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November 23, 2004
A Problematic Proposal

Korea scholar Nicholas Eberstadt has a new Weekly Standard column on the nK problem, and its a must read. He opens with the following evisceration of the current non-strategy:

The current U.S. approach to the North Korea problem is demonstrably flawed; arguably, even dangerously flawed.

Just what is wrong? After nearly four years in office, the curious fact remains that the Bush administration plainly lacks a strategy for dealing with the North Korean regime. Instead, it merely confronts Pyongyang with an attitude.

President Bush and his inner circle regard Kim Jong Il and his system with an admixture of loathing, contempt, and distrust--as well they might. Unfortunately, a mechanism for translating that point of view into effective action was manifestly absent from the statecraft of Bush's first-term administration. Long on attitude ("axis of evil") but short on strategy, the administration on North Korea was at times akin to a rudderless boat on an open sea.

Eberstadt suggests the administration base a new strategy on two precepts. First:

Precept One: We are exceedingly unlikely to talk--or to bribe--the current North Korean government out

of its nuclear quest.

We tried this with Clinton, it didnt work then and will not work now. Lets face it, the Jonger is always willing to take our money, but hes dead set on having his nuclear deterrence. Next precept:

Precept Two: The North Korean nuclear crisis is the North Korean government--and the North Korean government is the North Korean nuclear crisis.

I think this concept is well-understood by the president, though perhaps not stated as such. After all, he didnt rank nK in the axis of evil because it has a lousy climate and no good restaurants.

Eberstadt takes these principles and weaves them into four policy recommendations. Here the list and a rough summary:

1. Instituting regime change - at the State Department. Eberstadt cites Secretary Powells last trip to Asia as a key example of the diplomats failure to understand and address the nK danger.

2. Defining success and failure for North Korea negotiations. Talk is cheap.

3. Increasing Chinas ownership of the North Korean problem. Beijing will feel the pain of a fully nuclear nK.

4. Working around the pro-appeasement crowd in the South Korea government. Translation: the Sunshine Policy is a speed-bump on the road to a successful resolution of the crisis.

5. Readying the nondiplomatic instruments for North Korea threat reduction. Get the stick out in case the carrot doesnt work.

6. Planning for a post-Communist Korean peninsula. Hes dreaming big here, but tis forgivable.


I agree wholeheartedly with several of Eberstadts conclusions, but he fails to offer what the administration needs most: a realistic goal for its nK strategy. He accuses the administration of being a rudderless boat on an open sea, but he neglects to provide the president with a compass. We might assume from the title (Tear Down This Tyranny) that Eberstadt promotes regime change, yet he fails to actually call for such an event or suggest any methods by which it could be engineered. He speaks repeatedly of the nuclear crisis without identifying the elements of the situation that make it an emergency.

The idea of Kim Jong Il with nukes is scary, but lets face it. The Dear Leader probably already has them. This means we have two options: (1) Destroy them with our military or (2) Make him an offer he cant refuse. Eberstadt dealt with option (2) above. The military option is, sadly, too pricey. If we attempted a surgical strike, the nK artillery would fire thousands of rounds an hour on Seoul, resulting in massive casualties and crippling the East Asian economy. And it might not even work! Though our weapons are up to the task, there is significant doubt as to whether the intelligence can provide the targets.

Realistically, we can deter nK from deploying nuclear weapons, but the real threat, the threat that should keep the Bush administration up at night, is the possibility that nuclear material could be transferred to the Jihadists, who would have no qualms about detonating them in an American city. We must develop a nK policy that addresses this threat, even if that means the unthinkable: letting Kim keep a bomb or two . . . for now.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Whiskey at November 23, 2004 9:55 PM

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