Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?

(to the tune of How do you solve a Problem like Maria fromThe Sound of Music)

How do you solve a problem like North Korea?
How do you catch a mushroom cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means North Korea?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! Boomtooooown!

Many a time you know you’d like to shell her
Maybe then she’d begin to understand
But how do you make her play
By the rules of the U.S.A.
How do you keep her from freaking out Japaaaaan!

Oh, how do you solve a problem like North Korea?
How do you keep Dear Leader well in hand?

When she talks we are confused
Bush and Bolton are not bemused
And we never know exactly where we stand
Glowing like a nuclear feather
Careful or there will be ultra-sunny weather
She is snarling! She's is screaming! Here I am!

With Iraq the question was did they have the bomb?
With Iran the question is will they have the bomb?
With Korea the questions is will they use or sell the bomb? Much scarier.

Let's do what's unforgivable to some and look at the mindset of a United States enemy from its own perspective. It is completely surrounded by the world's three most powerful countries - Russia, China and the United States, who has more armed forces surrounding North Korea than it does in Afghanistan.

Between those 3 countries are well over 2000 tons of fissile material including highly enriched uranium and plutonium (mostly Russia and the U.S.) as of 2003, making up close to 12,000 active nuclear warheads. Obviously, the smallest fraction would be needed to pull an Ahmadinejad on North Korea.

Though many of us grew up hearing and believing that Russia or China would love to drop the bomb on us, and they expected the same, no one expects any of these countries to do so now. Korea might, particularly as we frequently say nothing is off the table, including most recently by the President, when it comes to defending our friends. North Korea may have a long memory despite Condoleeza Rice's assurances that there will be no military attack in response to the still alleged test, even if confirmed.

There are some 67,000 U.S. troops in east Asia according to a recent Heritage Foundation report (as of 2005), not to mention the Pacific Fleet.

Another near neighbor of North Korea, Japan, has raised the alarm greater than any other country at the recent reported underground bomb test by North Korea. Despite a recent agreement between the two countries, Japan has its own history of occupation of the Korean Peninsula, and there are plenty of hard historically driven feelings which seem by their intensity unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Japan has requested stronger sanctions against North Korea than even the U.S.

Although Japan is not in a position to militarily threaten North Korea, many commentators have suggested that the testing may trigger a prepared Japan to make its own bombs. It would easily and quickly dwarf North Korea in production, particularly with our help, and, if rumors that it has enough fissile material for 500 bombs are true, would almost immediately surpass China's relatively small stockpile. It is inconceivable that China would let this happen unanswered. Japan today began shutting down commercial contacts with North Korea.

Those are some of North Korea's fairly obvious reasons for wanting a nuclear deterence of there own, whether we consider them legitimate or nor not, and we must deal with it somehow, and sooner rather than later. We cannot ignore Kim Jong-Il's personal hold over the country, his desire to maintain it, nor his responsibility for the death of a million or more of his own countrymen. Nor is this an apology for North Korea's program. Most commentators seem to believe North Korea's leaders, particularly Kim-Il Jong, are either mentally ill, evil, or both. These are givens, but not that helpful in resolving this problem - how to stop North Korea from building Nuclear weapons.

According to North Korea and Iran, North Korea's nuclear program is all the fault of the U.S., which was last at war with North Korea some 53 years ago. Given the amount of U.S. troops in South Korea, it is not a great surprise they still feel that way, even if we believe our acts are purely defensive. "Defensive" is what they say about their nuclear program.

So how do you solve a problem like Korea? Right now it seems difficult to believe that we can eradicate their program anymore than we could China and Russia's programs. We would be more nervous if we did not have historical experiences like the cold war or Hitler's Germany as examples of how economics, preparation, determination and fortitude can stem off powerful despots. Dumb luck helps too. But we must believe we can win this, or at least learn to live with it, just like we do with Russia and China having the bomb. That must be the last option, and only of necessity.

