Getting Tough with North Korea

June 03, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons has always seemed like a lofty goal. But it has been a goal pursued largely by powerful nations with nuclear weapons against perceived enemies -- especially weak enemies.

It was unthinkable that the U.S. might use force or anything else to keep Great Britain and France from joining the nuclear club. Nothing could be done to stop the Soviet Union from becoming an awesome nuclear power, and China was just too huge and powerful in terms of conventional arms for U.S. politicians to do more than wring their hands when it became obvious that the People's Republic was becoming a nuclear power.

The United States has used military force only to stop Iraq from developing nuclear weapons, and even here the larger goals were to maintain relative U.S. control of the oil supplies of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and to give ultimate protection to Israel.

Now we have a clear possibility that the U.S. will have to go to war with North Korea to keep the Korean peninsula nuclear-free. There is evidence that the Pyongyang government may already have built two nuclear bombs, and is now rapidly withdrawing from a reactor the fuel with which to build four or five more.

Is North Korean possession of nuclear weapons such a ghastly threat to mankind that the U.S. should go to war to wipe them out? Let no one doubt that, even with a United Nations cover, most fighting would be done by the U.S., which suffered some 34,000 deaths and 103,000 wounded in the Korean War of 1950-53.

Warfare against North Korea in the name of nuclear non-proliferation would take a heavy new toll of Americans, and especially of South Koreans.

Why are so many ''tough guys'' beating the drums for sanctions, which North Korea warns would be ''an act of war,'' or for outright military action to deprive North Korea of nuclear weapons? Why the panic regarding North Korea when India, Israel and Pakistan almost certainly have built nuclear weapons, and Iran and South Africa may have done so? The answer I hear is that the Kim Il Sung regime in North Korea is unrepentantly communist and is crazily irresponsible. I do not think they are crazy enough to commit suicide.

We are told that North Korea has missiles that could deliver nuclear bombs to Seoul, South Korea, or to cities in China. I have not heard any great cries of fear out of China.

I cannot believe that there is a single official in North Korea who does not understand that the use of any nuclear weapon against South Korea, China, Japan or U.S. forces in the area would bring the swift obliteration of North Korea.

Those pushing the U.S. toward another war with North Korea express fear that Pyongyang might soon be selling nuclear weapons to other dangerous ''terrorist'' countries. The danger of this is far greater in Russia and the countries that until recently were part of the Soviet Union. No one is calling for military action to strip these new, troubled nations such as Ukraine of nuclear weapons.

While I have supported the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other efforts to prevent the spread of these ghastly weapons, I know that a case can be made for some proliferation. I am convinced that the United States and the Soviet Union would have gone to war over Berlin, Cuba, Hungary or something if both sides had not had devastating nuclear arsenals with neither country able to destroy the other in a first strike. India and Pakistan may now not be so quick to go to war since it would probably escalate into a nuclear exchange.

North Korea is not the last country, by any means, that will resist dictation by the United States or anyone else as to who can join the nuclear club. Powerful forces of racial pride are at work here that are just as strong as political ideology.

The I-can-have-a-bomb-but-you-can't zealots have turned the irritations of North Korean defiance into a crisis they do not know how to resolve.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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