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Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2002 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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Confronting the Korean bomb | In a world already reeling from violence and the threat of war, North Korea has admitted to conducting a nuclear program and claimed to have "more powerful" weapons. Yet Washington for once seems to be taking a back seat on the Korean peninsula, which is how it should be, more than a half century after the Korean War.

Pyongyang's announcement offered more disappointment than shock, given the criminal nature of the regime. Although the 1994 Framework Agreement defused what increasingly looked like a second Korean War, it obviously yielded no permanent solution to the threat of proliferation on the peninsula.

Yet the Bush Administration has reacted with surprising circumspection toward North Korea despite its military bluster toward Iraq. Washington is pushing the major East Asian powers, allies South Korea and Japan and more distant partners China and Russia, to bring "maximum international pressure" on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. Even the European Union is threatening to cut off support for construction of two nuclear reactors under the 1994 accord.

The potential of a North Korean nuke is disturbing, but not worth another crisis. Of course, no one wants the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea to have a nuclear weapon.

Yet there is nothing sinister in its efforts: Pyongyang possesses a decaying economy and starving population. Most of its allies have defected to South Korea. The North has lost the inter-Korean competition.

Other than nuclear weapons, there is no reason for any country to pay attention to the DPRK. Indeed, the only way Pyongyang soon may be able to defend itself against a South with 40 times the GDP, twice the population, and vast technological edge is nuclear weapons.

The West's main goal, then, should be to play out the Korean end game. Every day the peace is maintained is a day closer to the end of a communist DPRK.

The 1994 agreement was a worthy try. Today the critics are legion, but none of them ever offered a serious alternative.

Sanctions against the world's most isolated regime? They were likely neither to win China's support nor to affect the DPRK's behavior.

Even worse were proposals for military strikes, which would likely have ignited another war. Although the allies would win, South Korea could lose her capital, Seoul, which lies near the Demilitarized Zone. That would be a frightful price to pay.

No one knows for sure what Pyongyang is up to. Maybe it realized that it had been caught. Maybe it believes that it can wring more concessions out of the Western powers.

In any case, Washington should take a low profile. South Korea and Japan are currently negotiating with the DPRK; they should demand compliance with past accords before more aid flows to the North.

Pyongyang's relations with China are already strained. The latter needs to explain that it will be far less cooperative if North Korea is destabilizing the region. Moscow, with improving ties to the North, should be encouraged to weigh in as well.

The United States should reverse its past treatment of the DPRK. For years, Washington did not deign to notice the North's existence.

But when Pyongyang ostentatiously began its nuclear program, America promised aid, trade and recognition.

Now the Bush Administration should treat North Korea with studied indifference, noting that its behavior is of far greater interest to its neighbors and that America intends to follow their lead. Without fanfare, Washington should suspend all aid, humanitarian and other.

Then it should tell the North that when the latter begins to behave in a more positive fashion, agreeing to dismantle its nuclear operation and allow in outside inspectors, for instance, that official recognition, trade, membership in international organizations and the like will follow. Even the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South, which are no longer needed for the latter's defense. Should the DPRK continue to behave belligerently, however, there will be nothing to negotiate.

No threats. No table pounding. Just calm discussion.

For too long the North has been convinced by the feverish Western reaction that its nuclear program was the only means to win respect from and squeeze more money out of its adversaries.

The United States and its allies need to communicate that Pyongyang will receive favorable attention only by becoming a responsible regional player.

North Korea's announcement is bad news. But both South Korea and Japan, the countries most affected, have reacted more with anger than fear. Indeed, they worry more about an American overreaction than a North Korean attack.

