Ever since North Korea's dramatic revelationthat it was producing materials thatcould be used to make nuclear weapons,the Bush administration has considered arange of policy options--including a militarystrike on North Korean nuclear facilities.Although the administration officiallydismisses such talk, President Bush has leftthe military option on the table, and influentialadvisers outside of the administrationhave openly called for military actionalong the lines of the Israeli attack on Iraqinuclear facilities at Osirak in 1981.
But a military strike is the least desirable of arange of unpalatable policy choices. An attackon North Korea is likely to result in a full retaliatoryresponse by the Democratic People'sRepublic of Korea, which would threaten thelives of hundreds of thousands of SouthKoreans, as well as the nearly 37,000 Americansstationed on the peninsula. Even a successfulattack could spread nuclear fallout throughoutEast Asia. Finally, a unilateral U.S. attack thatdestabilized the peninsula could upset relationswith China and South Korea.
Rather than adopting the most dangerouscourse of action as a first resort, theUnited States should instead take theopportunity to reduce its threat profile inthe region by focusing on multilateraldiplomatic efforts that place primaryresponsibility for resolving the crisis onthose regional actors most threatened bythe North Korean nuclear program.