North Korea’s Bomb

NORTH KOREA’S BOMB….Dan Drezner is unhappy about the latest development in the North Korea crisis. The Bush administration has basically said that there’s not much they can do about North Korea’s nuclear program any more, so we’ll just have to try and keep them from exporting any nukes via an embargo, a transparently ridiculous and unworkable plan.

As Dan says, we have three options: do nothing, help Japan get nukes as a counterweight to North Korea, or strike a deal:

The first option relies on very wishful thinking.

The second option would have wide-ranging and unpredictable regional implications.

The third option rewards a totalitarian state that is in many ways worse than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Everybody agrees that all three options are lousy ones, but surely the third is the least worst? After all, the primary argument against it is moral hazard: if we pay off the North Koreans for dismantling their nuclear program, it just sends a message to other rogue states that they can extort money from us too. Bad precedent, no?

Well, no. How many rogue states are there in the world that would actually set up a hugely expensive nuclear weapons program solely to extort money out of the United States? The idea is nuts. As a purely economic bargain, it makes no sense at all.

On the other hand, building nuclear weapons as a way of deterring an attack by the United States makes all sorts of sense, and the Bush administration’s current do-nothing plan is ideally suited to encourage exactly that. Rightly or wrongly, from the point of view of, say, Iran or Pakistan, the only difference between Iraq and North Korea is that Saddam didn’t have a bomb and Kim Jong-il does. The lesson is pretty plain.

It would be difficult ? maybe impossible ? to bargain with North Korea for a truly verifiable end to their weapons program. But it makes no sense at all not to even try. Any clear assessment of the risks shows that the downside is fairly small while the upside is potentially huge. Why not make the effort?

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