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North Korea Takes the World Backward
On the nuclear issue, it is five minutes to midnight.
Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state
“If we lose, I will destroy the world,” said Kim Jong Il, supreme leader of North Korea. His renegade country publicly acknowledges that it possesses nuclear weapons, and he has repeatedly threatened to turn our planet into a battlefield. Will he change the course of human events with an act of unimaginable devastation?
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as North Koreans call their homeland, already has enough plutonium for between seven to ten nuclear devices. Analysts argue about the size of the DPRK’s stockpile, but the exact number of weapons today is almost beside the point. It is one thing to have a handful of them, it’s yet another to build the industrial capacity to accumulate an arsenal. North Korea, a country that cannot feed its people, is gearing up to make nuclear weapons on an assembly-line basis by reprocessing plutonium and, it appears, enriching uranium.
At the same time, the diminutive Kim Jong Il casts his shadow from his capital city of Pyongyang across the Pacific Ocean and onto the continental United States. The unbalanced autocrat already possesses long-range missiles that can reach the fringes of the American homeland. In a few years—probably as early as the beginning of the next decade—no city in North America will be safe from Kim’s warheads of mass destruction.
Even today, all humanity is at risk. In 2003 a North Korean diplomat told an American envoy that his destitute country might “transfer” its weapons to others, thereby threatening to make itself the world’s “nuclear Kmart.” American intelligence believes Kim has already sold processed uranium to Pakistan, so the merchandising of completed weapons is all too possible. Who wants to live in a world where anyone with cash and a pickup truck can incinerate a city?
Yet the North Korean threat goes well beyond a single horrible detonation. Kim’s Korea was the first—and so far only—nation to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The DPRK, however, has paid no price for destabilizing world order. On the contrary, a frightened international community has rushed to provide material assistance to the North Korean regime as if small gifts would miraculously constrain Kim Jong Il’s menacing behavior. Unfortunately, other leaders of rogue states have taken note of the ineffectual, if not feeble, reaction to Pyongyang’s direct challenge. As a result, within a decade the world could see the creation of new—and hostile—nuclear powers as the global nonproliferation regime falls apart. The best period in human history could soon be followed by the worst. The stakes could not be larger.
Unfortunately, no one knows how to deal with North Korea. Neither friend nor foe has had much influence on the fanatical and militaristic state, not even the mightiest nation in history. The United States was able to defeat the Soviet Union in a worldwide struggle spanning decades, but for more than a half century Washington has been bedeviled and even humbled by Pyongyang. Kim, unlike anyone else in recent times, has shown Americans the limits of their power.
© 2006 Gordon G. Chang