The headlines these days are chock-a-block with warnings of nuclear war from North Korea. Scarcely less shrill are the sounds of teeth-gnashing from former U.S. government officials and others who insist that Washington must negotiate with Pyongyang to avoid this dread outcome.
It’s time to take a deep breath and consider what we have learned so far in this “crisis,” lest the combined effects of such hyperbole lead the Bush Administration to do what it has pretty much refused to do to this point: embrace and prop-up one of the most odious regimes on the planet -- that of Kim Jong-Il in North Korea.
First, Kim’s regime is evil, indeed monstrously so. President Bush should be commended, not assailed, for having identified North Korea as one of the members of the “Axis of Evil” that threatens the security of the United States, its allies and interests around the world. That statement certainly discomfited those in foreign capitals and the U.S. State Department who have pretended since 1994 that the North Korean government had become a nation with whom we could safely do business. But we did so at our peril -- and only by studiously ignoring the danger that it continued to represent.
This danger is evident in the North’s unchecked proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction technology to virtually all the world’s rogue states and possibly to terrorist organizations like Osama bin Laden’s. (According to the Times of London, such sales -- Pyongyang’s only hard currency-earning export -- were worth some $560 million to the bankrupt regime in 2001.) It can also be seen in the persistent deceit that has made a mockery of North Korean promises to forego nuclear weapons.
And the danger from North Korea is apparent in the Orwellian comprehensiveness of the regime’s repression, mind-control and starvation of its people. As Dr. Norbert Vollertsen -- a German physician who, in the course of several years’ humanitarian service in North Korea, obtained an unprecedented insight into the appalling conditions in that prison-state -- has noted, any government that treats its own citizens with such brutality cannot be expected permanently to refrain from trying to harm others.
Second, arms control and similar “processes” cannot genuinely contain a government like North Korea’s. This is not simply because it is difficult to devise and implement effective verification arrangements when dealing with the quintessential closed society. It is inherent in the fact that regimes like that of Kim Jong-Il have nothing but contempt for the rule of law -- and for those who put stock in such concepts. Accordingly, deals struck with such regimes are, by their nature, exercises in Western self-deception.
Third, the desire of dangerous nations’ neighbors to accommodate, rather than confront, them is understandable. But it should not be determinative of U.S. policy. Such pleading today from South Korea and Japan is reminiscent of the Cold War advocacy for detente by Leftists in the West German government. The Free Democrats’ policies did nothing to mitigate the actual threat posed by the Soviet Union. They did, however, provide indispensable economic life-support for the Kremlin, deferring by decades the USSR’s collapse -- at a cost, by the way, of many tens of billions in German taxpayer-subsidized loans that had to be written off after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Fourth, the United States must be clearly able to project power in two distant theaters simultaneously in order to prevent a second adversary from taking advantage of our preoccupation with a first. The foolishness of eliminating over the previous decade the necessary U.S. military force structure, compounded by the failure to make during that period appropriate investments in modernizing the armed forces, are illustrating yet again the costly false economies associated with cashing in “peace dividends” when international threats appear to have receded.
Fifth, the fact that the North Korean government has taken to brandishing its ballistic missiles to heighten the demands from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington for its further appeasement, powerfully underscores the wisdom of President Bush in deciding to end America’s abject vulnerability to attack by such missiles. It should, as well, add urgency to his effort to deploy anti-missile defenses without further delay.
This can be done most swiftly, and with greatest benefit to our forces and friends in East Asia, by upgrading existing Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis fleet air defense system. President Bush recently announced that such sea-based missile defenses would begin to be put into place, but not until late 2004. The threat from North Korea underscores what has long been obvious: We need such defenses now. A Rickover-like figure -- perhaps the Navy’s long-time and most visionary leader on anti-missile systems, Rear Admiral Rod Rempt -- needs to be given a presidential mandate to cobble together at once the best and fastest interim capability available.
These lessons underscore the soundness of President Bush’s basic approach to date towards North Korea. The United States should do nothing to prop-up the North Korean regime or to legitimate it. Most especially, Washington should refrain from making any commitments at odds with the U.S. interest in truly ending the threat Kim Jong-Il and Company represent and in liberating the North’s enslaved people.
This is, of course, far easier said than done. And, since Mr. Bush is properly focused on effecting the liberation of the people of Iraq at the moment, his Administration must for the time being pursue temporizing measures towards North Korea. It is imperative, however, that these be guided by the President’s appreciation of the loathsome evil of the North Korean regime and by the need to arrange for it to join Saddam Hussein’s on the ash-heap of history at the earliest possible moment.