Jewish World Review August 28, 2003 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5763

Joseph L. Galloway

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US and others have few sticks that are likely to make much of an impression on North Korea, the newly nuclear donkey | Five nations and North Korea sat down this week in Beijing to begin discussing the future of North Korea's outlaw nuclear weapons program, which threatens to trigger not just very real fear but also nuclear proliferation among its neighbors.

The United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan have come to the table to appeal to reason from a regime in which reason often has been in short supply.

The Russian vice minister of foreign affairs has said his government has "low expectations for these talks." So does the Bush administration.

But in the interest of peace and stability, all are obliged to pursue some sort of agreement with North Korea.

The stakes are enormous, and not only for the impoverished, isolated North Koreans.

"If these talks fail, we face a fairly substantial problem," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not a duly authorized administration mouthpiece reading from an approved script. "If they fail and the North Koreans have what they say they have, then in a matter of a few weeks you will have a declaration by Pyongyang that: `We are a nuclear power.'''

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The U.S. intelligence community's assessment of that North Korea hasn't been making nuclear weapons to use as bargaining chips; analysts believe the North Koreans want nukes and think they need them.

So if the talks fail, as seems likely, and North Korea declares itself a nuclear power, the pressure on Japan and South Korea to go nuclear, too, could become irresistible. Given the advanced technological capabilities of both, that could be achieved in record time. And the world would become a good bit more dangerous.

As usual, the Bush administration is divided about what to do to head off a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, a region of enormous economic and political significance to the United States.

Some hard-liners in and out of the Bush administration say a non-cooperative North Korea should simply be consigned straight to Hell. They recommend undermining Kim Jong Il's hermit regime; blockading North Korean shipping to choke off exports of missile and nuclear technologies and cracking down on one of the regime's prime sources of income, the smuggling and sale of heroin.

But what if the North Koreans respond by attacking South Korea or Japan? What if their 10,000 artillery pieces dug into granite mountains along the demilitarized zone open fire on Seoul? What then?

The hard-liners argue that North Korea's enormous military force and its weapons are rusting and rotting away; that its howitzers are rusty; that its antique air force's warplanes are mostly grounded; that its army is poorly trained and unimpressive.

All of that may be true, but there is still the matter of the shiny new nuclear weapons North Korea possesses. Not in large quantities, to be sure. Perhaps only six or eight or 10 of them. But more than enough to kill millions on the Korean peninsula or in Japan.

What would we do if the North Koreans used their nukes, or for that matter their chemical and biological weapons? No good answer is forthcoming from hard-liners, soft-liners or anyone else.

To quote Winston Churchill, it is a far better thing to talk, talk, talk than to fight, fight, fight. Turning talk into action is the hard part, of course, especially in this case.

"We are not prepared to offer the North Koreans anything," says the senior administration official, "until they can convince us and the four other parties that they are willing to hand over their nuclear weapons, their plutonium, their reprocessed uranium, the 8,800 fuel rods they have removed from the reactor and have all of it transported off the Korean peninsula and put under control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And that we can set up necessary monitoring and inspection to ensure it doesn't happen again."

Once North Korea commits to that, the official says, "then we are prepared to discuss future cooperation and the removal of pariah status from North Korea and the flow of benefits that might follow."

The world can offer many carrots to a regime that has watched its people starve to death while it diverted food, fuel and resources to its huge army. But the North Koreans usually respect sticks more than carrots, and the United States and others have few sticks that are likely to make much of an impression on a newly nuclear donkey.

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Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Comment by clicking here.


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