- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Everyone is talking about North Korea. All those Korea "experts" from the Carter and Clinton years have reappeared, offering free advice.
Their main suggestions are to negotiate with the North and resume paying blackmail. After all, President Clinton paid blackmail for nearly eight years, keeping the tyrants quiet until he got out of town.
President Bush has done the right thing, standing up to the North's efforts to extract tribute forever. Despite signs of uncertainty, the president's instincts have been right. Care is needed, however, because the North has the military means to cause enormous damage to its neighbors and keeps making threats.
The North maintains a million-man army, chemical and biological weapons, missiles that can cover South Korea and Japan, a clandestine nuclear weapons program, and 10,000 thousand artillery pieces within range of Seoul. That military power threatens the destruction of Seoul and the death of thousands of South Koreans.
Seoul is not just the capital of South Korea it is a great modern metropolis of 10 million people. The North's ace is its ability to hold Seoul at risk of destruction. Nuclear weapons only aggravate that threat.
How did we get into this mess? It is the result of ending a conflict short of victory. In January 1951 the U.S.-led United Nations forces stopped the Chinese offensive in Korea and on March 14 recaptured the city of Seoul. Less than a month later, President Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his command, stopped the allied advance north and began truce talks. MacArthur said there was no substitute for victory. He was right. President Truman's substitute was a stalemate that persists to this day.
Truman receives well-deserved credit for stopping the 1950 invasion of South Korea, but a year later he also stopped the U.S. counteroffensive at Panmunjom, leaving the enemy less than 50 miles north of Seoul. It is that proximity to Seoul that today enables North Korea to hold the U.S. at bay.
The No. 1 problem presented by North Korea is its threat to destroy Seoul. Next is its missile threat to Japan, U.S. bases there, Alaska, and even the U.S. mainland. Other problems are the North's development of nuclear weapons and its sale of weapons of mass destruction to anyone who can pay for them.
How to deal with these threats? One choice is to follow the Clinton example and negotiate, which means pay them off. We have seen that does not work. Another is to give nothing while applying economic pressure. But that cannot succeed without the cooperation of China and Russia. Fifty years ago, China lost tens of thousands of soldiers fighting the U.S. to keep North Korea a communist buffer state. The rulers in Beijing are not yet ready to undermine that buffer state.
China supplies 80 percent of North Korea's fuel and 40 percent of its food imports. The evidence is that Beijing will continue sustaining the North as a buffer against South Korean democracy and as an irritant that distracts the U.S. from Beijing's designs on Taiwan. Russia, long a trading partner of North Korea, also is unlikely to support economic sanctions, especially since President Putin has made a major effort to do business with the North's ruler, Kim Jong-il.
That leaves a third choice. The U.S. could move into the background, press the international community to sanction the North's nuclear and missile programs, and defer to South Korea's efforts to improve relations with its difficult neighbor, while making it clear that any military action by the North will be met by a powerful U.S. response.
President Bush said we have no intention of invading North Korea. He later added that all options are on the table. That is a good position. It should be made crystal-clear that any aggression will be stopped, and if the North continues to develop nuclear weapons, those facilities will be at risk of attack. The military option is an important incentive for North Korea to comply. Also, the only realistic long-term solution is regime change, a goal that can be pursued after Iraq.
It is time to speak softly and show a big stick, while deferring at the moment to South Korea and the United Nations to deal with the North. But whatever the president decides, he should ship no more fuel to North Korea and stick to his promise to pay no more blackmail.
Remember the experience of Thomas Jefferson. When he took office in 1801, he found the government had paid $2 million, then a huge sum, as tribute to the Barbary Pirates, who were holding U.S. sailors for ransom and demanding another $250,000. Instead of paying blackmail, Jefferson sent the infant Navy and Marines with the slogan, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." It is not a bad model to follow.

James Hackett is a contributing writer for The Washington Times who is based in San Diego.

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