Limited rapprochement with North Korea

Shrugging off U.S. pressure, North Korea appears to be ramping up its nuclear weapons program. However, some foreign policy experts feel that with appropriate diplomatic maneuvering, the development of a small North Korean nuclear stockpile could still be avoided. Fortunately, the Bush administration seems inclined, for the time being, to pursue a diplomatic solution to the burgeoning crisis. While seeking a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis might seem hypocritical given the Bush administration’s military actions in Iraq, the destructive power that North Korea could unleash compels the United States to avoid military conflict with the communist nation, inconsistencies in foreign policy be damned.

North Korea recently announced it has reprocessed enough nuclear material to make approximately six nuclear bombs. North Korea also possesses missiles capable of hitting Alaska and is said to be developing California-range missiles. In the Asian theater, it is thought the North Korean military has the soldiers and weaponry – including warheads containing chemical and biological weapons – to devastate South Korea and significantly damage Japan.

Indeed, U.S. troop commitment and casualty estimates associated with a U.S.-led war to denuclearize North Korea are frighteningly high. According to some Pentagon war plans, 500,000 U.S. troops would be involved in a conflict on the Korean peninsula. The Clinton administration predicted that the first 90 days of a Korean war would produce 52,000 U.S. casualties and massive South Korean military and civilian deaths.

However, it appears military conflict with North Korea is avoidable. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is seeking a nonaggression treaty with the United States in exchange for ending its nuclear weapons program. Given the war alternative, a nonaggression concession by the United States seems palatable and should be pursued. Yet, any rapprochement must include strict limits on North Korean behavior. In exchange for a nonaggression pledge, the Bush administration would have to make firm demands of their own: Any resumption of a nuclear weapons program or aggression against U.S. allies immediately negates the nonaggression pledge.