Instead of leading another international crusade, Washington should try an alternative strategy -- devolving responsibility on other regional players. North Korea is a pitiful, bankrupt, desperate nation that poses no threat to America. Leave containment up to its neighbors.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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09/24/02: Al Gore's selective amnesia
09/09/02: Arm those pilots now
08/27/02: Modern-day gladiators
08/20/02: Don't start the second Gulf War
08/13/02: Declare war before going to war
08/06/02: Hostile allies
07/30/02: Protecting or persecuting citizens?
07/23/02: Shifting the risk to Uncle Sam
07/16/02: Fighting the patent wars
07/09/02: Getting that quota feeling
07/02/02: Teetering on the Democratic edge
06/25/02: Judicial litmus tests
06/18/02: Killer teeth?
06/11/02: Europeans defending whom?
05/24/02: Threatening pharmaceutical innovation
05/14/02: The war crimes fantasy
05/07/02: Paying a high price for befriending Saudi princes
04/30/02: The price of postal monopoly
04/23/02: The war on charity
04/16/02: The forgotten human right
03/27/02: Cuba's struggle to be free
03/20/02: How to defeat Cuban communism
03/12/02: Junk science, redux
03/06/02: Axis of hubris
02/27/02: Washington-style campaign reform: incumbent protection
02/20/02: The grand Enron morality play
02/12/02: Rebuilding what?
02/05/02: Succumbing to the terrorist temptation
01/29/02: Democrats for what?
01/22/02: The Iraqi question
01/14/02: Profiling frequent flyers
01/08/02: Trade, not aid
01/02/02: Treason by any other name
12/26/01: Preserving freedom in an unfree world
12/17/01: Dealing with terrorism's aftermath
12/10/01: Emerging friendships?
12/04/01: Uncle Sam: Insurer of last resort
11/28/01: Expanding the circle of trade
11/20/01: Free to be stupid
11/13/01: The meaning of compassion
11/07/01: Patriotic scoundrels
10/30/01: The coming postal raid
10/16/01: First, do no harm
10/12/01: Good news from a suffering land
10/04/01: Defending whom?
09/25/01: The wrong solution to the wrong problem
09/21/01: The price of terrorism
08/28/01: Uncle Sam's retirement scam
08/21/01: Canberra's quaint naivete
08/14/01: Uncle Sam's false fuel economy
08/08/01: The Clinton administration in drag
07/31/01: The high cost of government
07/24/01: Kill the campaign reform illusion
07/17/01: Do as I say, not as I do
07/11/01: Lawyers at play
07/05/01: Western blundering, Macedonian disaster
06/26/01: How best to honor Bill Clinton?
06/19/01: A maturing Europe?
06/15/01: Tell Beijing to mind its own business
06/06/01: Ukraine's boiling cauldron
05/31/01: Protecting privacy from Uncle Sam
05/22/01: America's Balkan quagmire
05/09/01: The Taiwanese flash point
05/01/01: Globalization serves the world's poor
04/24/01: Who's cheating whom?
04/10/01: The NCAA scam
04/03/01: Balkan stupidities
03/27/01: McCain doesn't want a 'risk for our country'
03/20/01: Dubious Korean alliances
03/06/01: Coercive patriotism
02/27/01: Bombing without end
02/20/01: A dose of misplaced outrage
02/13/01: Psst: Tax cuts for taxpayers. Pass-it-on
02/06/01: Bridging the unbridgeable gap
01/23/01: Left-wing demagoguery
01/16/01: The drug war problem
01/10/01: Politics and trade
01/03/01: Hope for liberty?
12/27/00: The debris of war
12/19/00: What's the rule of law for?
12/15/00: Ending silicone breast implant saga
12/05/00: Election may yield victor, but there are no winners
11/21/00: A Bush presidential mandate?
11/07/00: Exprienced Gore? Yeah, right
11/01/00: Interventionist follies
10/17/00: America's brightening prospects in Ukraine
10/11/00: GOP budget scandals
10/03/00: How a pharmaceutical 'crisis' was created
09/27/00: Clinton's empathy has helped nobody
09/13/00: AlGore's risky budget policies
09/05/00: Military readiness and Korean commitments
08/29/00: Let sleeping hypocrites lie
08/21/00: Targeting a journalistic pariah
08/15/00: European garrison for Kosovo?
08/08/00: Journalistic cleansing at the Boston Globe
08/04/00: Junk science on trial
06/22/00: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
06/15/00: The end of U.N. peacekeeping
06/07/00: The Clinton regulatory miasma
06/01/00: Administration stupidity, congressional cowardice
05/25/00: The silence of the international community
05/18/00: Protecting the next generation

05/11/00: Freer trade with China will advance human rights

05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

04/28/00: American tripwire in Korea long ago disappeared: Why are we still involved?

04/18/00: Clinton administration believes the IRS is too gentle, wants more auditors

© 2002, Copley News Service