In the past few weeks I've read something like fifty or sixty news and opinion articles about Korea, and a few of them stand out. Together I think they offer some answers to the questions, Why now? What do the North Koreans want? Why is the Bush administration ignoring Korea? What exactly are the options facing the administration, and wouldn't it be better if we faced them now?

First , why now? Well, obviously we're a little busy with Iraq, but it's really about more than that. North Korea is in crises. They're starving, literally. While there have been food shortages there for a while, they are now not even able to feed their military. The suspension of fuel shipments to them is causing them further crises. For all the trouble we have ascertaining Kim's motives, we can be pretty sure of one thing, he wants to remain in power. So what are his options? War? Whatever the devastating effects Kim can cause, for the South or elsewhere, it would be hard to imagine his regime still being in place afterward. But again, he's facing a crisis, so what can save him? The answer is, interestingly, us. We are the only ones that can save him, because only we have the food and oil that he needs, and have shown the willingness to give it to him. But we've stopped giving it to him. So he needs to get the shipments of oil and food started again, and he (rightly) assumes that as a founding member of the "axis of evil" any aid we send will come with conditions that will be aimed at weakening his grip. So he needs some hand to play in the negotiations that will invariably take place, and even more importantly, he needs to get us to negotiate in the first place (why would we want to?). So we get belligerence. And threats. As Steven Den Beste writes

It is a truism of negotiations that if one party is up against a deadline and the other is not, the one in a hurry is at a disadvantage…

What they're trying to do right now is to create panic. They are in deep trouble and their clock is ticking. Given that they actually are running out of time (and fuel oil, and food, and damned near everything else) then it is clear that it's to their advantage to try to make everyone else feel as if time is running out with as many provocations as they possibly can come up with. I believe that the cessation of fuel oil shipments is what set this crisis off; North Korea may well grind to a halt soon from simple inability to generate energy. As their fuel supplies dwindle, they are trying to force rapid movement by us; they are trying to make us feel as much urgency as I believe that they feel.

David Warren says something similar:

The aggressive stance is a desperate bid for survival, rather than any practical aspiration to hegemony. The politburo in Pyongyang may be crazy, but it is too pre-occupied with immediate survival to even think about offence. Even the conquest of the South is beyond its practical aspirations. It might be able to annihilate the South, in an act of murder-suicide, but it could not possibly conquer and then govern the South.

I think that is a pretty clear argument for why this is happening right now, but what to do? I think their public nonchalance shows the administration sees the situation this way, but ignoring it is not a good long-term solution. I in this high-stakes poker game, they're bluffing, because that's their best chance of winning what they want (food, oil, remaining in power). So, how do we call them on it? Warren thinks that we'll eventually give them what they want, and then remove our troops from South Korea (removing some of their leverage over us). One of the fundamental reasons why he's probably right is the question of whether we actually have the stomach to starve them, because that is one of the steps we'll have to take if we're going to break the regime.

William F. Buckley:

This leaves Mr. Bush with responsibility for enhancing starvation in North Korea, and this appears to run against the moral grain. Granted, the United States has never undertaken to feed every country in the world that is short of food, but to withhold grain as a matter of policy is something more merely than the question of acknowledging that in many countries food is scarce.

So we cave, as uncomfortable that may seem. But treating this as a problem that we must solve immediately is foolish, we've got to keep an eye on them, but not lose track of what we're doing in the Arab world, which is far more of a threat to us. It's not for the long haul either. Eventually we'll have to do something;Warren writes enigmatically:

There may, just may, be a technological solution to this problem in the near future -- to the problem of neutralizing an enemy's strike capacity without risking millions of lives -- between one and three years down the road. I am not at liberty to go into it; and besides it is of no use until it is ready.

Could he possibly be talking about this stuff?

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