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Nuclear blackmail

By Eric S. Margolis

10/08/06 "
Khaleej Times" -- -- NORTH Korea’s announcement this week it would shortly conduct an underground nuclear test provoked a 10-megaton explosion of international anger and threats against the isolated Stalinist regime.

A senior US State Department official warned, "we are not going to accept a nuclear North Korea." But that, of course, is just what Washington has been doing ever since CIA disclosed in 2003 that North Korea had up to five operational nuclear weapons, and more in development.

That also was the same year President George Bush launched an invasion of Iraq, ostensibly to protect America from nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction that it, in fact, not possess. Three hundred sixty billion dollars later, this unnecessary war in Iraq goes on.

North Korea has repeatedly stated it is developing uranium and plutonium-based nuclear weapons, and medium and intercontinental-range missiles to carry them.

In 2005, CIA’s then director, George Tenet, confirmed North Korea’s Taepo-dong ICBM was theoretically able to deliver a nuclear warhead to North America. North Korea’s eccentric ‘Dear Leader,’ Kim Jong-il, has made an art of using nuclear blackmail to squeeze money out of South Korea, Japan and the West.

Nuclear threats are North Korea’s only remaining exports. A US-led coalition has shut down its exports of missiles to the Mideast, counterfeiting US currency, and black market amphetamine sales to Japan. So, what is the tough-talking Bush Administration going to do about North Korea? Probably not much.

The US and Japan have already imposed a de facto naval blockade on North Korea, and conducted military exercise in its region. US military strikes against North Korea would be unlikely to destroy its deeply-buried nuclear weapons - if they could even be located.

The Pentagon estimates that a US invasion of North Korea would cost 500,000 American casualties. Since North Korea has buried many vital industries and military facilities deep underground, US air strikes would have limited success.

Moreover, any attacks on North Korea would quickly make South Korea and Japan targets of North Korea’s medium-ranged missiles. Seoul’s ten million people are within range of North Korean long-ranged artillery and missiles batteries behind the DMZ.

Amid all the international hysteria over North Korea, it’s important to understand that the ‘Dear Leader’s’ nuclear programs are primarily defensive. Their goal is to protect North Korea from a long-feared US attack, not to attack the US or Japan. Attacking the US would bring massive American nuclear retaliation. Kim Jong-il and his Politburo are not anxious to commit suicide or see their nation vaporised. In reality, America’s real concern about North Korea’s nuclear weapons is exactly the same as those about Iran. Possession of nuclear weapons by these states would limit US power to impose its will militarily or diplomatically in their regions.

North Korea has repeatedly agreed to junk its nuclear weapons provided the US does three things: 1. deal directly with Pyongyang, which Washington refuses to do; 2. provide security guarantees that the US will not attack North Korea; 3. provide economic aid. The Bush Administration’s hard-line neoconservatives refuse to ‘validate’ North Korea’s totalitarian regime through direct talks. Neocons are determined to overthrow Kim Jong-il. But Washington has no qualms about dealing with other despotic regimes in the Mideast and Central Asia.

South Korea’s biggest fears are a US-North Korean war that would devastate it; and an economic implosion of North Korea sending millions of starving refugees to south. So Seoul keeps North Korea on life support, while trying to calm American militancy.

Japan wants to deter a united Korea as long as possible, rightly fearing it would one day constitute a major economic and military threat. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new conservative prime minister, has taken a tough line towards North Korea but has also just apparently buried the hatchet with China over his predecessor’s inflammatory visits to the Tokyo’s Yasukuni war shrine.

However, the stalemated situation abruptly changed this week when China dropped its former indulgent attitude to North Korea’s nuclear programme and issued a very stern, eve ominous warning to Pyongyang not to conduct nuclear tests.

The Dear Leader likes to do zany things, but offending China, his patron, closest ally and, most important, sole source of oil, would seem too much even for him. But with Kim, a great admirer of James Bond villains like Dr No and SPECTRE, one never quite knows.

One thing is clear: money, lots of it, not war, is the most effective way of making North Korea behave. Bribery is always far, far cheaper than war.

Eric S Margolis is a veteran US journalist and contributing foreign editor of the Toronto Sun. He can be reached at margolis@foreigncorrespondent.com

2006 Khaleej Times All Rights Reserved.

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