. BORGIDA:
Now, do you subscribe to this notion that this is Pyongyang's effort to designate some kind of a bargaining chip for some future economic aid down the road?

MR. PEŃA:
It might be. I think it is more a reaction to how the U.S. is handling Iraq. They look across the world and see that the U.S. has taken a very hard-line stance and is proposing a possible military intervention in Iraq. I think the North Koreans saw that and said, the only way to stop the U.S. from taking a similar course of action with us, especially since North Korea was named as a member of the axis of evil, is to say that we have a nuclear weapon. Because that does give pause to us. It makes us think twice about being very proactive.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, let's talk a little bit about this Iraq-North Korea analogy. Some people might say, well, the United States is imposing this fairly tough policy on Iraq; why not North Korea?

MR. PEŃA:
Well, if you believe the rhetoric of the administration, if you ascribe to the criteria that they have given for why it is necessary possibly to take military action against Iraq, then actually their logic leads you to that we really should be focused on North Korea. After all, they actually say they have a weapon. We are concerned about Iraq because they might obtain a weapon at some point in the future. If North Korea already has one, and they have been named as a member of the axis of evil and are guilty of many of the same sins that Iraq is guilty of, the administration ought to change focus.

The fact that they are not changing focus I think demonstrates that there are some flaws and logical inconsistencies in their policy.

MR. BORGIDA:
I'm sure a Bush administration official might view that a little bit differently, and certainly they would have a ready defense for their policy on Iraq. As we leave you, any sense that the famine and the food problems in North Korea are driving some of these broader political policies that they have taken recently?

MR. PEŃA:
North Korea has some big problems and issues that they have to deal with. They know that they can't do it in isolation and that they have to engage the other countries in the region and the rest of the world. And so I think that what you are seeing is some movement in that direction, but they want to move there from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness.

MR. BORGIDA:
Charles Peńa, of Washington's Cato Institute, thanks so much for joining us today. We appreciate your time.

MR. PEŃA:
Thank you.

XS
SM
MD
LG