WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as "doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome." This Mr. Einstein is, of course, the Nobel physicist whose 1939 letter on atomic fission to President Franklin Roosevelt resulted in the Manhattan Project -- and the development of the first A-bomb. In the wake of North Korean "product demonstration" and claim to have detonated a nuclear weapon, U.S. decision-makers should heed the late scientist's pithy observation -- for our policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) certainly seems to fit the definition. It's time to face the facts: None of the "diplomatic initiatives" the United States has tried since 1945 have worked to prevent North Korea from becoming a serious threat to U.S. national security.
The post-World War II "diplomatic" decision to partition the peninsula at the 38th parallel allowed the creation of a family-run Stalinist dictatorship. When the DPRK invaded the democratic Republic of Korea on June 25, 1950 -- the United States took the case to the United Nations. Two days later, the U.N. Security Council resolved to "repel the armed attack" -- not to "unify" the two countries. Even this measure would have failed had the Russians -- with veto power -- not been absent when the vote was taken. The resulting four-year-long Korean War cost the lives of 54,229 U.S. servicemen and ended in a "diplomatically negotiated" stalemate right where it began -- on the 38th parallel.
Subsequent "diplomatic initiatives" have fared no better. In the 1990s, faced with the prospect of the DPRK developing advanced missile and nuclear technologies -- while millions of North Koreans starved -- the United States engaged in lengthy bilateral diplomatic discussions aimed at convincing the militant regime to cease and desist. The 1994 "Agreed Framework" has proven to be a disaster. The agreement required Pyongyang to stop all nuclear weapons development and the United States to provide North Korea with billions in foreign aid and two light water nuclear reactors for generating electricity. We complied. They lied.
By the time George W. Bush arrived in Washington it was apparent that "bilateral diplomacy" hadn't worked. When U.S. and allied intelligence services reported that Kim Jong-Il was secretly accelerating missile and nuclear weapons development, the Bush administration decided to try a "multilateral" approach -- the so-called six-party talks -- with U.S., North Korean, South Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Russian diplomats all sitting down at the same table. Now, in the aftermath of last week's claimed nuclear test, it should be clear that this "diplomatic effort" has failed as well. President Bush acknowledged as much in his press conference on Oct. 11: "With its actions this week, North Korea has once again chosen to reject the prospect for a better future offered by the six-party joint statement. Instead it has opted to raise tensions in the region."
The key words in the president's statement are "once again" and "raise tensions in the region." The "once again" observation is a reminder of Einstein's insanity definition. The "raise tensions in the region" proclamation is a gross understatement. Here's why:
Cash-strapped North Korea's only exports are counterfeit U.S. currency, illicit drugs and rocket/missile technology. Pyongyang's No. 1 customer for these "products" is Tehran. The Iranian Shahab-3 and Shahab-5 missiles are identical in design and performance with North Korea's Nodong and Taepo Dong missile series. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made it clear that neither "diplomacy," nor U.N. sanctions are going to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Using words remarkably similar to statements by Kim Jong-Il, he describes U.S., European, U.N. Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency diplomatic efforts to deter the Iranian nuclear program as "useless resolutions."
It requires the willful suspension of disbelief to trust that Iran -- awash in petro-dollars -- won't try to buy North Korean nukes. Put differently, if you think that the jihad being waged against us is a tough fight now -- just wait until Islamic radicals have North Korean nukes. At that point, the "caliphate" of which Bush spoke on Wednesday will be a foregone conclusion.
It need not happen -- if we abandon the process that has repeatedly failed in the past. Mr. Bush says he wants to "give diplomacy a chance." He added, "there must be a strong Security Council resolution" to cause North Korea "to dismantle its nuclear programs." Past performance ought to tell us that won't work.
Instead of going back to the United Nations -- where Kofi Annan insists that "The U.S. and North Korea should talk," Bush would do better to recall the Congress into session until it fully funds and deploys the U.S. ballistic missile defense system; sends more Patriot Pac III and Aegis defense systems to our Asian allies and resolves to form a new alliance of Asian/Pacific democracies to ensure that the DPRK cannot export its nuclear and rocket technologies by sea or air.
Demonstrably firm U.S. leadership would be welcome by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Building such a coalition now -- instead of repeating what has failed in the past, would offer hope that we really aren't insane.