Wednesday, January 01, 2003

While I agree with Joshua Marshall that Bush has handled North Korea poorly, I think it's important not to get so caught up in criticizing Bush that we understate the depth of the basic problem - or rather, interlocking problems.

After all, North Korea did start this second secret effort to build a nuclear weapon before Bush came into office.

The North Korean government are now proven liars. They are brazen, claiming that they are forced to develop nuclear weapons because we no longer send them fuel oil - although they started a second secret effort to develop the bomb when their better know one was stopped in exchange for economic aid. How should we deal with them now?

Oddly enough, there is an argument for continued economic aid. If starvation in North Korea brings the government to the point of internal revolution, they might well attack South Korea first. Due to previous commitments, we would have to defend South Korea, perhaps in a war more bloody than the first Korean War. Before we cut off aid, the secret bomb developing program they were engaged in seems to have been much slower at bomb building that what they are doing now. Questions have also been raised about the humanitarian consequences of cutting off food aid. If we are going to consider continued aid to the North Korean government to prevent these problems, we must honestly acknowledge the potential consequences. First, no matter what monitoring they agree to, they will try to find a way to continue nuclear weapons research secretly - and will probably succeed, although the new secret programs may be much slower than the ones they replace. Bush is right about one thing - if we make blackmail successful, we should not expect the perpetrators to give it up. Secondly, while the North Korean government probably won't risk being toppled in a bloody war while they are receiving enough booty to live in comfort and avoid a popular revolution, they will certainly make sure their military machine is as threatening as possible to South Korea - and the worse the situation gets there, the more of their limited resources they will spend on their military, since blackmailing the west seems to be their most workable method of getting food. Which brings us to three - we may ultimately be perpetuating the problem with our so called humanitarian food aid. I do not know exactly what role the North Korean government played in their economic collapse. Other repressive governments such as China have achieved limited successes. If North Korea is not totally at fault economically that is one thing, but if they are they will cost the West more and more to support until they collapse. Apart from blackmail, their other economic success is selling missiles. It seems nations friendly to us can buy better ones elsewhere, which leaves unfriendly nations, or marginal ones, as buyers.

There are no easy answers. Let's talk about the consequences of refusing to be blackmailed. If we bomb their reactor they would probably invade South Korea. If we cut off all aid including 'humanitarian food aid' they would probably do the same, unless they felt they could make enough to survive by selling nuclear weapons, in which case they could fortify their position and wait for us to attack their barbed wire entrenched positions. To make it worse, the South Korean government seems to be in denial. If we cut off all aid to the North they may blame us for the war, even if it was ultimately inevitable.

In the face of repeated North Korean provocations, the Bush administration seems to be backing down, claiming they are looking for a way to talk to North Korea without giving in to blackmail, which is hard to do since that is their stated goal. Once we've started talking, they will accuse us of breaking off negotiations if we steadfastly refuse to give them more aid. I think we have to accept our stark choice - give in to blackmail or prepare for a Korean war. Of course American history is full of seemingly unresolvable problems that got solved or even just went away, along with the occasional problem like German aggression in the thirties and the great depression which didn't. I suspect that Bush doesn't want to fight North Korea, and will do basically the right thing, made harder and more dangerous by his axis of evil talk and his confronting the North Koreans we the evidence of their deceit without being prepared for their brazen acknowledgement and demand for more concessions from us. I'm not absolutely sure what the right thing is though - but I'm only one I've seen so far, left or right, with a horrible fear that what we really need to do if we are committed to South Korea is prepare for war with North Korea.

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