This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Talk of war in Korea hits close to home in the South Sound.
In the event of hostilities, American military contingency plans call for deploying possibly thousands of Fort Lewis soldiers – our neighbors – to the Korean Peninsula.
That makes the latest round of missile-rattling by North Korea doubly disturbing. Kim Jong Il’s Stalinist regime in Pyongyang has threatened war against South Korea many times in the past; threatening the democratic south is its default foreign policy. Lately, though, its threats have taken on an increasingly nuclear flavor.
The dictatorship has long been manipulating the world with its on-again, off-again nuclear weapons program.
Eight times since 1994, it has either revved up its nuclear efforts or claimed to shut them down in exchange for rewards, concessions or recognition.
Official recognition and respect were among the enticements the Bush administration employed to coax North Korea into the "six party talks" – negotiations with China, Russia, the United States, Japan and South Korea that were supposed to settle the nuclear issue.
Last month, though, the Pyongyang regime ditched the talks, began firing missiles over its neighbors’ bows and turned on its plutonium factories again. It’s been baiting the U.N. Security Council, and it treats every U.N. move toward sanctions as a provocation that warrants another round of nuclear threats.
This would be a lot like the past episodes of bellicose posturing except that North Korea is getting closer to putting actual nuclear warheads on its missiles. It conducted an underground nuclear test Monday and has since been launching more missiles to underscore the point.
The United States can’t do much about this lunacy. Barack Obama may have been under the impression he could tame Kim Jong Il by being pleasant to him, but the president must know better by now.
Both the Bush and Clinton administration tried at various times to solve the North Korea problem with diplomacy; neither succeeded. Make nice with Kim Jong Il, and he pursues nukes. Get tough with Kim Jong Il, and he pursues nukes.
The solution is all about China. China is North Korea’s patron and mainstay. According to South Korean analysts, it provides 90 percent of North Korea’s oil, 45 percent of its food and accounts for 73 percent of its trade.
In other words, China could bring the dictatorship to its knees just by shutting off the spigot for a few weeks.
Only recently – in response to Pyongyang’s latest stunts – have the Chinese begun to sound serious about grounding its ugly child. China seems increasingly nervous that North Korea’s threats could trigger nuclear arms production in Japan and South Korea, making the neighborhood a whole lot more dangerous.
The Chinese are undoubtedly leaning on Kim Jong Il’s people behind closed doors. Whatever they’re saying, let’s hope it’s forceful enough to end the threat of a conflict that could make the first Korean War look like child’s play.