We in Bahrain can only stand by and watch the horrors unfolding in Syria – but now another revelation until last week it would have been hard to imagine the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un finding new ways to shock. It kills, imprisons, tortures and starves its own people. It murders plotters with anti-aircraft guns. Yet now evidence has emerged that Pyongyang is also an exporter of death, supplying components and know-how for chemical weapons used by Syria against children cowering in the bombed-out remnants of Damascus.
In 2002 George W Bush, as US president, coined the phrase the axis of evil to label three countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, as sponsors of terrorism that also sought the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The new evidence suggests the existence of a new and even nastier axis of evil.
United Nations investigators have concluded that for the past few years North Korea has assisted in the production and supply of nerve agents and missiles for the murderous regime of Bashar Al Assad. North Korean technicians have been working at Syrian facilities and at least 40 North Korean shipments of prohibited parts and materials have been delivered in the past five years. Two ships on their way to Syria were intercepted last year and found to be carrying acid-resistant tiles, commonly used in the construction of chemical weapons factories.
According to other sources this co-operation started before the Arab Spring of 2011 and may have been going on for more than 20 years. Nor does the commitment of the Syrian regime to destroy its chemical and biological weapons after the infamous sarin gas attack of 2013 seem to have slowed down co-operation between Pyongyang and Damascus.
That commitment was hailed at the time as a breakthrough by those who argued against armed Western intervention in Syria. It is now clear even to the most naive peacenik that the Assad government did not disarm, that Russia did not act as the guarantor of any disarmament as it had promised, and indeed that since then the Syrian regime has carried out numerous chemical weapon and nerve gas attacks. It should be noted that the silence of those who led the campaign nearly five years ago for the US not to enforce President
Obama’s “red lines” has been deafening.
Even Hitler resisted all calls to use battlefield chemical weapons in the Second World War. So how should the West respond to this brazen trade in death? Direct military action against North Korea is made almost impossible by the vulnerability of the population of South Korea. Instead Western governments must rely on sanctions, brinkmanship and China to exert a restraining influence. Yet this policy has not been a success. A hopeful soul might take comfort from the recent Winter Olympics thaw between the two Koreas, but the fact is
that this was a demonstration of weakness and not of strength.
It is possible to destroy parts of Syria’s military infrastructure, especially those used by its air force. The same installations and delivery systems, and sometimes the same personnel, who would be far too risky to hit in North Korea, can be struck in Syria. What has been missing up to now has been the resolve. Every day that passes makes that lack of resolve more costly and more dangerous.