The lessons of North Korea

We must take out Saddam now, before he becomes as
invulnerable as Kim Jong-il writes Des Moore.

The Age, 10 March 2003

Words in italics are re-insertions of some words deleted orchanged by
editor; words underlined and in brackets were included at editor’s request).

Indigent states abound in today's world, most of them mendicant. Only North Korea amongst them has a starving people even in good times, and gets it's living - such as it is - by extortion with menaces.

Many states have hereditary nominal leaders, and many too are led by dictators. Only North Korea among them has a hereditary dictator.

Most totalitarian states have but a single party. Only North Korea among them has a paper party which has not met in conference for 20 years.

Plenty of states have economies harmfully sheltered from the world, and more than enough still have command economies. Only North Korea amongst them has a totally closed, centrally controlled economy, with almost no exports save missiles and almost no imports save foreign aid, and so in a parlous state not because of nature's parsimony but because of rotten policies.

Quite a few states have over-large armed forces disproportionate to legitimate need and to their economies. Only North Korea, which faces nobody with ambition to take it over, has one-third of its people on the active and reserve lists (double the US total, though with only one-twentieth the population), is developing - might already have - nuclear weapons, and is extending to intercontinental the range of its ballistic missiles.

So Kim Jong-il, North Korea's self-styled Dear Leader, is uniquely awful - a reckless failure for his own people and a growing menace to others, with a range of what he sees as needs which he is intent on fulfilling.

One need is for foreign exchange, in the form of export earnings (now almost entirely missiles, for sheer want of anything else) and foreign aid (for the most part extorted by menaces - if you don't give us aid, we'll develop (more) nuclear weapons).

Another of Kim's needs, as he sees it, is to acquire the means to intimidate others, including especially South Korea, the USA and Japan, and to proof himself against forced policy or regime change; hence his development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles, and his looming conventional forces, notably 11,000 artillery pieces, almost overlooking Seoul.

The rest of the world too has its needs, arising out of Kim's appalling policies, domestic and foreign. The first need is to get him to change those policies; and if that continues to prove impossible, to change him and his regime.

Next, we need to stop him developing nuclear weapons, for three reasons: to prevent his having them; to remove the inducement for Seoul and Tokyo to acquire them; and to stop him selling them to others, including terrorists, in his desperate search for a money spinner.

At the same time, and for much the same reasons, we need to stop him developing and selling the means of delivering nuclear weapons - that is, ever-longer range missiles.

How might we meet those needs?

By invasion? - but he'd take down with him at least Seoul and a good part of Tokyo and US bases in the area; and China would be up in arms, perhaps literally, at the prospect of sharing a land border with what would become a US protectorate.

By surgical strike, like Israel's on Iraq's Osiris reactor, on Kim's nuclear weapon and missile holdings and facilities? - but he has said he would take that as an act of war and respond with all the means at his command. In other words, he would make a suicide bomber of his whole country.

By sanctions and other controls, such as inspections, on what he can import and export and produce? - but he has said that too would be treated as an act of all-out war.

By bargaining our aid for his weapons and inspection of his nuclear and other facilities? - but that would be appeasement, and anyway has already been tried without lasting success.

By every nuclear power's giving up its nuclear weapons, as the Canberra Commission foolishly recommended and the ALP is considering pursuing? - but that is an impossible and indeed dangerous dream, not least because at the first sign of big trouble hostile powers would if they could reconstitute their nuclear armories lest the putative foe do so first.

So none of our options is promising. Which is a reason for taking out Saddam now, before he acquires Kim1s mantle of invulnerability. And which is why the USA is hesitant about settling on a policy for dealing with North Korea. The US is hesitant because the choices are few, narrow, hard and probably unavailing - not as one Australian (Canberra-based) commentator has suggested (on this page recently), because the USA really does not want to solve the North Korean conundrum.

Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise and Councillor, Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These are his personal views.