Posted 9/1/2003 8:07 PM
U.S.-North Korea war seems 'strong
By Jimmy Carter
We face the strong
possibility of another Korean war, with potentially devastating consequences, so
the endangered multilateral talks in Beijing are of paramount importance. It is
vital that some accommodation be reached between Pyongyang and Washington.
North Korea is an isolated country, poverty stricken, paranoid, apparently
self-sacrificial and amazingly persistent in international confrontations, as is
now being demonstrated. It is a cultural and almost sacred commitment for its
leaders not to back down, even in the face of international condemnation and the
most severe political and economic pressure.
A previous example of this
stubbornness occurred in 1968, when North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a Navy
intelligence-gathering ship. Despite the best efforts of President Lyndon
Johnson to marshal international support and to prevail with economic punishment
and military threats, President Kim il Sung never deviated from his basic
demands, which included an embarrassing public apology from the United States
for "spying" on his country. After 11 months, President Johnson accepted all the
demands, and the crew was released.
Notwithstanding their abysmal
economic failures and the resulting hardships of their people, North Korean
leaders have never deviated from a commitment to military strength. They
maintain a formidable army, with artillery and missiles able to wreak great
destruction on Seoul and the northern portion of South Korea, regardless of how
much punishment North Koreans might have to absorb during a U.S. attack or
counterattack. The development of advanced rocketry and now a potential nuclear
capability is further proof of their scientific resources.
There was another crisis in 1994, when Kim il Sung expelled
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and threatened to begin
reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods from a nuclear power plant. The U.S.
government refused to talk to North Korean leaders, and made plans for economic
sanctions and a military attack. As the crisis escalated, The Carter Center was
finally given reluctant permission from President Clinton for me to visit
Pyongyang. A satisfactory agreement was concluded and later confirmed by both
governments, with participation by South Korea, Japan and others. But neither
side honored all the commitments.
is rapidly deteriorating again. North Korea feels increasingly threatened by
being branded an "axis of evil" member; deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in
Alaska; Washington voices expressing military threats; interception of North
Korean ships; ad hominem attacks on President Kim Jong Il; condemnation of
previous efforts by President Clinton and South Korean leaders to resolve issues
peacefully; and U.S. refusal to negotiate directly with North Korea. America's
newly declared policies of pre-emptive war and first use of nuclear weapons also
concern North Koreans.
Even before these more recent threats, the North
Koreans began a secret and illicit nuclear program. They have initiated a
concerted effort to develop a nuclear arsenal, with the possible production of a
half-dozen weapons by the end of 2003 and similar annual numbers thereafter.
These could be used by North Korea or sold to other nations or terrorist groups.
This is now by far the most serious threat to regional and world
There are other issues, but the basic North Korean demand is a
firm non-aggression commitment from the United States, which U.S. officials
continue to reject. The U.S. insists first on a complete end to the North
Koreans' nuclear program, which they have refused to accept. If neither side
will yield or compromise, then an eventual military confrontation seems likely.
The United States can prevail, but with terrible human casualties in both North
and South Korea.
There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North
Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power, with a firm commitment that the
U.S. will not attack a peaceful North Korea. This is a time for sustained and
flexible diplomacy between our two governments, to give peace and economic
progress a chance within a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
president Jimmy Carter chairs The Carter Center in Atlanta, a non-governmental
organization that advances peace and health.