In the early '90s, President Clinton staved off the economic collapse of North Korea by funneling food, economic aid and nuclear power reactors into the brutal Stalinist regime. In return, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, promised to cease their development of nuclear warheads.
It now seems that Jong has decided to scrap that agreement and to develop nuclear weapons. In disturbing recent testimony, CIA Director George Tenet revealed that North Korea has the missile capability to deliver an attack on the United States and that the communist regime has likely already produced a small cache of nuclear weapons.
So let us recap: Like the kindest of nursemaids, we propped up North Korea with food and aid. We extended this generosity to a country that has been outwardly hostile to us in the past; a government that teaches its citizens that the United States started the Korean War; a country that has erected popular museums and statues proclaiming that the United States has committed atrocities on par with the Nazis; a government that uses its state run media to glorify images of missile attacks on the United States; and a country that has kidnapped hundreds of South Koreans, and willingly admits to engineering terrorist bombings of South Korean targets.
So, why on earth would we choose this country as a bedmate? Why would we ignore North Korea's fundamentally different view of the world, its military expansionism or even its well-nurtured disdain of the United States?
The answers lie in the promise of nation building - the policy of using economic aid to create a global network of self-interests that work to deter military aggression. This policy was wildly successful in rebuilding war-torn Europe. Of course, The United States maintained close ties and a common sense of purpose with the European countries it nurtured following the war.
In more hostile countries that have neither a history of democracy or share a common purpose with America, such as China, Russia and North Korea, the policy of engagement has been proven less successful. In these countries, free trade has not ended war. In fact, providing our enemies with economic aid, fuel and power has largely served to keep them propped up while they develop the capacity to wage war against us.
Such is the case with North Korea, which is now trying to shake us down for additional aid. It knows that military cuts over the last decade eroded our ability to fight a war on two fronts. And it knows that we are committed to first disarming Iraq. So North Korea's throwing the nuclear card on the table. For a nice economic aid package, it will disarm. Mind you, this is the same promise it just got done breaking. Bear in mind too that any aid we provide will only fuel North Korean opposition to America. In the past, we made the payoff, with the hope that engagement would soothe North Korea's militarism and buy us time.
That policy failed. And as a result, North Korea may soon have the capability to launch a devastating attack on U.S. interests. It's time to call Jong's bluff. Instead of trying to appease him - and every other tin pot dictator - with economic aid, we need to raise the serious specter of a regime change. At the same time, we must apply genuine economic pressure. Current sanctions will not work as long as China and Russia continue to funnel aid to North Korea. We need to pursue an Asian alliance capable of bringing genuine economic pressure to bear. It should also be made clear that we will strike North Korea's nuclear facilities if it continues to develop nuclear capabilities.
While it is important to maintain the balance of power in Asia, we cannot continue to look past North Korea's darker side by pursuing a naïve policy of engagement.