Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What can we do next in North Korea?

October 17, 2006

The Sunday Orlando Sentinel had two thoughtful and pleasantly nonpartisan articles in the op-ed page titled "A Closer Look: North Korea & Nukes." Both pieces were careful to look at the failures from both the current and past administrations in curtailing nuclear proliferation in general and stopping North Korea in particular. But neither offered next steps for the United States. I offer three.

There is a Chinese proverb that says simply, "To take no action is an action." No responsible American political voice is advocating doing nothing in response to North Korea's apparent nuclear test. While North Korea poses little direct military threat to the United States for many years, the likelihood that it would share the nuclear secret with rogue states and even more scary non-states like al-Qaeda means doing nothing cannot even be considered. "Hope is not a strategy," I like to remind my students.

Step 1. Remind China that as a growing economic superpower -- and global political superpower wannabe -- it must take the lead on dealing with North Korea, just as superpowers have always taken the lead in cleaning up their own backyards. The British were the masters of gunboat diplomacy. The United States has the Monroe Doctrine. Now the Chinese must de-nuke North Korea or risk:

- a newly-elected nationalist government in Japan building nuclear weapons;

- a South Korea faced with declining U.S. troops levels going nuclear;

- possibly even a nuclear Taiwan building a theater-sized weapon that could easily be the foundation for a world war if China were to try to forcibly retake the island.

China can make Kim Jong Il disappear and replace him with a general willing to negotiate the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas. In exchange, the United States would promise to remove all troops from a unified Korea so as to eliminate completely China's concern of U.S. troops on what is now its common border with North Korea. If we must, the United States should go further to entice the Chinese to do the right thing. Nothing should be off the table, including continued U.S. support of Taiwan. Old Cold War alliances mean nothing in a post-9-11 world faced with nuclear Islamic terrorists trained by the North Koreans, who already sell scud missiles to anyone with the cash to buy them.

Step 2: Maintain the six-party talks condition. This is not a bilateral issue between us and the North Koreans. We also need the Chinese, Russians, Japanese and South Koreans at the table. Put partisanship aside and stop blaming President Bush for refusing to talk to North Korea. Those partisan voices are the same ones screaming that we acted too unilaterally in Iraq. This is not an "American problem," and North Korea needs to understand that.

Step 3: The United States must actively and vigorously continue the development of a missile-defense system. No, such a system will not stop North Korean fissile material from being smuggled into our country by terrorists. But it will defend us against a North Korean ballistic strike that will be a threat in two to five years. Let's not let the fact that missile defense will never be perfect deter us in deploying and constantly improving such a tool.

There is another Chinese proverb that says, "If you don't change the path you are on, you are likely to end up where you are heading." We cannot do nothing and change paths.

Allen H. Kupetz is the executive-in-residence at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business and served in the U.S. Embassy in Seoul from 1992-96. He publishes a blog on Korean issues at www.koreality.com


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