Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2003 / 4 Shevat, 5763
Another Korean war?
There very well may be another Korean war. But there is no longer a
compelling reason for the United States to get involved in it.
North Korea has been rattling the nuclear saber, threatening to "destroy the
earth" if the United States does not do what it wants. U.S. intelligence
agencies estimate North Korea already has two nuclear bombs, a number which
could grow by leaps and bounds now that North Korea has removed the seals
from and disabled UN monitoring cameras at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, which
is capable of extracting weapons grade plutonium from spent fuel rods from
nuclear power plants. If North Korea reactivates the plant, it could produce
enough plutonium to build as many as 100 bombs within a year.
North Korea also has tested successfully an intercontinental ballistic
missile that can reach the West Coast of the United States.
North Korea's action violates not only the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty
of which it is a signatory, but also a 1994 treaty with South Korea, the
United States and Japan in which the three nations agreed to build for North
Korea two non-threatening nuclear power plants if it would forego its
weapons development program.
The ability of the United States to respond to the burgeoning crisis is
hampered by politics in South Korea. South Korea just had a presidential
election, between the South Korean equivalent of George McGovern and the
South Korean equivalent of Barry Goldwater. Roh Moo-hyun (McGovern) won
narrowly. Roh is committed to expanding the "sunshine" policy of his
predecessor. After disclosure of North Korea's perfidy, Roh had harsher
words to say about the United States than about North Korea.
We cannot defend South Korea if the South Koreans are unwilling to defend
themselves. And it is no longer important that we try. When North Korea
invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, we had two powerful reasons for coming
to South Korea's defense:
North Korea was then part of an international communist conspiracy directed
by the Soviet Union. Had South Korea fallen, the Korean peninsula almost
certainly would have been a jumping off point for aggression against Japan.
And South Korea in 1950 was a poor country with a weak military. South Korea
was incapable of defending herself.
Communism is no longer a global threat. North Korea's ambitions are pretty
much restricted to conquest of South Korea, which would be a bad thing for
South Koreans, but less than a catastrophe for the rest of the world.
And South Korea today has twice the population and ten times the economic
strength of North Korea, and a military nearly as large and more
technologically sophisticated. South Korea is capable of defending herself.
We need to separate out what our interests are in the current crisis from
those of South Korea.
Roh says he wants to re-examine the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea.
We should beat him to the punch and begin to withdraw them. That will
diminish anti-American sentiment in South Korea, remove a potential target
for North Korean nukes, and perhaps cause Roh to rethink his
The odds that North Korea would attack the U.S. proper with nuclear weapons
directly are infinitesimally small. The saber-rattlers in Pyongyong know the
result of that would be to turn North Korea into a pile of irradiated
The great danger is that North Korea will sell its nuclear materials and
weapons technologies to others who would be less reluctant to use them. On
this we must be firm.
We can contain North Korea, but only with international help. The key to
obtaining it is to remind people that North Korea is a problem for the
world, not just for the United States. When North Korea removed the seals
from the Yongbyon reactor, it was thumbing its nose at the United Nations.
And South Korea has more to lose from North Korean belligerency than we do.
We must not permit this to become primarily a U.S.-North Korea
While we work through diplomatic channels, we need to reduce our
susceptibility to North Korean nuclear blackmail. The president's decision
to accelerate deployment of a national ballistic missile defense is a firm
step in the right direction.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly