William F. Buckley

Now outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae Jung has contributed the following: "Pressure and isolation have never been successful with communist countries, even during the Cold War." That is mostly correct, though isolation did serve to subdue Rhodesia, which, left alone, might have proceeded more slowly toward liberation by Mugabe. The attempt at economic sanctions against the Soviet Union did not work, but the Soviet enterprise was on a scale that doesn't greatly illuminate the problem of North Korea, whose 22 million people are more directly susceptible to economic strangulation.

So Mr. Bush has to straighten that out. Do we believe that a steady attrition in the food supply of North Korea will bring about a closing of the facilities engaged in enriching uranium? In straight-out wars, we happily engage in blockades. If it had been established in the fall of 1944 that more and more Germans were starving, we'd have put this down as a great achievement. Starving people to death is slower than bombing them to death, but still, it would have meant fewer Nazis to contend with.

But we are not at war with North Korea, and for that reason need to apply toward it different policy criteria. And here we have the growing disparity between the counsel of the South Korean public and that of U.S. hard-liners. The South Koreans are moving toward ambivalence about the continuing U.S. role, which has dominated policy on the peninsula for a half-century. Protests against us mount, and the incoming president, Roh Moon Hyun, is an accommodationist who seems to want merely to live another day, and this is understandable inasmuch as the North Koreans, without using a nuclear weapon, could wipe out a quarter-million people in Seoul with a single fusillade from standing artillery.

Ah, and among that quarter-million are American soldiers. We have 37,000 of them in South Korea, strategic holdovers from when we fought hand-to-hand with the North Koreans to save the South. Is it wise to leave U.S. military there, at point-blank range of the North Koreans? Or will the new government in the South consider the presence of U.S. troops a part of the infrastructure of such security as they continue to have, against a North Korea starving for food and covetous of the exercise of power?


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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