25 May 2009

An Outlaw Nation?

North Korea is a former signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but withdrew from it in 2003. The dictatorship was breaking no agreement when it conducted its latest nuclear tests this past weekend, but is considered and is likely to be treated as a rogue state. "Rogue state" is no legal category that I know of, but if you are known as one, you apparently lose the right to defend yourself. So long as Kim Jong Il perceives himself as the target of another country's "regime change" policy, he'll consider himself within his inherent rights as a sovereign to defend himself by creating a deterrent. It will surprise no one if he assumes that a superpower like the United States only understands force or the threat of force. But the U.S. would have the rest of the world treat North Korea's nuclear aspirations as if they were acts of aggression. The Obama administration seems to show no change from its predecessor in this regard. But what is anyone going to do about it? Does anyone propose to go to war against the "hermit kingdom." They dare not, so long as Kim is assumed to hold South Korea hostage to attack by conventional forces which themselves could devastate a major world economic power. The possibility of Kim lashing out against the south in reprisal for any punitive policy pretty much means that nothing will be done, except to pursue a containment policy to keep Kim from sharing the deadly technology with other powers. Reality won't stop Republicans in this country from insinuating that the President could have done something to dissuade Kim from doing his thing. GOP propagandists will call the latest tests proof of Obama's weakness, probably without recalling that Bush's bluster never really deterred Kim. Anyone who makes such a comment (I'm thinking Charles Krauthammer) should be asked what they propose to do about North Korea. Should we seek a declaration of war? Impose a starvation blockade? Commission a hit squad to kill Kim? Or should the right response be, "So what?" For most of our existence we've had to co-exist with tyrants and despotisms of all kinds. Why has this become intolerable to some people today? Why do they feel so threatened by the existence of undemocratic or illiberal forms of government when our forefathers, who were far weaker than we, never trembled at the thought of the armed dynasties of Imperial Europe? Have other countries become so much more powerful and dangerous -- is this really all because of nuclear weapons -- or have Americans in their obsessive defense of individual freedom become more paranoid? The answer is probably a big bit of both.

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