July 28, 2003
by Constantine C. Menges
The North Korean dictatorship has said that it has nuclear devices, that it has enough plutonium for 6 nuclear bombs and is now beginning to make them. North Korea also has said it would sell nuclear weapons to any one with the cash including terrorists and their state sponsors. North Korea has ballistic missiles that can reach Japan, South Korea, and US forces in the Pacific. In 1998, it tested an intercontinental range missile that could reach the United States homeland and has frequently threatened nuclear and conventional attack if any effort is made to stop it from acquiring these weapons.
In 1994 the Clinton Administration, South Korea and Japan agreed to provide billions in food, fuel and other aid in return for an end to the nuclear weapons program. North Korea took the money and recently admitted that it had violated its promises from the beginning. Now the challenge for the U.S. and its allies is to find a means to end this nuclear threat that works. The following is a comprehensive strategy to do this without military attacks on North Korea’s nuclear facilities.
First, the United States is correct to continue with its insistence that the issue needs to be discussed with Japan and South Korea as well as the United States, not just on a bilateral basis.
Second, there should be an immediate acceleration of the Asian regional missile defense program to protect Japan and South Korea along with mobile missile defense platforms such as the Aegis destroyer, which, if necessary, could defend Okinawa and Taiwan. In addition, the US should sharply and dramatically accelerate it own National Missile Defense program, which currently has an expected preliminary operational date of late 2004. Given North Korea’s threats and capabilities, this may be just in time or too late. Speeding up missile defenses will increase the sense of security among the US and its allies, decrease North Korea’s capacity to engage in nuclear blackmail, and importantly, should also give China an immediate reason for becoming much more active in persuading its long time ally to irreversibly eliminate its nuclear weapons.
For years, China has strongly opposed Asian regional missile defense and the US national missile defense. China perceives its capacity to intimidate the US when needed as being dependent on its credible threat of nuclear attack on US forces and cities. That is why China is determined to bring Taiwan under its control before it believes the US missile defense as being fully effective against its strategic nuclear weapons in 2008.
China could bring North Korea into line because it provided the technology and expertise that has led to the present crisis. China also provides North Korea with 80% of its fuel and more than half of its food. Since the beginning of the present crisis, China has done very little to end the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
Just as, North Korea depends economically on China, the Chinese communist regime depends significantly on its continuing ability to send 45% of its exports and 15% of its GDP to the United States where, because of its one-way trade, China earns about $100 billion in trade surplus each year. In fact, China’s cumulative trade surplus with the United States since 1990 has been $670 billion, with Japan $200 billion, and with the EU $350 billion for a total of $1.2 trillion.
Therefore, In the interest of peace, the US should privately inform China that unless it uses its political and economic leverage with its North Korean ally to bring about a fully verified and irreversible termination of its nuclear weapon and intercontinental range missile programs, China’s access to the US and its markets will be reduced by 50% or more. This would cost China about $50 billion in trade surplus earnings with the US and would immediately reduce Chinese economic growth and prospects. This action is peaceful and entirely within the sovereign right of the US and is far preferable to the enormous risks associated with a military attack on the North Korean nuclear facilities.
Fourth, North Korea has been seeking a non-aggression guarantee from the United States. This should be provided as part of the comprehensive settlement, but only if North Korea provides permission for fully transparent on-site and effective ongoing international verification that its nuclear weapons program has been terminated.
The North Korean regime is the most repressive on the planet today. In a population of 17 million, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands are being held in terrible concentration camps while regime policies have been responsible for death by starvation of more that 2 million people. Reasonable estimates suggest that more than 400 thousand people have died in these concentration camps in recent years.
Finally, the time has come for the United States and other democracies to work with North Korean exiles that seek democracy for their country in a peaceful effort to provide information to the people of North Korea about what is really happening in their own country. We should encourage these exiles to work for political liberalization leading ultimately to political democracy and provide resettlement help for the estimated 200 thousand who have escaped and all others who flee this regime. The United States and the West successfully urged the peoples of communist Europe to seek greater freedom. As we recall, all the leaders of the movement for self-liberation in communist Europe told us after 1989 that the international encouragement they received was essential to maintaining their morale and helping them bring down the dictatorships. This can happen in North Korea as recommend by recommended by Senators Kyl, McCain, Bayh, and Sessions and should be the fifth aspect of our policy.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Times on July 28, 2003
Dr. Constantine Menges, a scholar, author, and university professor, was a Hudson Institute senior fellow until July, 2004.
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