Paula A. DeSutter
The Wall Street Journal
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/28/north.korea.alert/art.scope.afp.gi.jpg caption="South Korean soldiers use binoculars to look at North Korea on Wednesday in Paju, South Korea."]
North Korea has announced that it has tested another nuclear weapon. Detection of North Korea's October 2006 nuclear test has been touted as evidence that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is verifiable. CTBT advocates will undoubtedly make the same argument for this week's test and assert that CTBT is important and that the United States should ratify it. Here is why both arguments are wrong.
Verification has two purposes: detection and deterrence. If you can't detect, you can't deter. But even if you can detect, you may not be able to deter.
With regard to seismic detection, North Korea is a best-case scenario. It is small, its known test site is granite, and it is not a seismically active region. In 2006 we collected noble gases to confirm the explosion was nuclear. Moreover, North Korea announces its tests. Detection of announced tests cannot be sold as proof of verifiability.
As for deterrence, it's a simple concept: convince others that the cost of taking an action you wish to prevent is far greater than any benefits. At a minimum, violators should not benefit from their violation.
The Obama administration's special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has been touring the region warning of "dire consequences" if North Korea tests. Strong words, but likely empty of substance. Will we bomb their nuclear sites? Unlikely, even if we knew where most of them were. Trade restrictions? North Korea has nothing to sell to non-rogue states. Stop food aid? Americans don't want to punish the starving slave-citizens of North Korea for actions over which they have no influence. In fact, we've taught North Korea since the early 1990s that crime pays.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with