Still, all of those "lovely intangibles" (to quote a line from the greatest Christmas movie ever made) have to be put into action -- but how? Military action seems, unless there is a direct imminent threat, out of the question. South Korea prefers appeasement and engagement, knowing that even if no nuclear weapons are used, and even if the war lasts a day or so, South Korea may suffer the loss of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people from artillery shelling alone, and have its economy thrown back to the days of the Three Kingdoms.

Our experience in Iraq has made it clear that military action by the United States unsupported by the rest of the world's powers would be ruinous for us, unless we were determined merely to destroy North Korea, probably taking South Korea with it. Modern international mores would find such an act abhorent, as would most Americans. Simply, positively not an option. Moreover, the last thing we want is a conflict with us on one side and China on the other, in which the entire world would likely suffer a blow from which it would take decades to recover. Still, the potential for dire consequences if we do not do something gets a red flag.

China and Russia are still busy playing a modern version of The Great Game with us, seemingly ruling out a successful multi-national front despite Ambassador Bolton's suggestions to the contrary. That leaves, of course, only bilateral talks. We had informal bilateral talks with Japan before World War II (not that it did much good, but it can be hoped we all learned something). Not only did we talk with Stalin during World War II, we were his ally.

There is nothing wrong with sanctions, because we should not have to do business with our enemies. But they do not work any better than foreign aid. Many countries understand this. Certainly Castro, Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Kim do. According to one biography of Castro, when he was imprisoned in the '50s, he and the other prisoners were required to wake at 6 a.m. Castro made sure they were up at 5 a.m. Today Ahmadinejad said he would declare a day of celebration if the U.N. imposed sanctions. He will. Iranians will hate the sanctions as will their leaders, but it will not stop them from nuclear development (we should do it anyway for other reasons).

The voices for bilateral talks have come mostly from the out of power left, and it would not surprise anyone if they would claim the opposite if Bush did engage in such talks. Even the often moderate, and sometimes protean John McCain, has castigated the Clinton administration for its bilateral talks with North Korea in the 90s. Only an old foreign hand, James Baker openly calls for them from the right. Many on the left might still be angry with him for his successful participation in the Bush-Gore legal disputes, but his qualifications as Secretary of State during Desert Storm, the U.S.'s last truly great diplomatic achievement, and his service in three prior administrations, gives him virtually unparalled qualifications while Bush senior remains silent. Much more importantly, Baker is right.

Baker insists that we must understand the difference between talking and appeasement. Bush is both right and wrong: right that what is needed is for Russia and especially China to insist North Korea end its program; wrong that we should not step up to the plate if they do not. We are either the leader of the free world or we are not.

Yes, North Korea and Iran will declare victory over the U.S. if they get bilateral talks. Countries are always going to declare victory no matter what, particularly those with few successes. Lebanon declared victory earlier this year after Israel destroyed their country, occupied it and cut them off from the rest of the world. Our politicians and people have to grow up about this. Its sort of like when a little kid stands in front of you and mimics everything you say until you want to wack him - well, you can't, can you?

There has been no stronger, more moral, more disciplined leader than Ghandi in the last hundred years. He always reserved the right to change his mind, seeing it as a strength, not a weakness. Nothing in our constitution, our history or our morality prevents us from changing tactics.

Talk tough, but talk. Bigger defense budget, but talk. Sanctions (because we don't want to help them, not because they will get us what we want) but talk. Bilateral, multilateral, togethor or one after the other.

Isn't talk what we expected from the two sides in Northern Ireland? Isn't that what we expect from Israel and the Arab peoples. We talked to China and we talked to Russia when they were the enemies during the cold war. If North Korea or Iran won't talk, have ridiculous preconditions or act unconscionably, then stop temporarily, until you can start again. If the stakes are so high we must do something, then they are too high not to try everything.

Nuclear proliferation is not going away. Even if it did, the ready availability of dangerous weapons in the world makes conventional war a less a successful strategy than ever. Eventually, we have to talk.

In order to speak softly and carry a big stick, you have to speak.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .