It's time for a gut check.
Reuters News Agency reported recently that the nuclear talks in North Korea "closed...with what the six nations (North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, the United States and China) had predicted to be the best possible outcome", which was that they agreed to have another meeting. It may not seem like much of a positive to the layman's eye, but given that the North Koreans reportedly used the meeting to inform their American rivals that they already had nuclear weapons and the necessary delivery systems and "would prove [their] nuclear credentials by carrying out a test", even getting everyone to agree to come back to the table at a future date must have seemed like a Herculean task.
Is anyone really surprised by North Korea's actions? This nuclear brinkmanship is just the latest in the long string of Kim Jong-Il's attempts to keep "The Revolution" in Korea going when it should really have died with his father, Kim Il-Sung. Joining the nuclear club just means that his people will starve faster while what little disposable income the Communist regime has will go to supporting a strategic posture that is neither viable (creating and maintaining these assets will do nothing to hurt the target of the policy, the U.S., unless they are used, and they'd never be able to match, much less surpass, the U.S.'s arsenal) nor necessary (I'm sure China would be more than willing to quietly take up some of the strategic slack if Kim would just "dummy up" and leave the heavy strategizing in the region to them).
So why play the nuclear card? Some will say it's because Bush included North Korea in his "Axis of Evil". That speech may have prompted them to be more overt, but the North Koreans have had a nuclear weapons program for a long time, long before Bush got into office. Besides, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea can hardly be considered part of an "Alliance of Good." This isn't about rhetoric or fear of what the current administration might do. According to the Reuters story, Mohamed ElBaradei of the United Nations said North Korea was "guilty of nuclear 'blackmail'." This is true, but so far the Bush Administration has reacted well to this latest attempt, stating that it wants "a commitment that North Korea will scrap its program before making any concessions." This is the diplomatic equivalent of saying "You First."
It isn't just about blackmail either. I think there's something much bigger at work here, and if I'm right the most dangerous thing we could do right now is rely on Russia or China to help us reach a satisfactory agreement with North Korea.
We may have to face a harsh reality: The Cold War may not be over. Ronald Reagan's victory over the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in Europe and Communist Revolutionaries in South America, stunning and brilliant though it may have been, may just have been the end of "major combat operations", to use the vernacular of the day. As in Iraq, the defeat of the Communist major players has left us with the die-hards, the self-deluded and the hangers-on to deal with. China, the biggest of these "Communist Fedayeen", hides its Communist oppression behind Diplomatic and Economic Globalism. Cuba avoids a well-deserved collapse with economic support from European liberals and PR support from American ones. North Korea enjoys none of these life support measures. It can, however, build a nuke, and thus hopes to use this skill to get at least the type of help Cuba gets before its revolution is stalled (when the people totally collapse from exhaustion) or "countered" (when those strong enough to stand up and pick up a gun realize how much good they can accomplish by using it against their "comrades" in Pyongyang).
Well, if we're going to fight "Cold War II" we can get the ball rolling by dealing with North Korea, and I say we should start by reactivating a great Cold War asset: The Strategic Air Command. The U.S. Air Force has been restructured since Bush (41) stood the unit down, but SAC can be rebuilt under the aegis of the U.S. Strategic Command, using aircraft already available from the Air Force's Air Combat Command. The idea is to do "Grand Tour Lite": Keep several long-range heavy bombers on station just outside of DPRK air space 24/7, ready to streak in and turn every inch of North Korea's command structure into a smoking-hole-in-the-ground using nuclear-tipped bombs and cruise missiles. Just having the assets to do this orbiting off the peninsula round-the-clock illustrates several points:
-Having a couple of nukes on missiles that will only reach Japan or Taiwan won't save North Korea from America's wrath. We could disintegrate their nukes on the ground and save our ICBM's for the really important bad guys.
-Knowing that, it should be easier for the DPRK to figure out that it's better to just dismantle the stupid things than to risk them being lost--along with the ability to make them--in a "preemptive strike."
-Here's another harsh reality: Those with the most nukes and the most effective delivery systems get to decide who else can have them. No, it's not fair. Life usually isn't.
The bottom line here is that North Korea is in no position to be demanding any concessions and those nations dealing with Pyongyang should act accordingly. China and Russia can, but won't. Japan and South Korea would, but can't. The United States can, should and must. It shouldn't just "look" for a commitment. It should demand one. It should demand the ability to verify the dismantling of the weapons with its own assets. If no commitment is forthcoming, it should take steps to disarm North Korea on its own, by any means necessary.