U.S. and North Korean officials met in New York on Monday. Washington is trying to get NK to return to the stalled talks on its nuclear weapons program. Within government and academic circles, people have been trying to pick apart North Korea's motives. Does the country really want nukes? How much is it willing to risk to get them? Is it holding out for an offer of money from the U.S. and its allies? Can it be trusted?
These are difficult questions for anyone to answer. North Korea is the all time master of strategic ambiguity, which it has artfully combined with Nixon's madman doctrine: Make your enemy think you are irrational and unpredictable. But is the North really so mad? If I were president of NK and had watched the U.S. ability to wage war (on the flimsiest of excuses) in Iraq, I'd be doing anything I could do to get my hands on a nuke and the hardware required to hit the U.S.
Despite all the casual talk of attacking North Korea, U.S. options are actually quite limited. North Korea could certainly be destroyed in an all-out U.S. attack. But the repercussions would be severe. In the case of such an attack, anti-American sentiment in South Korea (which would also be destroyed in even a short war) would be extreme. And then there would be the reaction in China. I've heard rightwing pundits lecture casually about how a pre-emptive strike might be required to eliminate North Korea's nuclear capability. I think we should appoint all these pundits as our diplomatic mission to Pyeongyang right before any such attack is launched.
The sad fact is that this generation will almost undoubtedly get to witness a nuclear weapon being used in war firsthand. And it will probably be used by the U.S. as another way to defeat an enemy while reducing American casualties on the battlefield. In spite of the U.S. nuclear and conventional threats, I doubt very much that many nations that are really close to going nuclear will pass up the opportunity. The warm and fuzzy feel of being part of the "family of nations" just doesn't provide the same security as a weapon that could take out Los Angeles. Bush has done his part in extending the age-old doctrine that might makes right. And North Korea has learned the lesson. Will they even risk war to get nukes? They just might.