Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The North Korean Nuclear program

The Washington Post had a good analysis of the history behind North Korea's nuclear program. Some have faulted President Bush for not paying close enough attention to the North Korean nuclear program, and others have faulted ex-President Clinton for not doing enough in the 1990's.

While some would argue that it makes no sense that we're using diplomacy in the case of confirmed Weapons of Mass Destruction while we invaded Iraq three years ago but have not found WMD, I think the North Korean case is a bit different. First, Saddam Hussein had connections to terrorist groups, funding suicide bombers. Second, an invasion of North Korea could very well provoke a Chinese response.

Two paragraphs in the Washington Post article, though, stick out in my mind:

In 1957, the United States placed nuclear-tipped Matador missiles in South Korea, to be followed in later years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, by nuclear artillery, most of which was placed within miles of the demilitarized zone.

It was not until President Jimmy Carter's administration, in the late 1970s, that the first steps were taken to remove some of the hundreds of nuclear weapons that the United States maintained in South Korea, a process that was not completed until 1991, under the first Bush administration.

The nuclear deterrent against a potential war of Northern aggression has been removed, leaving a "tripwire" of American troops in the South. As long as those troops are there, they can basically be held hostage to a potential North Korean nuclear strike. Even without nuclear weapons, would the South Korean military and the American forces there be able to repel a Northern advance without significant losses? How much and how quickly would we have to reinforce our troops there in the event of a North Korean invasion?

Moving the nuclear weapons out of South Korea was a mistake. While hindsight is 20/20, it should have been clear then that North Korea is a rogue state that requires a strong deterrent. Unfortunately, the mistakes of past administrations are not easy to undo. Reintroducing the nuclear deterrent into South Korea now would escalate the situation and possibly provoke a war, but this should serve as a lesson for the future.