- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says we have the military capability to wage and "win" two nearly simultaneous wars with Iraq and North Korea.

Despite his critics on this matter, he is correct depending on his definition of victory.

However, Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican and incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rules out a military option to prevent North Korea from moving forward on developing nuclear weapons because Pyongyang's response to a U.S. attack would be a devastating reprisal against South Korea. He too is correct.

Maybe it does not make any difference who is correct. Given the growing tension between Washington and Pyongyang, we should recall that, historically, wars have started more often than not by accident or miscalculation at times of high tension. We may well be on a collision course with no one focused on the compass or helm.

It is important for the American public to understand that the stakes in a war with North Korea are far higher than a war with Iraq. Should the United States strike North Korea's nuclear facilities, Pyongyang would give the order to strike back immediately and the United States and our South Korean and Japanese allies would be at war.

How would another Korean war play out 50 years after the last one? The U.S.- Korean Combined Forces Command (CFC), supported by Japan, would obliterate North Korea's war-fighting capabilities, probably in two months or less of high-intensity conflict. Initially, we are talking about massive CFC air strikes with precision-delivered weapons; the size and structure of ground-force requirements are debatable.

The CFC has total information dominance over the battlefield via overhead and signals intelligence. Whether it is North Korean command-and-control centers or major military units, if it communicates or moves, we kill it; if it is deep underground, we find, kill or bury it with just the kinds of weapons systems used in the war in Afghanistan and some systems so new they have never been used in combat. The result would be a CFC victory, but a "Pyrrhic victory." Why?

In the first few hours of a short-warning war, North Korea would inflict almost unbelievable damage to our South Korean and Japanese allies and the Americans in both countries.

Why is this? North Korea has enormous numbers of long-range artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers, mostly protected in underground facilities, and armed with chemical and biological warheads, within striking distance of metropolitan Seoul, South Korea's densely populated capital.

According to congressional testimony by a former CFC commander, without moving, these weapons systems are capable of delivering up to 500,000 rounds per hour for several hours.

Worse yet, the North has several hundred Soviet-type, surface-to-surface missiles, many armed with chemical and biological warheads. And we should recall that the CIA has long estimated that North Korea has enough fissionable nuclear material to develop one or two nuclear weapons.

The North's "No-dong" missile tested in 1993 can reach all of South Korea and about one-third of Japan; their Taepo-dong missile tested in 1998 can reach all of Japan and perhaps Hawaii. We do not have an effective missile defense.

There are more than 80,000 American civilian and military personnel in South Korea and another 100,000 in various parts of Japan. Tens of thousands of our allies and Americans would become casualties in the first few days of war.

Pyongyang understands all of the above. With the blessing of the White House, I conducted four private diplomacy trips to North Korea during 1991-94, meeting with President Kim Il-sung for more than seven hours and other senior leaders for hundreds of hours. I personally briefed their military leaders on the lessons they should have learned from the first Gulf war and what would happen to them should they ever attack south.

They have since had time to digest lessons from U.S. military air campaigns in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Pyongyang has no incentive to launch a suicidal attack. But faced with a major military strike on its territory, the North Korean leadership will respond with everything it has against Americans and our allies who fall within range of their weapons.

All of the above suggests that we should use every noncoercive diplomatic arrow in our quiver as an alternative to military force.

What about the current Bush administration plans for "tailored containment" to engineer an international coalition to use economic sanctions to isolate, and, yes, strangle the North's leadership into submission to demands to end its nuclear weapons programs?

All specialists on North Korea I know agree that the No. 1 interest of the North's leadership is regime survival. U.S.-led economic sanctions, if effective, will lead first to further starvation in freezing conditions of innocent North Korean people. Over time, the privileged members of the Kim regime will feel the pressure and might miscalculate that a show of military force could cause Washington to back down. As President Kim Il-sung told me more than once, "Dr. Taylor, tell your friends in Washington that we never respond positively to outside pressure."

The Bush administration has had a tough international and domestic security agenda since September 11, 2001, and deserves the applause it gets from the American people. But the administration has fouled up our policy toward both Koreas from the start by rejecting out of hand the constructive engagement policies toward North Korea by both The Clinton administration and the Kim Dae-jung administration of South Korea, and adopting a hard line to coerce Pyongyang.

Now, we are at a time of increasingly high tension born out of North Korean duplicity and intensified by the Bush administration's public overreaction. Pyongyang has said repeatedly it wants negotiations with Washington and wants a nonaggression agreement. The administration refuses because that would "reward bad behavior" resulting in an impasse.

Where should we go from here? Extreme economic coercion or military strikes risking war should be "last ditch" options. In addition to multilateral approaches, agree to start formal negotiations with Pyongyang and contemplate a nonaggression agreement so long as the North Koreans are willing to meet major conditions on our security agenda, beginning with steps to end their nuclear weapons efforts to be nullified if they don't. The "World's Sole Superpower" yielding to blackmail? Give me a break; it's called diplomacy in pursuit of U.S. and international interests in peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Bill Taylor is a former director of national security studies at West Point, a distinguished alumnus of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

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