Monday, July 16, 2007

One crisis off the table - for now

From The New York Times:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- U.N. inspectors have verified that North Korea shut down its nuclear reactor, the watchdog agency's chief said Monday, the first on-the-ground achievement toward scaling back Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions since the international standoff began in late 2002.

The main U.S. envoy on the issue, meanwhile, said that the United States is looking to build on momentum and will start deliberations on removing North Korea from a list of terrorism-sponsoring states.

North Korea pledged in an international accord in February to shut the reactor at Yongbyon and dismantle its nuclear programs in return for 1 million tons of oil and political concessions. However, it stalled for several months because of a separate, but now-resolved dispute with the U.S. over frozen bank funds.

There has been speculation all along that all Kim was ever after was a payoff. This makes some sense as the primary goal of North Korean government policy is the survival of the regime with Kim in charge. And the primary function of the regime seems to be to keep Kim living in luxury surrounded by all the gourmet food, expensive liquor and young girls he can handle.

Someone willing to starve his own people to the point of cannibalism so that he can have a room full of 80 gigabyte iPods isn't likely to engage in the kind of foreign adventurism that could get the US Marines landing on his doorstep.

While the Iranian mullahs believe that provoking a nuclear attack upon themselves would trigger the return of the hidden Imam and bring about the total victory of Islam Kim believes that provoking a nuclear attack upon himself would just get him killed and he wouldn't be able to enjoy any more single malt scotch and Cuban cigars.

Of course Kim will run through with whatever we give him and start building nukes again when he needs more. And there is the danger of what will happen when he finally drops dead (or is encouraged to drop dead by his Army). If a serious bad-guy gets control in Pyongyang things could get dicey. Red China very much does not want a unified and free Korea on its border and the US will protect its South Korean ally (unless a Jimmy Carter clone is in the White House).

Americans need to choose their next president carefully. We need someone who realizes that isolationism is no longer an option and is willing to use both the carrot and the stick in equal measure.