Containing North Korea; U.S. Fights Acquisition of Nuclear Weapons

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Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

GYEONGJU, South Korea. - When you mention a U.S. military alliance facing trouble deciding where to go from here and divided over such questions as what threats it faces and how to deal with them, the case that probably comes to mind is the NATO alliance and the bitter transatlantic division over what to do about Iraq. Would that our difficulties were as confined as that. Across a different ocean, our 50-year-old military alliance with South Korea is also facing trouble, this time over the question of what to do about North Korea's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea has long served both parties very well. South Korea has become prosperous and democratic under the U.S. security umbrella. The U.S.-South Korea alliance and the alliance between the United States and Japan together form the backbone of U.S. security strategy in Northeast Asia.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance was conceived and long operated as a defensive alliance aimed at defending South Korea against another attack from the north, and therefore deterring such an attack. The alliance has performed that function well, and continues to do so, with strong military cooperation between the two nations. The alliance was not really geared, however, to face a challenge of the sort now rising on the Korean peninsula, namely, the coordination of U.S. and South Korean policy on dealing with the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong-Il.

The signs of strain are readily apparent. As I write, I am in the middle of a conference here on the subject jointly sponsored by the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, which is the South Korean Foreign Ministry's think tank, and the American Enterprise Institute.

Anti-Americanism is on the rise in North Korea, as elsewhere. The two alliance partners seem to be in profound disagreement over the threat posed by a nuclear North. The perspective of a South Korea dealing with an erratic but impoverished next-door neighbor is different from that of the United States thinking about global security issues, especially the nexus of nuclear weapons (which Mr. Kim's government threatens not only to build and to deploy on its own missiles but also to sell) and terrorist groups.

Perhaps a wise man can guide us. Conference ground rules prevent me from naming the speaker, but not from sharing this South Korean's insights.

Some people think of the Korean conflict as a relic of the Cold War. It isn't. The Cold War context is gone, but the U. …