The one of the greatest long term threats to American security is North Korea developing and selling nuclear weapons. This is also the most difficult problem facing the United States today–there are no good solutions. Preemption, containment and temporizing all carry unacceptable risks.
A policy of preemption will risk the destruction of Seoul and the death of hundreds of thousands of our allies in the South, a policy of paying blackmail simply delays the problem without acting to reduce it.
A policy of containment, or, to use the Kennedy-era locution, “quarantine,” would leave the North Korean bomb factories in operation and would hope to prevent North Korea from exporting weapons. United States and allied naval forces would blockade North Korea, inspecting all shipping into and out of North Korea for missile parts and nuclear components. In the long term, when North Korea has built dozens of warheads to sell, it is probable that they will find a way to move the warheads out of the country to our other enemies and our policy will have utterly failed.
A policy of temporizing was followed by the Clinton Administration, of bribing the North Koreans to suspend their nuclear weapons programs. This policy allowed North Korea to retain the capacity at any time to blackmail the United States and our allies by reopening the bomb factories, which is the position we are in today. The frantic diplomatic activity aimed at reviving the Agreed Framework is an attempt to further delay the problem without solving any of the underlying issues.
The objective of US policy must be the destruction of the nuclear capability of the North. Containment and temporizing fail to achieve this objective. A policy of confrontation is empty. Therefore, in order to achieve our objective, we must offer the North Koreans something other than a promise to continue a ceasefire. For years, North Korea has demanded the withdrawal of the United States from the peninsula and normalization of relations with the United States. If a maniac with a bomb and a baby wants something, you are not foolish to trade it for the baby and the bomb, while nodding politely at his hysterical ravings. The imperative is to disarm the maniac. In this case, the only way to disarm the maniac may be to take North Korea’s demands as the basis for an agreement, exchanging these concessions for the end (not the suspension) of all existing North Korean nuclear programs, and reducing the immediate military danger to Seoul as much as possible.
What would such a proposal look like?
- Denuclearization of North Korea. All North Korean nuclear facilities would be permanently dismantled by international teams of scientists and North Korea would immediately hand over all enriched uranium and plutonium. North Korea agrees (again) not to develop nuclear weapons or use nuclear power.
- Phased Withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, coupled with the withdrawal of North Korean units and artillery to a safe distance from Seoul. Seoul would be much safer with no US troops and no artillery in range of the city than it is with US troops and North Korean artillery within striking range.
- North-South Peace Treaty. The DMZ becomes an international border, North and South Korea end the state of war, normalize relations, and pledge not to attack each other.
- The United States pledges not to attack North Korea, as long as all provisions of the agreement are being carried out.
There is no guarantee that North Korea would accept this offer. Selling nuclear warheads is one of the few plausible ways that Kim Jong Il has of paying for the imported trappings of semi-divinity. However, if North Korea accepted the proposal, the threat it posed to South Korea and to the world would be dramatically reduced. It would take North Korea years, perhaps a decade, to rebuild a secret nuclear weapons program. And, on that day, the United States will be in a much better position to confront North Korea without having to regard the ten million people of Seoul as hostages.