- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

A pre-emptive strike by the United States on North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities is on the back burner for now because repercussions could prove catastrophic, outside analysts and administration officials say.
An attack, while authorized by the White House's new national security strategy, could provoke North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, to attack South Korea, engulfing the region in war.
Mr. Kim, with his rule at stake in one of the world's last Stalinist states, might unleash his small nuclear arsenal on South Korea or Japan. He also possesses large arsenals of chemical and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles to deliver them.
The risks of striking now outweigh the rewards, analysts say.
"Bombing might provoke attacks against the South," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. "The administration understands this, that going to war or striking at those facilities is a non-starter. No one is arguing for that."
Regarding the one or two atomic warheads North Korea is believed to possess, Mr. Sokolski said: "There is reason to believe the weapons they are making are small enough for a missile."
President Bush yesterday said "all options are on the table" but suggested military conflict is not being considered.
"I do not believe this is a military showdown. It is a diplomatic showdown," Mr. Bush said in his first comments on North Korea in two weeks.
The dispute erupted in October, when North Korea admitted to the United States that it has, for years, violated the 1994 Agreed Framework by pursuing enriched uranium to build nuclear weapons.
The situation worsened last week, when Pyongyang announced it was restarting a reactor that already has produced enough plutonium to make as many as five warheads. It also kicked out the two remaining inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who monitored a reactor in Yongbyon that was supposed to be shuttered under the 1994 agreement.
For now, Mr. Bush is relying on diplomacy and threats of economic sanctions to convince Pyongyang to again close the reactor. The administration wants the IAEA to go before the U.N. Security Council in mid-January, when the United States will push for sanctions.
Besides the threat of a war that would wreak havoc on the Korean peninsula, U.S. officials and analysts provided other reasons why air strikes would be counterproductive.
If strikes provoke an attack by North Korea, the United States would need basing rights in Japan to move in the thousands of troops needed to blunt an invasion and conquer the North. Japan opposes strikes, so basing rights are far from assured.
Both of the United States' closest allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, favor talks with the North, not air strikes.
"You would not launch a pre-emptive strike without consulting with Japan, and Japan would say, 'Don't do it,'" Mr. Sokolski said.
Striking a complex with 8,000 spent fuel rods raises the possibility of deadly radioactive contamination.
"At the moment, we're not looking at an action like that," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told "Fox News" on Sunday. "I mean, it's now a functioning facility, so it would be a dirty hit. If one were to go after it, you'd contaminate an area."
Although the United States knows the locations of North Korea's plutonium-making facilities at Yongbyon, it does not have adequate intelligence on other laboratories and plants. In fact, details of North Korea's drive to build uranium-based weapons which ignited the current crisis remain sketchy.
"While everybody was keeping their eyes on the Agreed Framework and Yongbyon, the North Koreans were going after nuclear weapons through another means, and that is through developing an enriched-uranium capability at a site we haven't determined yet," Mr. Powell said.
The United States is amid a major buildup of forces in the Persian Gulf for a potential invasion of Iraq.
U.S. military analysts, and even officials inside the Pentagon, doubt there are sufficient American troops to defeat Iraq and North Korea simultaneously and swiftly. Such a capability is called for in a Pentagon planning document, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
The QDR states the 1.4 million active force, and additional reserves, are structured to "swiftly defeat aggression in overlapping major conflicts while preserving for the president the option to call for a decisive victory in one of these conflicts including the possibility of regime change or occupation."
Military sources say the administration realizes it does not have the ground forces and airlift required to defeat Iraq swiftly while quickly turning back an invasion by North Korea.
They say because of this, the administration will keep the military option on the back burner concerning North Korea, while pursuing war in the Middle East to keep Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons.
In response to reporters' questions on this matter last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said: "We're capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other. And let there be no doubt about it."
In September, the White House issued a new national security strategy that reserves the right for the United States to act pre-emptively, and unilaterally, to prevent a rogue nation such as North Korea from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction.
In a concept known as "proactive counter proliferation," the policy stated: "We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends."
"Diplomacy has consistently failed with North Korea," said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a military analyst. "It has never honored its agreements nor will it in the future. The U.S. must be prepared to pre-emptively strike the Yongbyon reactor."

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