Jewish World Review July 31, 2003 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5763

Jack Kelly

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Prez is using diplomacy toward N. Korea because they're bluffing | It's been half a century since a truce was signed at Panmunjom putting an end to fighting in Korea. But American soldiers still glare across the DMZ at North Korean soldiers, as they have every day for the last 50 years.

The Korean War was never officially declared, and has never officially ended. Some fear North Korea's nuclear ambitions will cause it to flare up again.

North Korea will have six to eight nuclear weapons by the end of the year, former Defense Secretary William Perry predicted in the Washington Post July 23rd. North Korea has tested a ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead to the West coast of the United States.

South Korea and North Korea have gone in dramatically different directions since the armistice.

South Korea is a full fledged democracy, and - with a per capita GDP of $18,000 - is one of the wealthiest nations in Asia. It's population of 48.3 million is more than double North Korea's 22.5 million.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. Per capita GDP is only $1,000, and it is shrinking. Starvation is widespread.

But North Korea has one of the world's largest militaries, with more than a million men in its active forces, 3,400 tanks, 10,000 pieces of artillery, and 2,200 artillery rocket launchers. North Korea also has chemical, biological, and, now, nuclear weapons.

With an imploding economy, North Korea must import massive quantities of food and fuel to survive. North Korea has virtually nothing to export except military technology. The United States fears North Korea will sell its nuclear technology to other outlaw regimes, or to terror groups.

North Korea is trying to use its nuclear program to blackmail the United States, experts say.

Threats have worked for North Korea before. In 1994, in exchange for North Korea's promise to shut down its uranium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, the United States, South Korea and Japan promised to build for North Korea two nuclear power plants, and, in the meantime, to supply North Korea with fuel oil for conventional power plants.

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In 2002, North Korea announced it had begun reprocessing weapons grade plutonium, in violation of the agreement, sparking the present crisis.

If there is another Korean war, North Korea will lose it quickly, military experts agree. Though huge, North Korea's forces are antiquated. South Korea's only somewhat smaller forces are much more modern, and very tough. North Korea's logistic shortcomings make it likely an invasion would stall even if it weren't subjected to withering bombardment from the U.S. Air Force.

North Korea's ace in the hole is that the South Korean capital of Seoul is within artillery range of the North Korean guns on their side of the DMZ. In population and area, Seoul is larger than Los Angeles and Chicago combined. Fear that North Korea would lash out at Seoul is the chief argument against a U.S. preemptive strike against North Korean nuclear facilities.

President Bush is trying to resolve the crisis through diplomacy. North Korea has threatened to attack South Korea if economic sanctions are imposed on it. But most experts think they're bluffing.

"The North understands power," said Robert Dujarric of the Hudson Institute. "Whatever they say, they know they are weak and the U.S. is strong."

If diplomacy fails, an inordinate concern for the welfare of South Koreans should not deter a preemptive strike, if that is the only way to keep North Korean nukes out of the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Opinion polls indicate a majority of South Koreans dislike the United States. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun ran on an anti-American platform.

"The South Koreans are the French of Asia," said retired LtGen. Gordon Sumner, who, as a young captain, was wounded and briefly captured by the Chinese. "We don't owe them anything."

"The strategic reasons for the United States to be in Korea are all gone now," said University of Pittsburgh Prof. Don Goldstein. "We should declare victory and go home."

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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