Don’t hold your breath |

Don’t hold your breath

“Bush touts N. Korea plan,” read the headline in Monday’s Denver Post. At first blush, the headline appeared to be good news regarding the North Korean nuclear weapons program. But the reality is that the proposed five-nation security guarantee is 1) a necessary diplomatic retreat by the United States, and 2) testimony to the limits of American power.

It has been said that North Korea exists to make every American administration look foolish. Since the end of the Korean War, North Korea has killed American soldiers, shot down American airplanes, seized a U.S. Navy ship in international waters and defied every president from Truman to Clinton. It’s now George Bush’s turn in the barrel.

Truman was president at the start of the Korean War, but neither he nor Dwight Eisenhower could truly reign in North Korea. John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were made to look foolish, while Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Bill Clinton’s efforts to deal with this rogue state were also fruitless. However, none of those presidents had to deal with a situation as critical as the one facing this administration – a madman who is developing a first-strike nuclear capability.

The Bush administration’s goal is to eliminate the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea. Unfortunately, this president has fewer options than did any of his predecessors because there is no viable military option. A pre-emptive strike against the Yongbyon nuclear reactor would surely cause a retaliatory response that could kill hundreds of thousands.

Ten years ago, the United States had the ability to fight and win two and a half regional wars simultaneously. But that capability no longer exists because our military has been reduced by 33 percent in the intervening period. Meanwhile, North Korea continues to build a formidable army that would not be defeated in a 10-week campaign.

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The interrelated issues are enormously complex: Is the U.S. retreating from its previously stated position of “disarm first – talks afterward” in exchange for more assistance from Japan and South Korea in Iraq? If North Korea doesn’t abandon its nuclear program, will Japan be forced to develop a nuclear deterrent in self-defense?

Further economic sanctions are risky, and North Korea would implode if Chinese economic aid were cut off. So should the U.S. try to persuade the Chinese government to reduce the amount of their aid to put pressure on Pyongyang? Would the Chinese even consider that unless we “suggested” that we might be forced to help the Japanese build a nuclear deterrent? And if Japan goes nuclear, what happens to the balance of power in the region?

One thing is for certain though, North Korea will not be intimidated militarily. They have an estimated 700 ballistic missiles targeted at South Korea and Japan, and an estimated 10,000 artillery pieces aimed at greater Seoul. In fact, it’s we who should be intimidated, because if Kim Jong Il chooses to build a nuclear arsenal we have no way of stopping him without sacrificing hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and Japanese to those weapons – not to mention the thousands of GIs who will be in the crossfire.

North Korea is really the world’s problem, but somehow most of the world doesn’t appear very interested in resolving it. I guess many heads of state figure that the United States should deal with the issue of an imbalanced dictator with deliverable nuclear weapons and an economy in ruins. Perhaps we must, but it’s clear that we cannot do it without the assistance of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

North Korea is a rogue state with a megalomaniac at its helm. It has the ability to strike Japan, lay waste to greater Seoul, and supply WMDs to terror organizations. It could also implode and create the worst refugee problem the world has seen in years and send millions or North Koreans streaming north and south into China and South Korea.

Almost 60 years of hard-line communism has eviscerated North Korea, and the only card that government has left to play is the nuclear one. The United Nations should take a proactive stance on this issue. But predicated upon its ignominious history in these matters, I am not instilled with confidence.

The U.N.’s inaction during far too many world crises over the last 55 years is well documented. But the potential for North Korean nuclear blackmail gives the Security Council a golden opportunity to redeem itself by demonstrating its wisdom, resolve and effectiveness.

My godson’s father often suggests that I take more of an international viewpoint regarding world affairs instead of looking at geopolitics through an American prism. He may be correct. If he is, the North Korean problem is a tailor-made opportunity for those who believe that the United Nations is an effective body during world crises.

North Korea is a clear and present danger to the region and to a lesser extent the world. I would like to believe that Kofi Anan and the Security Council would act timely and definitively in this matter. But I’m not holding my breath.

Quote of the day: “The United Nations wouldn’t have to do so many things as a last resort if they had paid more attention to first resorts.”

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a local real estate broker and a ski instructor for the Vail Ski School, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at

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