Status Quo on North Korea

Status Quo on North Korea

By Richard Halloran - June 8, 2009

It is a tale "full of sound and fury," Shakespeare would say, "signifying nothing."

Confronted by North Korea bent on fielding ballistic missiles capped with nuclear warheads, the administration of President Barack Obama, like the administrations of President George Bush and Bill Clinton before him, have thundered at Pyongyang's "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il.

Mr. Obama accused the North Korean of "blatant defiance" and "directly and recklessly challenging the international community." Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asserted that the North Korean has embarked on "an ultimately self-destructive quest for nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles." He said: "We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: North Korea "has abrogated the obligations" made in the so-called Six Party Talks. "And it continues to act in a provocative and belligerent manner toward its neighbors." She contended: "There are consequences to such actions." The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the US "will seek a strong resolution and strong measures" in the UN.

To which North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA), speaking for the regime in Pyongyang, responded: "The U.S. is double-tongued and applies double standards" to the nuclear issue, was "loud-mouthed" in seeking a world free of nuclear weapons, and is guilty of "sheer hypocrisy."

"Now that the U.S. is keen to mount a preemptive nuclear attack on the DPRK and stifle it through the application of the above-said double standards," KCNA declared, referring to the formal name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "the DPRK is left with no option but to bolster its nuclear deterrent and take strong counter-measures."

Thus the world is left with a gale of American tough but ineffective talk and no strategy to deal with North Korea other than lame pleas that Pyongyang resume the six party talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the US. Why no plan of action?

Obama, again like Bush and Clinton, has yet to recognize that Kim Jong-il leads a band of thugs who, unlike most other nations, negotiate by bullying.

Moreover, Obama is not ready to concede what has become amply evident, that North Korea will not give up its nuclear arms and missiles. And because none of the three available options is appealing.

Militarily, the US knows where most North Korean nuclear and missile sites are. They could be taken out with a preemptive strike using conventional bombs and cruise missiles. North Korean artillery along its southern border could also be a target but North Korea might still be able to launch a barrage at residential communities north of Seoul. That could cause tens of thousands of South Korean casualties.

Diplomatically, what North Korea would want in direct negotiations with the US can be gleaned from recent KCNA dispatches: Withdrawal of American forces from South Korea, abrogation of the US security treaty with Seoul, withdrawal of US forces from Japan, abrogation of the security treaty with Tokyo, and acceptance as a nuclear state.

Further, North Korea would demand a treaty with the US guaranteeing that the US would not attack North Korea, diplomatic relations with Washington, an end to sanctions, and the opening of trade and economic aid. Even if the US was willing to give Kim Jong Il all that, however, there would be no guarantee that Kim Jong Il would keep his word, given his record for breaking promises.

That leaves breaking off all contact except through the North Korean delegation at the UN in New York. The US would wait until Kim Jong Il, 68, passes from the scene and hope for more peaceable regime under his son, Kim Jong Un, named this week as the heir apparent.

Richard Halloran, a free lance writer in Honolulu, was a military correspondent for The New York Times for ten years. He can be reached at
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