Work and Days


There are some things to remember about North Korea’s nuclear acquisition in the context of this wider war against Islamism. This week an Al-Qaeda operative boasted that he would take the war to the White House, with nuclear weapons if he could. And where would they come from?

Either North Korea or Iran most likely— the latter watching closely the international consequences, if any, that will follow from the supposed Korean detonation. The extremely low yield of the purported explosion is some ways is even more worrisome, if it indicates ongoing research toward a small (and miniaturized) weapon that would be terrorist-portable.

What can we do in this lose/lose mess?

Surely not what the Democrats advocate—a return to direct Clintonian/Cartesian one-on-one negotiations, when we gave billions in food, oil, and reactors. That only led to the present mess by rewarding in the 1990s North Korean nuclear roguery with subsidies and status to the thuggish Kim Jong-il. It is typical of Jimmy Carter’s shamelessness or dotage that, after the failure of his Nobel-Prize-driven intervention into the Korean morass during the Clinton administration, he now pontificates how George Bush has broken his fine porcelain Korean policy.

And even if Bush were to hold direct talks—so reminiscent of World War II appeasers’ sigh that a chance to have talked to Hitler could have been prevented the war—the contrarians like Sens. Kerry, Biden, Kennedy, Boxer, Durbin et al. would then be screaming about the need for “multilateral” six-party talks with China and other regional partners. How odd this political season that all the failures of the past—Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Warren Christopher, and Madeline Albright who variously presided over the Iranian hostage mess, the failed Oslo accords, and the al Qaeda serial provocations of the 1990s that led to 9/11—are now evoked as sober and judicious exemplars.

In fact, China seems to enjoy seeing Japan and the U.S. squirming, while denying it has much leverage on it wayward client, which, of course, it does. I doubt that Beijing is all that worried about refugees, a North Korean state collapse, and all the other supposed reasons that, Western pundits insist, make it necessary for the ascending Chinese economy to cooperate in corralling Korea. They won’t cooperate—and why should they when there is at present little downside?

A better approach would be first to recognize reality:

(1) Nuclear brinkmanship pays: North Korea has earned billions through atomic blackmail, and humiliated humane and liberal governments in Tokyo and Seoul that don’t want to endanger their good life by descending into the gutter to duke it out with a nothing-to-lose brawler.

(2) We need to continue to expand missile defense. The politics of this are bizarre. Surely this is a Republican bonanza, whose political implications are for some reason nearly ignored as the election nears. After Bill Clinton and the Democrats in Congress cut back missile defense, George Bush rescued it—just in time to get a rudimentary system up that might just stop an obsolete missile or two from hitting the West Coast.

(3) We need to inform the Chinese that they broke the understood rules of the game, those that obligated patrons to ensure their clients did not go nuclear. Unfortunately for them, their sole client is a failed lunatic state, and ours—Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea—are full-fledged regional partners, prosperous and democratic. All could make bombs like Accords and Camrys.

Unless China disarms North Korea, a new non-proliferation doctrine should replace the failed one. The new doctrine should state that the United States opposes the acquisition of nuclear arms by any non-democratic state, and will stop such nuclearization, but if democratic societies choose to go nuclear in response to the stealthily arming of nearby failed states, then we have no objection to such democratically-reached decisions. If Japan had a 1,000 or nukes right now, China would be scrambling to stop Pyongyang from shooting test rockets even near Tokyo.

(4) To work with South Korea, we need to start withdrawing troops to Pusan—and well beyond. Much of the present mess arose from the appeasement of the Sunshine policy—in part, fueled by the revisionism of Korean ingrate leftists who rewrote the Korean War in populist terms of American imperialism and their own victimization. This was, in part, due to Korean nationalism that envisioned an eventual pan-Korea state birthed by slow and insidious osmosis from the south; and, in part, a result of strategic complacence of a half-century made possible by American subsidies and deployments. It made sense to garrison Americans on the DMZ when Seoul was weak and nascent, but not now when its population and economy dwarf the North’s. Getting America off the DMZ would give us more strategic options through air power, and wake up the South Koreans, reminding them that cheap triangulation with the United States has real costs. They can either play Churchill or Chamberlain—but it’s their call, not ours, since we have wider worries protecting Japan and Taiwan that transcend South Korea’s Sunshine nonsense.

(5) Over two years ago I wrote a brief essay called “Another 9/11?” This argued that in advance we should reestablish deterrence, by warning any suspect states that should terrorists hit the United States with strategic weapons, we would respond state-to-state to any country that armed or otherwise subsidized or sheltered such mass killers. That needs to be reiterated in the case of North Korea and Iran. Deniability of culpability was a big Pakistani and Saudi stratagem in the 1990s, but is fading, once the United States warned both about the consequences of another al Qaeda attack. We should revisit that posture, and inform now a Syria, Iran, and North Korea that if they either house terrorists or proliferate nuclear material, fine—BUT their cities, industries, and militaries will become immediate strategic targets in the hours after a terrorist attack on the U.S. Lunacy is an advantage in nuclear poker, but so far they have had a monopoly on supposed craziness. It is time—to prevent a nuclear 9/11—to remind them that the United States, if hit, will not merely be angry, but become the berserker as well.

So much for the ‘End of History.