February 28, 2003


Secret, Scary Plans: The scariest work under way in the Pentagon these days is the planning for a possible military strike against nuclear sites in North Korea. (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 2/28/03, NY Times)
Dick Cheney and his camp worry, not unreasonably, that the greatest risk of all would be to allow North Korea to churn out nuclear warheads like hotcakes off a griddle. In a few years North Korea will be able to produce about 60 nuclear weapons annually, and fissile material is so compact that it could easily be sold and smuggled to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria and Al Qaeda.

The hawk faction believes that the U.S. as a last resort could make a surgical strike, even without South Korean consent, and that Kim Jong Il would not commit suicide by retaliating. The hawks may well be right.

Then again, they may be wrong. And if they're wrong, it would be quite a mistake.

The North has 13,000 artillery pieces and could fire some 400,000 shells in the first hour of an attack, many with sarin and anthrax, on the 21 million people in the "kill box" — as some in the U.S. military describe the Seoul metropolitan area. The Pentagon has calculated that another Korean war could kill a million people.

So if the military option is too scary to contemplate, and if allowing North Korea to proliferate is absolutely unacceptable, what's left? Precisely the option that every country in the region is pressing on us: negotiating with North Korea.

Ironically, the gravity of the situation isn't yet fully understood in either South Korea or Japan, partly because they do not think this administration would be crazy enough to consider a military strike against North Korea. They're wrong.

North Korea has and has had one of the two or three worst governments on Earth. It's committed terrorist acts itself, never mind sponsoring them. It sells weapons to anyone and it has both a nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile program. If we won't attack a country like that pre-emptively then why would any other nation that considers its interests to conflict with ours not pursue the same policies? Does the risk go down in a few years when there are many North Koreas?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 28, 2003 11:01 AM

Kristof fails to acknowledge that negotiate cannot hope to succeed unless it is backed by the credible threat to use force. This threat can hardly be credible if it is "too scary to contemplate." If he wants to avoid the "absolutely unacceptable" outcome, he needs to overcome his fear and start contemplating military force.

Posted by: pj at February 28, 2003 11:22 AM

The Pentagon plans for contingencies all the time! If Kristof thinks this sort of planning is new and scary, he's terribly mistaken and should not be writing about such matters for what was once a serious newspaper.

Posted by: Kevin Whited at February 28, 2003 11:33 AM

Might I point out that the as the "only option left is negotiation" means, "the only option left is for the US to pay blackmail to feed the prison guards (and only the prison guards) of North Korea from now until.... the end of time. Getcher wallets out taxpayers.

And of course "every country in the region is pressing that on us" because, yet AGAIN, it's easier to pass your bucks (problems, not money) to Washington and then stand on the sidelines and bitch and moan than it is to get off your sorry, sanctimonious asses and actully confront your problems head on.

We are in Asia to HELP Asians defend democracy, not because they are kind enough to let us be there. Help means THEY take the initiative in their own defense, and we back them up from behind. If there is one lesson that needs to be beaten into heads all over planet earth, that is it.

Sometimes I wonder if the Administration might even be willing to "allow", by inaction or other, the Norks to launch an attack if only to prove to the ten million fuzzy headed idiots who marched on Valentine's Day just what kind of a world it is that we really do live in, and how effective Sheryl Crow's strategy of "The answer is not to have any enemies" really is.

Posted by: Andrew X at February 28, 2003 12:02 PM

We are faced with at Hobbes choice. Kristof believes that negotiation can make it go away.

First, what, precisely is there for us to give away in a negotiation?

Second, what is the Nork's track record from previous negotiations? Should we have any reason to expect them to live up to an agreement to not, say, put their fissile materials on the black market.

Maybe that peanut eating appeasement monkey Carter could give us some deep background...


Jeff Guinn

Posted by: at February 28, 2003 12:07 PM

Also, the Japanese government has at least been seriously considering the possibility. It's the current ROK government whose unseriousness worries us.

Posted by: John Thacker at February 28, 2003 1:08 PM

The best solution to this problem is having Papa China Bear stomping his foot on Kim Jong Il. Where are the Chinese? Do they sit on the sidelines and let NKorea act like maniacs in order to make the Chinese look good in comparison?

Have the Chinese put up a couple hundred thousand troops at the border (and maybe a few missiles) and see how the NKoreans react. You would think that China could see some long-term threats from this rogue state.

Posted by: MarcV at February 28, 2003 1:19 PM

MarcV -

That makes sense. However China may have learned the same lesson other countries have - sit on your butt and do nothing and eventually the US will take care of it

Posted by: AWW at February 28, 2003 1:31 PM

"So if the military option is too scary to contemplate, "

There are many more options - all you need is a little imagination and the ability to contemplate the horrible.

(1) Non
surgical strike. We know where their troops are. We know where their government installations are. We know where the guns pointed at South Korea are. And thanks to Bush and Yeltsin's arms reduction agreement, we've got about 3000 extra nuclear warheads that we don't really have any immediate use for anymore....

(2) Start with "surgical" and if it doesn't work, go to #1.

(3) Send some commandos in to open the gates on their concentration camps, kill the guards, and hand out guns and ammo. Commandos leave, and if Kim complains we blame it on the French.

Wait a while and see what happens.

(4) Put ricin in the food shipments - particularly luxury items that are unlikely to ever be eaten by someone not in a position of authority.

(5) It's hard to maintain a global trade in weapons if your ships keep on disappearing mysteriously in the middle of the Pacific.

(6) Offer Kim Jr. $10,000,000,000 and a lifetime pass to Disney World if he'll resign and name Paul Wolfowitz his heir and successor.

I'm sure other folk can come up with more options.

And no matter how much we may dislike talking about it, option 1 is always in our back pocket.

Posted by: ralph phelan at February 28, 2003 2:09 PM

Negotiations as called for by Kristof only mean negotiations for danegeld. How long before the Japanese and South Koreans develop their own weapons? The Chinese have no reason to step in. This leaves a US pre-emptive strike-does anyone believe the our "statesmen" have the intestinal fortitude for this?

Posted by: Thomas J. Jackson at March 1, 2003 3:31 AM

Get our troops out first boys. We don't have the options you suggest until then. Start moving them off the line for the coming joint maneuvers and slip them aboard transports for Guam. That will get everyones attention. Korea and Japan already have nuclear capability; ours! Rolling stock can stay in Korean storage depots down south; our artillery can be distributed to the ROK's ten miles north of Seoul.

Posted by: genecis at March 1, 2003 1:58 PM