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John Bolton, President George Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations, reflected the so-called neo-conservatives in an article last week, asserting: “The Bush administration has effectively ended where North Korea policy is concerned, replaced for the next 18 months by a caretaker government of bureaucrats, technocrats and academics.”

Chinese leaders have long said they will keep North Korea afloat. David Frum, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in June that Beijing dreads a North Korean breakup. “Chinese leaders know that such a collapse,” he said, “would unify the peninsula under a democratic government based in Seoul and aligned with the U.S. and Japan — for them, a terrifying outcome.”

Nor will North Korea roll over easily. Rodong Shinmun, an official newspaper in Pyongyang, said last week that North Korea’s “mighty war deterrent for self-defense has become an invincible shield for curbing reckless war provocations of the bellicose forces at home and abroad.”

That doesn’t sound much like a nation ready for nuclear disarmament.

Richard Halloran is a free-lance writer and former New York Times correspondent based in Honolulu.