The Corner

N.K.

We’re living out a North Korea policy nightmare. Fareed Zakaria blames the Bush administration. I don’t. Before criticizing him, let’s first acknowledge that it’s all-to-easy to knock Zakaria’s proposed solution to the North Korea crisis. That’s because there is no good solution to the North Korea crisis. But this is exactly what’s wrong with Zakaria’s piece. Zakaria acts as though the Bush administration can simply choose one of two plausible policy options, and then get down to work. Unfortunately, the administration is dithering because the hawkish and dovish alternatives are both awful.

China has not been willing to help us out by putting economic pressure on the North Koreans. Zakaria thinks we could move the Chinese in our direction if only we were willing to negotiate directly with the North. Presumably, Zakaria wants us to trade security guarantees for North Korean disarmament. But President Clinton tried that and failed. Zakaria even repeats the old line that we can afford to deal with the North because the government is destined to fall. That’s what the Clintonites said. Yet Clinton’s long gone and the Korean regime is still here.

Zakaria acknowledges that some Chinese would actually like to see North Korea get nukes. So much the better to keep the U.S. in check, think these Chinese hawks. Supposedly, these unreconstructed Third World revolutionaries are now a minority among the Chinese leadership. I’m not so sure. Whatever the Chinese say, their refusal to seriously pressure the Koreans indicates that the old revolutionary consciousness is a lot more alive than the Chinese are letting on.

Instead of pressuring Kim Jong Il to give up his nukes (something he’ll never do), why don’t the Chinese try to change NK’s regime? Why don’t the Chinese install a Korean regime friendly to China, yet also willing to de-nuclearize. Granted, this would be tough for even the Chinese to pull off. Chinese-managed regime change could backfire, creating more instability, not less. Still, there are probably ways for the Chinese to change the Korean regime. Who knows, they may be trying to do it right now.

In any case, this Korea problem is important in more ways than one. It could easily lead to nuclear terror in the U.S. It could also provoke rapid nuclearization in all of East Asia. And how much help China offers us with the Koreans may be the best indication of how far this rapidly rising power can be trusted. Last but not least, thank goodness Saddam is out of power and safely in jail. He would have been first in line at North Korea’s nuclear supermarket.

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