Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Freeing the Hostage
The Path to the Second Korean War

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, October 17, 2006 --  

It's time for America to take out North Korea. The alliance with the South must be the conflict's first casualty.

White House strategists struggling to come up with a way to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea should try a novel tactic: pick a fight with South Korea.

Yes, you heard right. America's half-century old military alliance with South Korea has become a major liability in the standoff with the North. So long as America keeps troops on the peninsula, South Korea will be seen as an American stooge in the eyes of the North Korean government -- and an easy target of retaliation in the event of an American attack.

Consider the prospect that would face the South in the event of an American strike. The wealthy, modern metropolis of Seoul, only 30 miles from the demilitarized zone, would be devastated by North Korean rockets and artillery within minutes of an American attack. Civilian casualties would quickly rise into the hundreds of thousands.1 In essence, the North holds off an American attack by holding a gun to the head of America's South Korean ally.

The only way out of this situation is to eliminate South Korea as an ally.

Fortunately for this goal, strains have long been growing in the alliance. South Korea has for years pursued a "sunshine policy" of improving ties with the North that has fueled Korean nationalism. Sympathy for the North has caused South Korea to be far less critical of the North's weapons programs than America.

South Korea has become so rich -- its economy is now larger than that of all of Russia -- that it no longer needs America to defend it anymore. Demonstrators in Seoul have regularly demanded that American troops close bases and pull troops out of the peninsula. These cracks in the alliance, if exploited properly, could be turned into a rift that could eliminate South Korea as a hostage of Kim Jong Il.

Admittedly, alienating an American ally is not a pleasant prospect. But it beats the alternative. The real risk of a North Korean nuclear arsenal is not that it will be directly used against America, but that North Korea will sell parts of it to others who will.

As crazy as this sounds, selling nuclear weapons would be perfectly consistent with the past behavior of the North Korean regime. With a decrepit economy unable to produce legitimate exports, North Korea has had to resort to desperate measures to earn hard currency.

North Korea's primary exports over the past decade include military weaponry, counterfeit U.S. currency, heroin and methamphetamine. One of the primary reasons the United States redesigned its $100 bill was to deter high-quality North Korean counterfeits, which have been traced to Korean agents via money launderers in Macau and mainland China.2 North Korean naval ships have been repeatedly traced to illegal drug deliveries in Japan -- leading to small-scale military confrontations between the countries.3 Various estimates measure these non traditional sources of revenue in the many hundreds of millions of dollars annually -- the vast majority of the hard currency earned by the regime each year.4

But would North Korea really risk selling nuclear materials, especially considering the devastating consequence it would face in the event that a North Korean weapon were ever used against America? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. In fact, North Korea may already have exported such materials.

When Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program a few years ago, UN inspectors found a pressurized container with two tons of uranium hexafluoride gas, an intermediate product in the creation of nuclear weapons. The container had Korean writing, and chemical traces that inspectors linked to North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility.5 Who knows where else North Korea has already exported its nuclear products. Given that Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan admitted of operating a "nuclear bazaar" under much less desperate conditions, it is highly likely that North Korea will do the same.

Given this frightening reality, America must begin a saber-rattling campaign against the North that will fuel a rift with the South. Just as the United States' relations with France soured on the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, relations with South Korea can quickly sour as well. America has already pulled thousands of troops out of Korea and redeployed them to Iraq. It is a simple choice to redeploy the remaining 30,0006 troops as well. America should publicly declare that the South is on its own.

If and when the conflict with the North comes, American air power should be largely sufficient to accomplish the job. Unlike with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea is a country rich with targets for conventional military strikes. When North Korea's police state is weakened enough for the regime to collapse, the South Koreans will have no choice but to come to their brothers' defense by unifying and ruling the entire peninsula.

So let America be the bad guy. By jettisoning the South Korean alliance and taking out the North, America can make the world a much better place.

Related Web Columns:

A Dangerous Distraction, December 24, 2002


1. Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Military Options for Dealing with North Korea's Nuclear Program, January 27, 2003

2. Washington Times, Arrest Ties Pyongyang to Counterfeit $100 Bill, September 20, 2005

3. Congressional Research Service, Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S. Policy, December 5, 2003

4. Ibid.

5. New York Times, Sleuthing Required on Korea Arms Sales, October 13, 2006

6. Wall Street Journal, After Alleged North Korean Test, October 11, 2006