Commentary

Rosett Column on North Korea Reckless and Illogical

Claudia Rosett’s column on North Korea (July 7) urges the Bush administration not to rule out preemptive military strikes. She casually dismisses the danger that such strikes might trigger a catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula with the observation that Kim Jong-il cannot afford a war, because he knows he would lose. Yet later in the same piece she worries that Kim might some day land a nuclear-tipped missile on Los Angeles if we don’t take preemptive military action now.

So, according to her logic, Kim would not risk the destruction of his regime by launching a second Korean war in response to a U.S. attack on his country, but he would be crazy enough to commit certain regime suicide by launching an unprovoked attack on the United States–a nation that has thousands of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. The most charitable thing that can be said about Rosett’s reasoning is that it is bizarre.

The reality is that preemptive military action against North Korea would be utterly reckless. Having seen what the United States did to Saddam Hussein, Kim would likely conclude that even a limited strike was the prelude to a U.S. campaign to overthrow his government. Believing that he had nothing to lose, his probable response would be to go on the offensive against U.S. and South Korean forces. And North Korea has substantial military capabilities. In addition to short and medium range missiles, Pyongyang has the ability to fire 300,000 artillery shells an hour into South Korea’s capital, Seoul, where nearly half that country’s population resides.

Rosett and other hawks who toy with preemptive war would risk the lives of millions of South Koreans and the 30,000 American troops stationed in that country. It is an option no rational policymaker should consider.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., is the author of seven books on international affairs, including America’s Coming War with China: A Collision Course over Taiwan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).