- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

Nothing better demonstrates the continued utility of military power at the dawn of the 21st century than the saber rattling of North Korea. The Stalinist regime in Pyongyang is a failed state. Its economy has collapsed and millions of its people have died of starvation. Its failure is in stark contrast to the success of South Korea, which has been one of Asia's most prosperous "tigers." South Korea's per capita gross national income in 2001 was $9,400, about 20 times that of the North, and its population of 48 million is more than double North Korea's 22 million.
North Korea has only one asset: militarism. It has a million man army forward deployed with artillery and tactical missiles aimed at the South Korean capital of Seoul. It has test-fired ballistic missiles that could hit Japan and possibly the West Coast of the United States. And it is thought to have two or three nuclear weapons, as well as a chemical and biological arsenal.
The deference accorded to the eccentric despot Kim Jong-il because of his militarism has not been lost of other rogue regimes. On New Year's Day, an Iraqi newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein's son Uday called on the Arab world to follow North Korea's example and arm itself with nuclear weapons to deter the United States. "Through its courageous stance, North Korea demands that international law be applied to all in the same manner," said the paper. Or put another way, a country with weapons of mass destruction can be confident that international law will not be applied at all.
Two days later, President George W. Bush confirmed this interpretation when he drew a distinction between North Korea and Iraq at a ceremony for U.S. troops heading for the Persian Gulf, saying, "Different circumstances require differentstrategies, from the pressure of diplomacy to the prospect of force."
Democrats and other liberal critics at home have attacked this apparent inconsistency in Mr. Bush's foreign policy. Of course, from the left the answer is to adopt an appeasement policy toward Iraq as well as North Korea. In the liberal lexicon, containment and engagement are set against the doctrines of pre-emptive action and regime change that have been advanced by the Bush administration since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Containment and engagement require less effort as their function is to keep rogue regimes in power. Foreign aid, such as the fuel oil, food shipments and nuclear reactors promised to Pyongyang in 1994, are more satisfying to those of passive inclination than are military campaigns. Yet, so long as a bellicose regime is in power, the threat continues. And as long as confrontational tactics are rewarded by concessions and money, the demands become interminable and escalate over time.
South Korea reportedly wants the United States to guarantee North Korea's security and resume fuel shipments in exchange for new promises by North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. The deal would also provide North Korea with international aid and security guarantees from China and Russia. This goes beyond the 1994 agreement by providing not only material benefits but political support to one of the most heinous regimes on the planet.
It is argued that if U.S. allies in the region are willing to appease Pyongyang, Washington should defer to their judgment and ante up as well. But this is not the first time the United States has faced the problem of having decadent allies with left-wing governments. This happened often during the Cold War.
Newly elected South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun is the equivalent of West Germany's Chancellor Willy Brandt. Mr. Roh's pledge to continue Seoul"s "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North is similar to Brandt's pursuit of "Ostpolitik" during the Cold War. The leftist Brandt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 after signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union which recognized Moscow's hegemony over Eastern Europe.
Brandt was the darling of the international media and elite opinion, but his approach solved nothing. Indeed, it was during the decade after Brandt's heralded success that the U.S.S.R. embarked on its most dangerous nuclear arms programs and imperial wars. What was needed was the very different approach of President Ronald Reagan to finally bring down the Berlin Wall, collapse the Soviet regime and bring a new era of prosperity and security to Europe.
President Bush must look at the North Korean situation with the same kind of long-term perspective. There are dozens of states with the capacity to build nuclear weapons. If they conclude nuclear blackmail works, nuclear proliferation will become rampant.
The technology is out of the bag. Toothless conventions through the United Nations or the Wassenaar agreement are not going to stop transnational firms from selling whatever regimes want to buy. The only way to halt the spread of weapons is to send a clear message that they are the road to ruin; that any leader who decides to acquire weapons of mass destruction is donning a uniform with a big target painted on it.
Foreign governments must be dissuaded and deterred; and that can only be accomplished if there is a credible threat of destruction backing up American diplomacy. The United States must not show fear in the face of regimes that are markedly inferior in both moral standing and material strength.
Teddy Roosevelt said it even before Mr. Reagan, "We must not grow sentimental and commit some piece of idiotic folly as would be entailed if the free people that have free governments put themselves at a hopeless disadvantage compared with the military despotisms."

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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