The rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea pose some of the most dangerous threats to U.S. national security interests. Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is rapidly expanding its nuclear program and ballistic missile force. North Korea poses a multifaceted military threat to peace and stability in Asia, as well as a global proliferation risk. Regrettably, the Obama Administration has failed to formulate effective policies to address the challenges posed by the rising power of Iran and the unpredictable regime in North Korea.
Iran. Iran has been hostile to the United States since 1979, when a revolution brought to power a cadre of anti-Western Shia Islamist revolutionaries who dubbed the United States the “Great Satan.” Iran has tried to export its Islamist revolution violently to Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia by supporting Shia radical Islamists in each of these countries. Tehran helped to create the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and has supported a wide variety of terrorist and revolutionary groups throughout the Middle East. It became the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to advance its foreign policy goals and punish its enemies.
In recent years, Iran’s hostile regime has been one of the chief beneficiaries of the political turmoil that convulsed the Middle East during the “Arab Spring,” which distracted the United States and other countries from the ongoing standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The dramatic events diverted international attention from Tehran’s stubborn defiance of four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions on the nuclear issue. The political upheaval in the Arab world also has toppled a government in Egypt, and undermined governments in Jordan, Bahrain, and elsewhere, that firmly opposed Iran. Although Bashar al-Assad’s pro-Iranian regime in Syria also has been weakened, strong support from Iran appears for the moment to have tilted the balance of power in Syria’s civil war back in favor of Assad.
Iran’s nuclear weapons program, masked within its civilian nuclear power program, poses a major threat to the United States and its allies. Iran also has developed the Middle East’s largest ballistic missile force, which poses a growing threat to U.S. bases, U.S. allies, and numerous other countries in the region.
North Korea. North Korea poses a multifaceted military threat to peace and stability in Asia as well as a global proliferation risk. Pyongyang has developed enough fissile material for six to eight plutonium-based nuclear weapons and conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. Pyongyang has doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility, increasing not only the potential threats from an expanded nuclear weapons arsenal, but also the risk of nuclear proliferation. North Korea has assisted programs in both Iran and Syria.
Pyongyang claims it can already hit the continental United States with nuclear warheads. U.S. and South Korean technical assessments, including from recovered North Korean long-range missiles, indicate that Pyongyang has or could shortly attain that capability. Pyongyang has already deployed hundreds of missiles that can target South Korea, Japan, and U.S. bases on Okinawa and the U.S. territory of Guam.
Pyongyang’s unprovoked acts of war in 2010 against a South Korean naval ship and a civilian-inhabited island were chilling reminders that its conventional forces remain a direct military threat to a U.S. ally. North Korea will continue to conduct additional provocative acts in order to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has shown himself to be just as belligerent and dangerous as his predecessors. After Kim Jong-un assumed office in December 2011, North Korea repeatedly vowed that it would never abandon its nuclear arsenal, and tensions escalated to dangerous levels in early 2013. Pyongyang has threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” and conduct “merciless” nuclear attacks on the United States.
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