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Welcome Back to the 1950s

By Dennis Byrne

Welcome back to the 1950s.

With the United Nations, specifically its Security Council, demonstrating anew that it won't or can't do much about the North Korean nuclear threat, it's back to when deterrence was the only weapon left to us:

Mutually assured destruction. Or Mini-MAD, if you prefer.

That's where we are, thanks to the Security Council, which bypassed a meaningful arms embargo proposal from the Bush administration in favor of toothless resolution 1718, which tries to gum North Korean madman Kim Jong-il into submission.

Among it serious loopholes is a provision that "asks" nations to cooperate in the inspection of North Korean vessels for illicit arms, based, I suppose, on the premise that it never hurts to ask. The U.S. had proposed a tougher provision, but China, asserting that such inspections would violate international law, successfully stymied the American proposal.

Then, after the resolution passed, China said it would not inspect cargo entering or leaving North Korea, for fear of raising tensions in the region. Given the Chinese mindset, the bigger problem is its own 880-mile border with North Korea, which we can't guarantee will be any less as porous than our own border with Mexico.

Perhaps getting the council's unanimous condemnation of North Korea is as much as we can expect from an international body that has so miserably failed to do its job in Darfur. So hurray for that. But Kim Jong-il correctly will see it as nothing more than the lip service it is.

This is the direction that we're going: Diplomacy supposedly is the effective way to deal with threats and worse. Bush has failed, we're told, because he doesn't know how to do diplomacy. When he "goes it alone," he doesn't know how to do diplomacy. When he takes the multilateral approach, as he has with North Korea, he doesn't know how to do diplomacy. Of course, the criticism overlooks the fact that neither the bi-lateral diplomatic efforts of President Bill Clinton nor the multi-lateral approach of Bush has worked. Diplomacy first didn't work; neither did diplomacy second, third or fourth.

Where does it leave us? After withdrawing from the world's trouble spots, after disengaging from meaningful confrontation with the Kim Jong-ils and Mahmoud Ahmadinejads of the world, what weapons do we have remaining?

In effect, the critics of Bush foreign policy would have us retreat behind the walls of deterrence. We would have to let Kim know that if he uses his weapons against Seoul or Tokyo, it will mean the obliteration of a couple of million people in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. And we would mean it.

Welcome back Dr. Strangelove.

As a child of the 1940s and 1950s, when nuclear annihilation was very much on everyone's mind, it's not what I'd want. By deterrence, we mean that we're sitting around waiting for a maniac to use nuclear weapons on Tel Aviv, New York, London, Berlin and so forth. Is that what we want? Are we really serious that we'd retaliate with our own massive destruction?

Isn't there something more effective, something between massive destruction and meaningless talk?

Sanctions? If you remember, we weren't supposed to use sanctions against Iraq. Too harsh, we were told. They only hurt civilians. We were supposed to lift them for "humanitarian" reasons. (Even from the same, leftist political corner came absolutist demands that sanctions be imposed on South Africa. Although, the same political corner seems to want to forget that the sanctions helped end Apartheid.) With ineffective enforcement of sanctions, with the unchallenged stiffing of WMD inspectors, with stupefying cruelty the hallmark of Saddam Hussein, we had two choices left in Iraq, go to war or ignore the threat. Or maybe wait until both Iran and Iraq had nuclear weapons, so they could use them on each other, just as they did with chemical weapons.

We seem to have forgotten what a towering accomplishment the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was when the fear of nuclear annihilation was real, not a concept. Likewise, we seem to have forgotten the importance of enforcing the treaty.

Maybe this isn't a return to the 1950s after all. Then, the United Nations went to war, to preserve the freedoms of South Koreans, freedoms that they enjoy today, and freedoms they would have been denied by the lunatic's father, Kim Il-sung.

Today, South Korea is a free and prosperous nation because the world community (minus the Soviet Union, which had blundered by boycotting the UN at the time) was willing to do more than just talk and pass empty resolutions.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist.

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