North Korea: The Situation on Day Two

It's got to suck to be Ban Ki-moon this morning. After a proud, forty-year diplomatic career largely spent managing the tense standoff between North and South Korea, your reputation swells to the point where you're about to be named the next U.N. secretary general. But on the very day your ascension is announced, North Korea goes and tests a nuke, not only stealing your thunder, invalidating much of your life's work, and giving you what promises to be a major headache for your term. Then again, you're still secretary general.

The second-day news on the North Korean nuke test looks, if anything, even more grim. Though some American seismologists believe the explosion was small enough that it should be termed only a "partial success," North Korea's still pretty far along on its way to developing viable nukes — and, as The New York Times' David E. Sanger concisely put it, "[North Korea] has never developed a weapons system it did not ultimately sell on the world market," having already passed missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

Though some had hoped that the crisis would bring the United States and China closer together, paving the way for future diplomatic cooperation, China is apparently balking this morning at including the threat of military action in any Security Council resolution. And military action is probably not plausible anyway, since no one knows exactly where the North Korean weapons are, American troops are committed elsewhere, and the South Koreans wouldn't stand for it.

One of the most worrying developments this morning was Iran's response: Tehran called the move "a reaction to American threats and humiliation." What we may be beginning to see now is the slow unfurling of one of the uglier legacies of the Bush administration's unilateralism. Rogue states from Iran to Venezuela to Cuba to North Korea, which share little but a desire for more power and a strategic anti-Americanism, have used their worries about American bullying to strengthen their diplomatic ties and strategic cooperation in order, even turning a meeting of 118 mostly developing countries last month into a protracted bashing-session against American imperialism.

Not all of this is within Bush's control; North Korea was selling missile technology to Pakistan during the Clinton administration, too. But his perceived international bullying has provided these rogue countries with the perfect, unifying enemy, just as the war in Iraq has commanded his attention and permitted the North Korean nuclear situation to get much, much worse.