- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

Now that Iraq has been eliminated from the axis-of-evil list, the question arises of what to do about North Korea's nuclear-arming.
The North presents a complex challenge, not easily resolved by another liberation war. The post-Saddam world, however, is less safe for rogue states, and the North is reportedly "petrified" by America's rapid elimination of its former comrade-in-arms. Pyongyang indeed agreed to begin trilateral talks with the United States and China this week in Beijing, dropping its demand for exclusive bilateral discussions with Washington.
President Bush is now in a position to take a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook in dealing with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Since last fall's admission by the DPRK that it was cheating on arms-control agreements by secretly enriching uranium, the Kim Jong-il regime has escalated tensions. It withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, kicked out the U.N. inspectors, and discarded the Clinton-era Agreed Framework, which prohibited reprocessing spent fuel rods for weapons-grade plutonium at the now-restarted nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. Washington reacted by suspending fuel shipments stipulated by the 1994 agreement. In the interval, the second Gulf war has virtually frozen the standoff.
What are our present options? Pre-emptive airstrikes could level Yongbyon and other known nuclear facilities. But can we be sure we would get them all before a lethal counterstrike? All along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which divides the peninsula between the free and totalitarian Koreas, the DPRK has arrayed a formidable offensive capability. Its artillery and multiple-launch rocket fire could rain down thousands of rounds on Seoul's 11 million residents only 40 miles away from the North's guns.
A war against the North would also be opposed by South Korea. The newly installed government of Roh Moo Hyun, a former human-rights lawyer, has grown more sober in recent weeks about the DPRK's threat and the South's dependence on America's security umbrella. But Mr. Roh, beholden to his electorate, is still determined to pursue a policy of aid-laden engagement. These accommodation tactics resemble those employed by Western Europe toward the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Washington can surmount them again.
First, we must keep the military option on the table, for it deters the North from again invading the South as in 1950 and checks Pyongyang's blackmailing proclivities.
As two decades ago, armed might matters when confronting dictators. Next, non-military actions should be utilized.
Historical analogies are never completely adequate, but reviewing America's handling of the Soviet Union offers pointers here. The stresses that Ronald Reagan placed on the Soviet Union contributed to its collapse. He upped defense spending, challenged the Soviets around the globe, and embarked on antimissile defense. Similar policies, in miniaturized form, can push Mr. Kim's despotic rule toward a breakdown.
We should continue repositioning our forces southward away from the DMZ, removing them as human shields from a sudden conventional attack. Washington should also strengthen its land and sea bomber capacity in the region, deepen cooperation with Japan and South Korea on missile defense, and pursue means, such as radio broadcasts and refugee flight, to destabilize the regime. Conditions in the DPRK are ripe for this recipe.
Recently, the Korean Worker's Party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, editorialized for placing ever-greater priorities on the military. Intelligence reports also indicate a strengthening of the army despite a faltering economy. If the North wants an arms race, the United States should oblige. Acting with allies and shifting forces, Washington can up the ante until the DPRK buckles.
Nothing other than a regime change in Pyongyang will realistically bring peace to the peninsula. Sooner or later, Mr. Kim's bellicose brinkmanship will cross the line, inadvertently or intentionally, triggering a conflict that could unleash a nuclear nightmare.
A repetition of America's stunning Iraq war, however unlikely in North Korea, has also deepened Chinese and Russian concerns. They seem more willing to press the DPRK down a non-nuclear path.
Before an indeterminate collapse, the United States must prevent the sale of the North's fissile materials to other rogue states or terrorist networks. Patrolling the sea and air space can seal off direct transfers from by the DPRK. Prevailing on China and Russia to block contraband crossing their common borders with North Korea is in their self-interest. Should the separatist Uighurs in western China or Chechens on Russia's southern flank gain fissile materials, neither Beijing nor Moscow could rest easy with Muslim extremists in possession of the ultimate terror weapon.
None of these stringent measures precludes discussions with North Korea. Just as Reagan officials encouraged the Kremlin to overhaul the Soviet system while exerting pressure on it, the Bush administration can push far-reaching changes beyond demands for the DPRK's denuclearization.
Theodore Roosevelt's wise advice about carrying a big stick while talking softly is instructive for Washington's dealings with North Korea.

Thomas H. Henriksen, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is writing a book on U.S. foreign policy.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide