- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Just a few weeks ago Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in North Korea standing beside dictator Kim Jong-il, beaming with delight at a mass parade of his subservient subjects. President Clinton's foreign policy team was suggesting a major breakthrough in relations with the hermit kingdom that could lead to a visit by the president as early as mid-November. The details were to be worked out by experts meeting in Malaysia.

The United States wanted North Korea to end its development of long-range missiles and to restrict its exports of short- and medium-range missiles. The North wanted billions of dollars in cash, the U.S. to launch its satellites, and a personal visit by President Clinton. Now administration officials are saying North Korea is suggesting that for enough cash it would stop exporting ballistic missiles and cease developing longer-range missiles. This is blackmail, pure and simple. But the Clinton administration is considering it.

Meanwhile, the true facts about North Korea have appeared in South Korea's Defense White Paper 2000, which was released Dec. 4 by the Defense Ministry. Issuing the paper, South Korean Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae said, "There has been no change in the military threat from North Korea." Despite the South's efforts at reconciliation since the June summit meeting between the leaders of North and South, the North has kept most of its combat units poised near the front line. According to the White Paper, some 60 divisions and brigades, and more than 300 tactical fighters remain based within 60 miles of the Demilitarized Zone.

"Despite a steady decline in the economy," said the paper, "the North continues to build weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, including the development of Taepodong missiles and the deployment of artillery in front-line areas." This long-range artillery, some 10,000 guns, threatens the South Korean capital of Seoul, while North Korea's missiles put at risk U.S. bases in the Western Pacific and even the U.S. mainland. A recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate said a working third stage on the North's Taepodong-2 missile would enable it to reach just about anywhere in the United States.

The White Paper added that the North has deployed 500 short-range missiles that threaten South Korea and U.S. forces there, and recently placed multiple rocket launchers along the border. The paper notes that North Korea is continuing to improve its military, which remains one of the largest in the world with 1.17 million men under arms and more than 7 million more in the reserves.

Despite Pyongyang's recent contacts with South Korea and other countries in search of badly needed foreign aid, the White Paper says the North has made no cuts in its armed forces and continues to spend an estimated 30 percent of its budget on the military. U.S. intelligence sources, including a report prepared by the U.S. military command in South Korea, confirm the White Paper report that the North's opening to the outside world has not been matched by a reduction in military activity.

An interesting sidelight of the White Paper is its reference to the U.S. forces that would be sent to the peninsula if the North invades. The current level of 37,000 U.S. troops would grow to 690,000, supported by 160 warships and 1,600 aircraft, the paper says. Maj. Gen. Cha Young-koo, director of planning at the Defense Ministry, said these numbers are based on consultations between South Korean and U.S. officials.

Every effort should be made to prevent a war that would involve so many Americans, and the best prevention is a strong defense. The White Paper confirms the importance of keeping U.S. forces in the area and adding missile defenses at an early date. Both improved theater missile defenses for U.S. and allied forces and a U.S. national missile defense are needed to deter North Korea from spending its scarce resources on still more weapons, and from using them to blackmail and intimidate.

The White Paper presents just the most recent evidence that North Korea says one thing but does another. It would be unwise to believe the word of the dictatorship of the North that it would stop developing or exporting its missiles. Mr. Clinton should stay home his last month in office and take no action that might complicate the foreign policy of the next president.

The White Paper also shows that those who say a national missile defense is not needed because North Korea is becoming more moderate are advocating a risky course based on hope rather than reality. The threat remains, and it calls for the early deployment of defenses.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

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