Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Disengagement from North Korea is a strategy to consider

By Richard Halloran

Ever since North Korea declared that it had started manufacturing nuclear arms and asserted that those weapons were no longer negotiable, leaders in Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, and the UN have been scurrying to persuade, cajole, or force the North Koreans to return to the negotiating table.

Maybe that is the wrong way to confront this issue. More than two years of negotiation have proven futile. An alternative, military force, is an option that nobody in any capital wants because it would cause unspeakable death and destruction.

Perhaps it is time for the US to adopt a third option, which would be to disengage itself completely from the Korean peninsula.

Complete US disengagement would mean:

1) Walking away from the six party talks in Beijing, cutting off all communication with Pyongyang, strengthening economic sanctions, and warning North Korea that any military threat to the US, to US forces in Asia, and to US allies would be met with terrible retribution.

2) Withdrawing all US forces from the peninsula and abrogating the US-South Korea mutual security treaty because of rampant anti-Americanism in Seoul, a rising tendency to appease North Korea, and a penchant for blaming the US for blocking reunification.

On the future of Korea, the US would tell South Korea and North Korea that they themselves must resolve the question of reconciliation or reunification but not to expect American political or economic help. As the UN Command in Seoul would be dissolved, the UN would be advised that its Security Council would be responsible for executing whatever policies were decided for Korea.

Elsewhere, the US assures the Japanese that the withdrawal applied only to Korea and that the US would fulfill all of its security obligations to Japan.

In addition, the US would pledge full support to Japan in dealing with North Korea on the issue of abducted Japanese citizens and would back Japan on whatever economic sanctions it decided to apply to Pyongyang.

Similarly, Washington would reassure Taiwan that the US would continue to meet its obligations to help defend that nation under the Taiwan Relations Act. The US would reassure treaty allies in the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia, and friends such as Singapore, that the US was not pulling out of Asia.

Further, the US would tell the Chinese, who have been hosts of the Six Party Talks intended to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear ambitions, that the US would quietly support Beijing's efforts to contain North Korea.

Just as the US does not want North Korean missiles aimed at Okinawa or Hawaii, so the Chinese do not want North Korean nuclear arms facing them across the Yalu River.

The consequences of the US disengagement from Korea would be several. Perhaps most telling would be a more intense isolation of Pyongyang from the outside world. That, in turn, might well increase the internal pressures for reform and even regime change within North Korea.

North Korea's economic disasters resulting from mismanagement and natural causes are well known. Now, even though it is a hermit kingdom, hints are leaking out that not all is well politically and that dissent has begun to rumble through Kim Jong-il's government. Perhaps the regime of the "Dear Leader" will collapse of its own misdeeds.

An American disengagement from Korea would most likely nudge Japan to accelerate its already steady move toward a more assertive security posture, which the US would welcome. There is no reason to believe, however, that this would push Japan to acquire nuclear arms

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