While tens of thousands of soldiers sit in the Kuwaiti sands, waiting for the President to give the “go” signal, many around the world are watching, but not waiting. Some are Iraqi soldiers. About a dozen of them were in the neighborhood last Monday when the members of a bunch of Brit tough guys — 16 Para — were testing their mortars and artillery. The Iraqis — who must have received advanced training from the French Surrender Battalion — ran up a white flag and approached the Brits. No reports of what was said have reached us, but the Iraqis were turned back to their own lines. The Brits probably said something like, “Sorry, chaps, but we’re busy practicing. We’ll take you prisoner later.”
At about the same time that this little comedy was playing itself out, the very unfunny Kim Jong Il and his thugocracy were declaring a maritime exclusion zone in the Sea of Japan for a missile test sometime between 8 and 11 March. Never ones for understatement, they followed this declaration with an accusation that the United States is planning a nuclear strike against them. What to do about Nuclear Kim?
One theory recommended to me was authored by Jack Wheeler of the “Freedom Research Foundation.” Mr. Wheeler advocates using “Smart Spears” — a JDAM-guided, non-explosive penetrator — on the North Korean Yongbyon reactor, destroying it without the North Koreans knowing who did it. He wants to drop this supposedly forty foot long steel rod from B-2s or B-52s, destroying the nuclear plant without the North Koreans knowing who did it. Hmmm. I’ve heard of “smart spears” only in much shorter versions, and don’t know of it in the steel variant. I don’t believe either bomber can carry anything that’s forty feet long in its internal bomb bays (and in the case of the B-2, not externally either). Even if the B-52 did carry such a thing, the “Buff” — as it’s known to its devoted pilots — has the radar signature of a Pennsylvania Dutch barn, and couldn’t sneak past, well, even the French. Mr. Wheeler says we could also bomb the cooling pond outside Yongbyon, where about 8,000 spent fuel rods are kept. But all his plans suppose that Kim and his boys will sit there and take it. Forget it. Immobile, frozen enemies that don’t shoot back are only in movies.
Most experts — including Condoleeza Rice — agree that if we attack the North, they will counterattack south in as much force as they can muster. North Korea may be comatose economically, and even its soldiers may be underfed, but these guys will fight, and there are a million of them under arms. There are 37,000 American troops in North Korea who would have to bear the brunt of that fight, and many of them will be killed. Opening a war by attacking North Korea is within our power. But should we?
In truth, we may have to. But not yet. Kim Jong Il is keeping his rhetoric at the white-hot level both to keep his people distracted from their own problems, and to pressure President Bush into negotiations he has so far refused. The missile test is part of the same tactic, intended to scare the Japanese and South Koreans into joining the North’s demand for talks. The NK intercept of an Air Force RC-135 “Cobra Ball” aircraft last week may have been a botched attempt to take the crew hostage. If it had succeeded, the rhetoric could have escalated to conflict. “Cobra Ball” is outfitted to monitor missile tests. Future Cobra Ball flights will be accompanied by fighters. The NKs will not be permitted to capture or shoot down one of these aircraft.
North Korea has reactivated its nuclear reactors and will, in a month or two, be producing fissionable material at a rate that would support a production line for nuclear weapons. And that is the kicker, because Kim Jong Il, though supposedly a Communist, takes a very capitalistic view of his weapons.
As we’ve noted here before, North Korea’s only cash crop is its ballistic missiles. At about $800 million a year, North Korea’s missile sales to all comers — including Saddam and others such as he — can’t be negotiated out of existence. We know little about Kim, but there is no reason to believe he won’t do the same with nuclear weapons. And that we cannot permit. Once North Korea is in position to manufacture and sell nuclear weapons, we will have to destroy the Yongbyon reactor and take our chances.
Before that, we may have a card or two to play. The first is Saddam Hussein. When Saddam goes to see Allah — and takes a few of his generals with him — Kim’s generals may see the wisdom in putting their “Dear Leader” out to pasture for a grass nap. There may be a clique of generals who could be bribed or otherwise persuaded to remove the dictator. We can offer trade and other rewards for disarmament. Once Saddam is destroyed because he fails to disarm, the NKs should be made to believe the same can happen to them. As Dr. Johnson said, the prospect of being hung in the morning focuses the mind wonderfully.
The second card is split between Tokyo and Seoul. Now that the U.N.’s uselessness is proven beyond doubt, and NATO is evolving beyond France and Germany, we should be looking for new, regional alliances. If a mutual defense treaty between the U.S., Japan and South Korea were signed — both toughening and expanding the existing relationships — North Korea would be boxed in even more. Japan is having kittens — as well it might — about the North Korean missile programs. I am against a nuclear Japan, but one armed with a missile defense would be a great asset. The same goes for South Korea.
If these things don’t calm or topple Kim, and if we have any reason to believe the North is producing nukes for sale, we must interdict its ability to do so. Taking the military option is an ugly choice, and could easily lead to nuclear war. We cannot take this step casually, and if we do it at all, it must be done both as secretively as possible and while we are in contact with the North Korean generals who may be able to remove Kim. The whole thing should be over in a day.
There are, among the denizens of Fort Fumble, a few generals who have had personal contact with senior North Korean generals. Pick one or two and sit them by the secure telephones. The day should dawn with American cruise missiles — not nuclear-armed, but conventional ones — slipping in to destroy both the Yongbyon reactor and any stockpiles of nuclear materials we know of. Just before the missiles hit (and, because some we have are kinda stealthy, we can be sure no one will know until they hit) have our generals call their generals. Tell them what to expect, and tell them how limited the strike is and why it’s being made. We have to make it totally clear that we will not let them sell nukes to anyone, and we strike only to prevent that. Tell them the same applies to their missile sales, which stop then and there. Kim and Co. may not believe we can deal with them while Saddam is occupying us. We may have to demonstrate that we can.
Offer to sit down with them at Pyongyang or wherever they’d like to declare an immediate cease fire, and promise aid in quantity: food and fuel oil. If it stops there, we will have won. If not, we will be faced with a huge and ferocious ground war there. There is a more than even chance that they will use whatever nuclear weapons they already have in their desperation. But we may have to take that chance.
Just as we must remove Saddam because he poses a direct threat, and even more so because he will sell chemical and biological weapons to terrorists, we must bar North Korea from selling nuclear weapons. If we cannot, none of us will be safe again, anywhere or anytime. Saddam delendus est.
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