by Patrick J. Buchanan – October 23, 2002
Grim as the news was – North Korea was secretly producing enriched uranium for atomic bombs – I laughed out loud. For the “On-to-Baghdad!” boys at the Wall Street Journal were suddenly sounding like John Lennon, singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
“Now, let’s be clear, we aren’t suggesting the U.S. go to war,” the Journal assured us. But why isn’t the Journal, wild for war on Iraq, wild for war on North Korea? After all, Pyongyang is a charter member of the Axis of Evil. It may have plutonium bombs. It is a terrorist state that has dynamited airliners, blown up half the South Korean cabinet, sent agents to murder its president, kidnapped Japanese citizens and sold missiles to state sponsors of terror.
Surely, this is a prime candidate for pre-emptive war. Will the Journal hawks explain to us why Saddam, with no nukes and a few decrepit rockets, is a mortal peril, but the sex-and-movies maniac Kim Jong Il, with a matched pair of plutonium bombs, is the kind of fellow we can do business with?
“The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” said President Bush in his State of the Union.
But one of the world’s worst dictators may have the world’s worst weapons, and he is seeking enriched uranium to build more. What are we going to do about it? We will seek a “peaceful resolution,” says the White House. Amen to that, adds the Journal.
They have grown – for good reason. Unlike Iraq, North Korea could do terrible damage to U.S. forces before we managed to establish a MacArthur Regency in Pyongyang. Its missiles can hit any U.S. base in Asia. It has biological and chemical warheads, and maybe nuclear ones.
Along the DMZ, where 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed, North Korea has a million soldiers, 11,000 artillery tubes and rockets that can rain destruction on every South Korean city.
Political point-scoring aside, what should we do? The president should put the war rhetoric on the shelf and recall Lincoln’s admonition to his Cabinet when Palmerston was demanding return of Confederate agents Mason and Slidell, taken off the British steamer Trent.
“One war at a time, gentlemen.”
But if we must defend South Korea and Japan, we should play this hand ourselves. Until Pyongyang shuts down its nuclear plants, food and fuel aid should be cut off. South Korea and Japan should do likewise. But while we cannot submit to nuclear blackmail, we have nothing to gain from a new Korean war. Nor should we launch one to effect the nuclear castration of Kim Jong-Il.
This crisis should raise questions for U.S. strategists, not yet sold on a Pax Americana. Why are we still defending South Korea, half a century after the Korean War? South Korea is not Kuwait. It has twice the population of the North, 30 times its wealth and access to modern weapons. Why should Americans be first to die in a second Korean war?
The vital interests of South Korea and Japan in a nuclear-free North is obvious. But what vital interest is there of ours, on the Korean Peninsula, that justifies a war in which thousands of U.S. soldiers may die, perhaps in a nuclear blast?
Let us see this crisis through, but then declare a sunset date for our treaty to defend South Korea, as we did in 1979 with Taiwan.
As Edward A. Olsen, professor of national security at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, Calif., writes in “The Grand Exit Strategy,” America ought not put herself at risk to defend rich and powerful nations like South Korea and Japan. Half a century after World War II and the Korean conflict, it is time they assumed the primary burden of their own defense.
This crisis has exposed the hollowness of the Bush Doctrine. Kim Jong Il and Saddam have observed that if you have nuclear weapons, the Bush folks will negotiate with you and bribe you. If you do not, they will threaten you. The Bush Doctrine of threatening pre-emptive war on non-nuclear rogue states may be the most powerful incentive for nuclear proliferation since Stalin learned Truman had the bomb.
The technology for the atom bomb is 57 years old. Eight nations have them. The technology for ballistic missiles is 58 years old. Dozens of nations have them. As proliferation takes place – aided by North Korea, Pakistan, China and Russia – this brief era of American global hegemony will come to a rapid close.
Americans will conclude that only our own vital interests justify risking a nuclear exchange with a rogue regime. We will give up the American Empire. Olsen is right. Fortress America is our future. North Korea has concentrated the mind wonderfully.