History is replete with too many sad examples of nations aligned by evil ideas and bad intentions. Axes of evil threatened the planet in both world wars, and more recently the axis of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq has wrought terrible conflict in which the U.S. has been entangled, costing us precious American soldiers’ lives and draining the American defense budget.
As 2018 begins, a potentially more dangerous “axis of weasels” confronts the U.S., threatening both our country and world peace. I’m talking about the unstable nuclear states of Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. All of them are ruled by leaders who have one overarching aim: to stay in power at all costs.
Let’s begin with North Korea. Like it or not, it is now a nuclear power. The time to stop the regime there from developing nuclear weapons is long past. Previous American administrations — of both political parties — dawdled and dragged out endless negotiations with North Korea while it continued its nuclear march. And now it has the missiles to deliver its warheads almost anywhere on earth.
Today, U.S. military options involving North Korea are extremely limited. Defense experts generally agree that any “pre-emptive” strike could unleash a horrific war on the Korean peninsula, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet the U.S. is not without other ways of exerting pressure on Korea’s dictator, if we understand him for what he is and for what he wants, which is to stay in power over his pitiful, suffering country no matter what. Kim Jong-un is no hero hankering for martyrdom. He is a debauched little dictator addicted to high living and absolute power.
By tightening real sanctions on his regime, the world community still has a chance to keep him distracted enough from his military ambitions to maintain peace between the two Koreas. And the warnings from Defense Secretary James Mattis and our U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, that any war North Korea might start would end in its complete destruction should deter Kim’s most dangerous impulses. In the meantime, as we were going to press, North and South Korea were set to engage in some “Olympics diplomacy” that might also reduce the threat of war. Let’s hope so, because if a second Korean War comes, it would be devastating.
Iran is another danger hanging over the world that could become very ugly in the next few years. As with North Korea, the world waited too long to put any real pressure on the ayatollahs to curb their nuclear ambitions. And the deal that we finally made with Iran is so shot through with gaping holes that its leaders may only postpone their nuclear weapons development by a few years.
But Iran is more than just a nuclear danger. It is a major exporter of terror and war, stirring up conflicts that constantly threaten its neighbors. Yet it is now vulnerable, precisely because it has overplayed its violent hand. Demonstrations have sprung up across the country, with participants denouncing the their leaders for a faltering economy and costly foreign wars. It’s unlikely that the demonstrations will result in any meaningful change in the repressive regime, so look for Iran to continue to be a threat to peace for years to come unless the world community stands steadfast against its aggression.
Finally, another sometimes overlooked threat to nuclear stability and world peace is the tottering nation of Pakistan. This relatively new Islamic country was born out of the de-colonialization of the Indian subcontinent after World War II. Today it’s a nest of collaboration with terrorist organizations and causes. It harbored Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks, and its shaky government gives more than just tacit support to radical Islamic terrorist organizations as it tries to buy time for its own survival.
Worse yet, Pakistan is the mother of all unstable nuclear powers. It possesses more than 100 nuclear warheads and continues to develop more, largely unchallenged by the world community. If the sizable radical elements in Pakistan ever seized power, those weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, which would dwarf even the threats from Iran and North Korea. President Trump was right to call out Pakistan’s double dealing with terrorists, and if we take our eye off this threat we may find that it is the worst one of all.
Dealing with this axis of weasels, who only care about self-preservation, may be one of the greatest challenges this year and beyond.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.