- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

North Korea is marching steadily toward becoming a nuclear weapons state to deter U.S. aggression — or so it claims. The Bush administration’s North Korea approach ignores its own declared policy of constructively engaging North Korea in dialogue and seems more likely to increase tension than reduce it. Divided against itself, Washington has eschewed engagement in favor of confrontation, producing predictable North Korean responses. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry concludes that the United States and North Korea are drifting towards war.

The Bush administration in June 2001 called for “a comprehensive approach … to encourage … a constructive [U.S.-North Korea] relationship.” Yet it rebuffed Pyongyang’s meeting requests until October 2002. This first meeting was a disaster, as the U.S. accused North Korea of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program that violated several agreements. Disappointed and insulted by this diplomatic assault, the North Koreans interestingly decided against denying the allegation and proposed a negotiated solution. Pyongyang undoubtedly was trying to shock Washington into negotiations per our declared policy.

Since October, Washington has unsuccessfully sought to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its program while also suspending U.S. commitments under the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework. In response, North Korea has evicted monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restarted nuclear facilities “frozen” for years under the Agreed Framework. They now claim to possess nuclear weapons and to be reprocessing similarly “frozen” spent nuclear fuel rods to produce more nuclear weapons.

Increasingly provocative measures by Washington and Pyongyang remind us that wars typically start by accident or miscalculation at times of high tension. Americans should understand that the stakes in a war with North Korea at the strategic crossroads of Asia are far higher than wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. How might a second Korean war play out?

The U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command (CFC), supported by U.S. forces in Japan and elsewhere, would obliterate North Korea’s war-fighting capabilities over time. Expect the CFC initially to launch massive air strikes against North Korean nuclear facilities, well-protected military command and control centers and deployed units, with CFC land forces to follow. The size and structure of U.S. ground force requirements are debatable. CFC success is inevitable provided China and Russia do not aid North Korea, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory.

Early in the war, North Korea would inflict almost unbelievable damage to our South Korean and Japanese allies and more than 200,000 resident U.S. civilians and military personnel. Millions would die in North Korean retaliation against U.S. aggression by attacking the nearby South Korean capital region, home to about 15 million people, and other targets with enormous numbers of well-protected long-range artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers and ballistic missiles, while sending up to 100,000 special operations forces into South Korea. North Korean weapons systems can deliver high-explosives, chemical and possibly biological weapons at a rate of up to 500,000 rounds per hour for several hours. Hundreds of North Korean ballistic missiles — possibly equipped with nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads — can attack targets throughout South Korea, Japan and Hawaii.

We are at a time of increasingly high tension born out of North Korean fear that the U.S. intends to destroy them as part of the “axis of evil,” surely reinforced by contemporary news leaks of U.S. war planning. Pyongyang repeatedly calls for bilateral negotiations with Washington and a non-aggression agreement. The administration refuses while seeking a dysfunctional coercive multilateral approach. We are at an impasse.

Fortunately, Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, has developed a pragmatic, phased, 10-point solution based on lengthy study and recent discussions with North Korean officials.

Phase One addresses near-term requirements of the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and North Korea — envisioned members of a Korean Peace Coalition. The United States would announce a one-year non-aggression pact and officially recognize the North Korean government. Pyongyang would officially renounce its entire nuclear weapons research program; permit full and unimpeded inspections of its nuclear materials and facilities by a team satisfactory to Washington; and rejoin the NPT. The Korean Peace Coalition would negotiate and ratify a comprehensive initiative to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in North Korea.

In Phase two, the non-aggression pact would become permanent. The Korean Peace Coalition would develop a multilateral cooperative threat-reduction program to remove all aspects of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program within two years. Pyongyang would curtail the development and export of certain ballistic missiles and technology (per the Missile Technology Control Regime), and begin to improve humanitarian rights, among other measures. The U.S. Congress and North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly would coordinate to implement comprehensive recommendations that include agriculture, defense and security, energy and natural resources.

Mr. Weldon’s pragmatic proposal would achieve U.S. national security objectives relative to North Korea and those of other coalition states. The alternative is either a nuclear armed North Korea or a devastating second Korean War.

Paul Chamberlin, a U.S.-Korea specialist since the 1970s and former U.S. military attache to Seoul, is the author of “Korea 2010: The Challenges of the New Millennium,” published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Bill Taylor is a former director of national security studies at West Point, a CSIS distinguished alumnus, and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

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