Little cold wars

December 02, 1991

Conventional wisdom holds that the Cold War is over. But is it? Consider the implications of Secretary of Defense Cheney's recent commitment to keep large numbers of American troops in South Korea, on the grounds that such defenses are required because North Korea is at the threshold of nuclear capability.

Cheney didn't say so, but the implication is clear: The presence of 40,000 U.S. troops currently based in South Korea would deter North Korea from striking its neighbor with nuclear bombs. To do so, the implication goes on, would invite swift and certain obliteration of North Korea. It's a variation of the old mutual assured destruction theory.

Whether that theory is accurate is problematical. After all, North Korea's dictator, Kim Il-Sung, is the senior national leader in the world. Harry Truman was president when Kim Il-Sung came to power. Who knows whether this aging despot still retains sufficient judgment not to drop a nuclear bomb on the American "invaders" of his peninsula? Who knows whether he might not start a nuclear war, or at least use nuclear blackmail, in a final embittered gasp as he sees communism collapsing all around him?

This is just a variation on the Cold War, and it could spread as more nations attain nuclear capability. Are we to have American troops as sitting ducks in every region of the world to protect our ostensible friends from nuclear attack?

There must be better ways. The North Korean experience, not to speak of Iraq, underscores that nuclear proliferation has become the most perilous force in the world today. Controlling nuclear spread at this point is no doubt a vain hope. Rather, we seek deterrent mechanisms through collective action. Consider this possibility: Let the United Nations formally declare that any nation which engages in the first use of nuclear weapons will be attacked instantly by the combined forces of the world, and will be occupied militarily for a specified period, say 20 years, after which supervised democratic elections would be held, and even after that subject to nuclear inspection for another 20 years.

Isn't this preferable to placing our own troops as sitting ducks for target practice by potentially senile dictators?

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