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From sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu Sat Mar 9 11:45:09 2002
From: Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics) <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu>
Subject: Time to end the Korean War
Date: Sat, 9 Mar 2002 11:42:54 -0500

Devils and Evil Axes

By Nicholas D. Kristof, 26 February 2002xo

[E]vil shadowed President Bush during his swing through Asia last week.

He was vehemently denounced (a moral leper who leads the empire of the devil), even as the White House was backing off and effectively downgrading the Axis of Evil to an Alliance of the Naughty.

But I’m sympathetic to Mr. Bush’s desire to be candid, and he’s right: North Korea is sufficiently nasty that it would have made Stalin envious. Indeed, throughout his Asian trip, Mr. Bush spoke bluntly yet courteously in a way that was refreshing.

The real problem is not the candor; it’s simply that we don’t have a North Korea policy at all, beyond what James Laney, a former ambassador to Seoul, calls policy by fulmination.

And all this talk about evil has obscured a dangerous reality: We’re speeding toward a train wreck on the Korean peninsula. It may come as soon as this fall and risk an exceptionally bloody war.

No one wants to talk about it, but the issue is this: The agreed framework that since 1994 has kept North Korea from churning out nuclear weapons looks as if it is falling apart.

That agreement called for North Korea to give up its nuclear program in exchange for two light-water nuclear reactors (which are proliferation-resistant) for electric power generation. For a variety of reasons, including queasiness on both the North Korean and American sides, the agreement is probably a dead letter.

Some grown-up some day is going to have to look at the elephant in the corner of the room and say: ‘Guess what? These light-water reactors aren’t going to get built,’ notes Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea-watcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

The upshot is that the agreed framework is likely to collapse in recriminations, North Korea’s leaders will start up their nuclear program again, we will warn them very sternly not to, and they will go ahead anyway.

The moment that North Korea is convinced that the light-water reactors are not going to be delivered, they will explore alternative avenues—meaning reviving the nuclear program, said Han S. Park, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who is a regular visitor to North Korea.

Kim Myong Chol, an unofficial spokesman for North Korea, told me that he foresees a crisis beginning in the latter half of this year. North Korea will respond to the breakdown of the nuclear deal, he says, by restarting its nuclear program and resuming its missile tests.

If the United States responds militarily, then Mr. Kim says that North Korea will use its artillery and missiles to strike South Korea and Japan and even send nuclear warheads to the United States. (North Korea probably has the ability to send a tiny warhead at least as far as Alaska, although its aim is so bad it might hit Canada by mistake.)

North Koreans would be proud to die in this way, to be the first country to have a nuclear exchange with America, Mr. Kim says cheerfully.

He is cheerful because he is sure that America will back down.

North Korea cannot kill the heavyweight champion, the U.S., Mr. Kim says. But it can maim one of his limbs, and so the heavyweight champion will not want to fight. That is the North Korean logic.

Ouch. I think the logic is flawed, but North Korea has more of a taste for brinksmanship than any country in the world, and avoiding the crisis will require plenty of diplomacy—and a real policy, not just labels.

So how can the danger be averted?

The only practical measure I can see is to press ahead on engagement with North Korea. That helped tame another Asian Communist regime, beginning in 1972 when an earlier Republican president showed the courage to initiate a real, high-level dialogue with China.

Over the last week, officials from Mr. Bush on down have talked about wanting to restart talks with North Korea. But it’s pretty clear that if the North Koreans agreed we would have nothing to say. Ambassador Laney says: There’s nothing in it for North Korea to talk. We’ve offered them nothing.

Right now, our approach of isolating North Korea simply provides Kim Jong Il with a foreign scapegoat—bolstering a noxious regime and increasing the risk of a catastrophic war. And ultimately that is far more risky than loose talk about evil axes.