A Unified Korea in 60 Days
The Bush Administration experienced a major diplomatic triumph last week when Pyongyang agreed to multi-lateral talks with the United States and four other nations – China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea – instead of the bilateral talks it had insisted upon. This success, which followed an offer by Beijing to host the multilateral meeting, seemed to say the choice to follow diplomacy instead of force was the correct choice.
The actual triumph, in my view, was that for the first time in a formal diplomatic setting, North Korea demonstrated to its neighbors in Northeast Asia that it is a rogue state determined to become a nuclear power at all costs and in spite of the intolerable threat that this will create.
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, as reported by Fox News, U.S. and North Korean diplomats met privately, according to Wie Sung-rak, Director-general of the North American Affairs Bureau at the South Korean Foreign Ministry. According to Wie, “The U.S. side made comments about easing North Korea ’s security concerns, but I cannot give you any more details …. From what North Koreans said during the meeting, we could read that North Korea is willing to resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue.” Wie added: “The meeting came naturally as part of the sideline activities.”
Another incident happened on that Wednesday. As diplomats from the six nations sat down in Beijing to commence their discussions, a shot rang out from the North Korean side of the DMZ, and a bullet shattered a window of a South Korean guard post. Shortly thereafter, a North Korean representative informed South Korea that the shot was unintended. But in North Korea, nothing that relates to South Korea or the U.S. ever happens by accident.
Prior to this, on July 17, North and South Korean soldiers briefly traded machine-gun fire across the DMZ.
On Tuesday, Aug. 26, a day before the meeting, a South Korean gunboat fired two warning shots across the bow of a North Korean patrol boat that had crossed about a half-mile into South Korean waters. The North Korean boat pulled back without returning fire.
That same evening, the State Department released a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sen. John Kyl, R-AZ, defending a speech given four weeks earlier in South Korea by Undersecretary of State John Bolton. In that speech, Bolton said of North Korean President Kim Jong Il: “To give in to his extortionist demands would only encourage him and, perhaps more ominously, other would-be tyrants around the world.”
Bolton attacked Kim more than 40 times in that speech. Powell affirmed to Kyl that Bolton ’s speech, including the attacks, represented official State Department policy. He denied that departing State Department official Jack Pritchard had said anything to the contrary, despite Kyl’s contention.
The second day of the six-nation meeting, Pyongyang’s official news agency, KCNA, was quoted by South Korean news agency Yonhap: “As the United States refuses to express intentions to switch over its hostile policy against North Korea, prospects for the next round of talks have fallen into danger.”
The same day, a U.S. government official in Washington said that North Korea had rejected U.S. disarmament plans, and said that it will prove to the world that it possesses nuclear weapons by carrying out a nuclear test.
As reported by Fox News, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, paraphrased North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il (not the president Kim Jong Il) that the “DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has the means to deliver nuclear weapons …. ”
Furthermore, according to Fox, KCNA reported, “Through the six-way talks, it has become more clear that the United States is pursuing a hostile policy to stifle the DPRK and is seeking to dismantle us by pressure,” while the U.S. State Department reiterated that U.S. goal at the conference was to focus on “the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
During the talks, it became clear that North Korea does, in fact, have nuclear weapons. Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il as much as admitted this when he insisted that the DPRK has the means to deliver these weapons. And then suggested that the DPRK was willing to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid and a treaty with the United States. “It is not our goal to have nuclear weapons,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
Kim also said that the DPRK could allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, stop its missile exports and tests, and dismantle its nuclear program on the condition that the United States resume free oil shipments, provide economic and humanitarian aid, sign a bilateral non-aggression treaty, and open diplomatic ties to the DPRK.
On Saturday, one day after the conclusion of the talks, Kim Yong Il announced, “The talks only reinforced our confidence that there is no other option for us but to further increase the nuclear deterrent force.”
This observer detects a pattern in North Korea’s behavior: Rattle the saber and scare the folks; set an impossible condition on something the folks want; after further provocation and scare-mongering, yield several times to specific responses to provocations, and then yield on the impossible condition; stonewall talks so that nothing concrete happens; rattle the saber and scare the folks – again; set an impossible condition on something the folks want – again .…
Each time, Pyongyang ’s nuclear posture ends up a bit more secure. And since North Korea has all but promised to sell its weaponry to the highest bidder, to this observer it appears only a matter of time before al Qaeda possesses the ultimate weapon – for use against us.
The Bush administration seems committed to a diplomatic solution, along with the rest of the world. Nobody wants a war, but if it comes to nuclear bombs detonating on American soil or a war on the Korean peninsula, it’s a no-brainer.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney was recently interviewed on Fox News. He was asked about whether or not there was a really effective military option for North Korea. He answered:
“Yes there is …. And there is a growing case for pre-emption. I do not want to have a war over there. But if they will not negotiate, we cannot let them have nuclear weapons and sell them to terrorists that end up here in the United States. So, Korea is an excellent place for us to have a preemptive war or a war. It is the optimum place for U.S. forces.
“First, it optimizes our naval forces: two naval carrier battle groups off of East Coast, a Marine amphibious force off the East Coast. The distances are much shorter than we just experienced in Iraq, where we used to fly 800 sorties a day in Iraq . We will fly 4,000 sorties a day. So … and we know exactly where every one of those artillery pieces are that they’re trying to use Seoul as a terror target.”
The Fox interviewer, Tony Snow then asked:
“All right. Now, people hearing this are going to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute, we’ve had a war in Afghanistan, we’ve had a war in Iraq. The entire world is already arguing that the United States has imperial ambitions. And you’ve got a war-mongering cowboy as president. That’s the caricature. Wouldn’t that get worse if the U.S. were to engage in military action in North Korea ?”
“It would. [We wouldn’t] want to do it. But wouldn’t it really be worse if [terrorists] detonated … 10 nuclear weapons in the United States? We must think what is the worst they could do to us and so we don’t want that to happen.”
A bit later Snow commented:
“Well, here’s an interesting thing. You think that the use of force or the threat of force or the possibility of force, might force them back to the table, correct?”
And McInerney responded:
“Well, I think if they know we can do this in 30 to 60 days, they will have to relook at this.”
McInerney says that the U.S. can eliminate the North Korean threat in 30 to 60 days, and I’ve got to believe that he knows what he’s talking about. But do we simply want to use this threat to bring Pyongyang back to the table? Or do we end the problem once and for all?
By a unanimous vote, the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly just re-elected Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission. This is the highest position attainable in the DPRK, since his father, Kim Il Sung, dead nearly a decade, is still President and Head of State. The happy citizens of the DPRK danced in the streets. I suspect that if we were to destroy Kim’s artillery and disperse his million-man army, the dancing would be for real, and we wouldn’t have to worry for our safety in the face of an almost certain nuclear terrorist attack.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor