The liberal song of the week is an ode to the sudden dangers posed by North Korea. The theme of this tune is the presumed need to back off on Iraq in order to confront this danger in the Pacific. On Tuesday, in that great liberal opera house, the New York Times, Warren Christopher contributed this aria: "My experience tells me that we cannot mount a war against Iraq and still maintain the necessary policy focus on North Korea and international terrorism."
In contrast to Mr. Christopher's meek tenor, there is the basso profundo of Secretary Rumsfeld, who insists that America is perfectly capable of engaging in military action in two parts of the world at the same time. In regard to this disagreement, readers may decide for themselves who has a better understanding of America's armed forces, and who has the more prudent judgment in foreign affairs.
Rumsfeld's assurances should not, of course, be taken as a lullaby, suggesting that North Korea is harmless, or the situation there is without great danger. Indeed, his point is precisely that military action in Korea may become necessary.
In October, the North admitted without apology that it had been developing uranium-based nuclear weapons, in flagrant violation of a 1994 agreement. In early December came the North Korean Scud missiles, hidden under a shipment of concrete, en route to Yemen on the unflagged vessel So San. And lately it disabled the International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring devices. This defiant action has allowed it to restart the nuclear energy facility at Yongbyong, thereby opening the prospect of nuclear weapons production for its own use or export. In addition to the nuclear fuel that could be used to create up to five nuclear weapons, the facility will be able to produce about six additional kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year once it begins operation. And so the year ended with daily news reports about each step taken respecting Atomic Energy inspectors and the plant's 8,000 nuclear fuel rods.
Adding to the gravity of the matter is the North's history with ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. Initially discouraged from building a missile arsenal by the Chinese, the North acquired an Egyptian Scud B-type missile in 1981 and, with reverse engineering, launched its own production line. A North Korean-produced Scud C-type missile was first tested in 1990, and the first in the longer range No-dong series tested in 1993, allowing the North to threaten the entirety of South Korea and Japan. Since the mid-1990s, the North has been developing its three-stage Taepo-dong missile, testing prototypes in 1998 and 1999. When completed and deployed the North will be able to threaten the entire the Pacific, including portions of American soil. With respect to the North's missile sales to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Pakistan and now Yemen, a U.S. defense official described North Korea as "the Home Depot for missile sales around the world."
It ought not surprise us now that the North Korean regime is following its familiar strategy of threats designed to elicit appeasement from the U.S. and its own neighbors. It had, after all, worked well, keeping alive a regime that would be otherwise known only as a sad example of the poverty bred in communist tyrannies. Will this strategy work again?
President Bush said this week that he views "the North Korean situation as one that can be resolved peacefully through diplomacy." But backing the diplomacy must be the same firm American policy to contain North Korean communism while protecting the free government and economy of the South. And we must stick to it despite South Korea's grousing about U.S. troops and the constant North Korean siren song for "reunification."
Behind the troops must stand quietly a long-term American objective — the same one President Reagan laid down for the Soviet regime: "We win, they lose." That objective must stand however unpalatable to the People's Republic of China the twilight of communism on the Korean peninsula may be. With its decision to move ahead with Ballistic Missile Defense starting with bases California and Alaska — that is, in large measure defending the Pacific against existing and future North Korean missiles — the American administration has signaled that it is up to the challenge. That is something worth singing about.