What Do You Do With a Drunken Madman With Nukes?

The latest news from North Korea isn’t, depsite what you may read, anything much out of the ordinary. Here’s the lede from the Guardian:

“I wouldn’t label it a crisis,” the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage told the United States Senate when he was being interrogated over the nuclear showdown with North Korea. It was more of a “big problem”, he said.

However careful the Bush administration is with words, it clear that its North Korea problem is getting bigger by the day, and they are well aware that Pyongyang is raising the temperature with every degree Washington turns up the heat on Baghdad.

A typical North Korean “negotiating” tactic is to threaten all kinds of unholy war if we don’t do as they say. Then they ratchet it down a little and the talks begin.

There’s just one eentsy leetle problem: This time, the Dear Leader thinks we’ll be playing for keeps with Pyongyang, just as we’re now (at long last) playing for keeps with Baghdad. So what is to be done with a madman with the power to level much of our ally South Korea’s capital — home to ten-plus million people — in minutes or hours?

First off, keep’em talking, or even shouting and threatening and blustering. As long as they’re doing those things, they aren’t raining down artillery shells on Seoul. If we can do that long enough, eventually the regime should collapse under its own weight, and the South Koreans have a large and effective enough army to deal with the aftermath.

If that fails? We won’t start a war there, I don’t think. Or at least not a real shooting war. If the Dear Leader builds more nukes, we might just have to live with them. If he starts to sell them, a US naval blockade, combined with a Chinese land blockade (they have no interest in a nuclear-armed and -exporting DPRK) should prove an effective quarrantine short of real war.

(Something that would be far less effective against Iraq, with large stretches of desert border.)

But even a power vacuum in the North would be a human and financial disaster. Imagine if Mexico and Canada were starving, literally starving to death, and the world handed both countries to us to deal with — that’s the case the South will be facing in case of a “successful” peace.

So don’t worry too much about the hype in the press — but don’t be much comforted by the alternatives, either.