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What To Do About North Korea

The United States has now confirmed what most already accepted as true: North Korea tested a nuclear weapon last week. The debate within the United States and around the world about how to respond to Pyongyang will, of course, continue.

Most agree that there is no "military option" when it comes to North Korea; to use force would put all of Southeast Asia, particularly Seoul, at risk. But after that, there is little agreement.

On one side, the Bush administration is leading an international campaign for increased sanctions against the North Korean regime. President Bush has also, throughout his presidency, rejected bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea, preferring instead the so-called "six-party talks."

The Bush administration's approach, though, has failed - as is evidenced by North Korea's testing of a nuclear bomb. Kim Jong-il, North Korea's "Dear Leader," thrives off of being isolated. He's clearly unconcerned with his impoverished people's plight, which makes the effectiveness of any sanctions highly questionable.

On the other side, some diplomats argue that we must negotiate with North Korea. But this approach is also flawed. Rewarding North Korea for its behavior will send a signal we can't afford to send to other rogue nations, such as Iran. Plus, it's been proven not to work: Bill Clinton, with the help of Jimmy Carter, reached a deal with North Korea to cease its nuclear-weapon research in 1994 only to later see Pyongyang renege on it behind our back.

So, then, how can we get Kim Jong-il to rethink his nuclear program without giving into his demands, and without threatening stability in the region? In other words, what is the proper course for the U.S. to take in regard to North Korea?

Well, how the fuck should I know?

Honestly, do I seem like the kind of guy who could answer the preeminent foreign-policy question of our day? Frankly, I resent you even asking me what to do about North Korea. OK, I realize I asked myself the question, but, admit it, you pretty much trapped me into doing it.

Really, I don't know what you expected. Look at the sentence in italics at the bottom of this column. What does it say? "Mark Bazer is a writer living in Chicago." If I knew how to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis, it would probably say something like: "Mark Bazer, the Harvard historian, is a visiting professor at the University of Seoul and the author of 'I Know Where Kim Jong-il Likes to Be Tickled' (HarperCollins, 2006)."

Look, I make less than $50,000 a year. There, now you know. Are you happy? Anyhow, something tells me the person who figures out what to do about nuclear proliferation is going to make at least $65,000. Plus, I have a 15-month-old; watching him walk into things takes up most of time. This week, I also have an earache, which may be an infection. In other words: North Korea is very low down on my list of things I'm thinking about.

So, please, for the last time, leave me alone about North Korea. Just because my analysis of the Cold War almost single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union doesn't mean I've got this one all sewed up.

Mark Bazer is a writer living in Chicago.


Posted on October 19, 2006

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