The problem with the UN, as Sarkozy suggests, is that it simply cannot respond to threats to peace. As William Pfaff observed in the 1990s, organizations like the UN can actually be “an obstacle to action, by inhibiting individual national action and rationalizing the refusal to act nationally.” The consequence of such inertia is on display in and around North Korea.
North Korea’s behavior demands a response.
The realists will caution that any response should avoid war—and understandably so, given that a full-blown war on the peninsula would devastate South Korea, send shrapnel tearing into Japan, and cost thousands of American lives. Seoul would bear the brunt of Korean War II. With its 10 million citizens, Seoul sits just 25 miles from the DMZ, the northern edge of which is bristling with North Korean weaponry. As former Defense Secretary William Perry explained in 2002, “North Korea deploys more than one million soldiers near the DMZ, and its 11,000 long-range artillery pieces hidden nearby could rain destruction on the South Korean capital.” Gen. Leon LaPorte, the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, added a chilling footnote in 2005: Every third round fired by North Korean artillery would be a chemical weapon.
In short, now is not the time for a U.S. air strike.
That said, while we strive to avoid a full-blown war—and try telling the families of those killed on Yeonpyeong island and on the Chenoan that this isn’t a war—we need to keep in mind that avoiding war may not be an option due to the kind of regime that rules North Korea.
Whether or not North Korea’s dynastic, decrepit regime wants a war, it’s obvious that it wants attention. We should oblige Kim and his sons, and give them all the attention they could ever hope for.
- For starters, the U.S. and South Korea should extend the joint naval maneuvers they launched last summer, inviting Australia, Japan, Singapore and other allies to join in.
- If China doesn’t think the U.S. is serious and continues to allow North Korea to play these deadly games, Washington should play the Tokyo card and declare that the United States recognizes the need for Japan to develop and deploy its own nuclear weapons. In fact, DefenseNews reports that a Japanese government panel recently called on policymakers to be open to lifting bans on “development and possession of nuclear weapons.”
- Finally, since it appears the North Koreans want an arms race, perhaps the U.S. should give them one and redeploy the nuclear weapons it withdrew from South Korea in 1991. In light of revelations that North Korea has been hiding a secret uranium-enrichment facility, The Financial Times reports that South Korean defense secretary Kim Tae-young has raised the prospect of redeploying U.S. nukes.
The UN hasn’t gotten Pyongyang’s attention for quite a while; perhaps some combination of these forceful but measured and reciprocal responses will.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security.
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