Vital Signs

A Military Encore in North Korea

As if the Bush administration were not busy enough already, Undersecretary of State John Bolton has said that North Korea should “draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.”  That followed a comment from President George W. Bush that, if Washington’s efforts “don’t work diplomatically, they’ll have to work militarily.”

Hopes for the former have risen and fallen, as talks have alternated with threats.  New negotiations are planned, but there is no guarantee that they will yield a more positive result.  Indeed, North Korea might only be stalling for time; in any case, she is not close to agreeing to dismantle her nuclear-weapons program and accept outside inspections.

Before Washington again brandishes the stick of war, it must recognize that North Korea is not Iraq.  A military strike almost certainly means full-scale war on the Korean peninsula, with massive casualties and widespread devastation.

North Korea is thought to possess one or two nuclear weapons—or at least has reprocessed enough plutonium to make them.  After being confronted by the United States last October for cheating on the 1994 Agreed Framework, she has taken a series of provocative steps, including reopening her mothballed nuclear plant in Yongbyon and preparing to reprocess—if she has not already done so—8,000 spent fuel rods to produce plutonium.

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