US should not ignore North Korean threat

Arragon Perrone

American humorist Will Rogers once said, “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie,’ until you can find a rock.” In the case of North Korea, the United States is dealing with a crazy pit bull and has few rocks left to throw.

The North’s recent shelling of a South Korean city, an attack that killed four and injured 16, opens the door for the United Nations to represent the international community by standing with the U.S. and South Korea to oppose North Korean aggression. When the U.S. invaded Iraq seven years ago, it made the U.N. politically irrelevant on the international stage. But the status quo of today is not the status quo of 2003. Today, the U.S. cannot afford to become unilaterally embroiled in another foreign conflict if the Korean situation worsens. Only with the help of an active, supportive U.N. can North Korea be held accountable for further aggression, which at this point could mean war.

To continue with Rogers’ metaphor, let us consider a neighborhood that America must defend against vicious dogs. Ten years ago, the neighborhood was pretty nice. America had a lot of rocks and there were not a whole lot of dogs. The neighborhood had been safe ever since that Russian terrier up and died without a single rock being thrown. But then came 9/11, and a new breed of animal came into the neighborhood. It was some kind of stray. No one knew where it came from or who owned it, but some of the worst neighbors on the block were said to feed it scraps. America remembered seeing it years before, when it used the stray to attack that old Samoyed. After the stray wounded the beast, America had patted its head and left it alone. America thought the stray would just go away and die – or something like that.

Then came 9/11, and America realized how dangerous that stray actually was. The neighborhood came together, gathered up all of its stones and hurled them at the snarling stray. But the stray disappeared and nobody could find it. America decided to take the offensive and identify any other possible strays in the neighborhood. It wrote up a list and identified three: the mean Iraqi mongrel, the Iranian wolf and the vicious North Korean pit bull. Against the advice of its weaker neighbors, America picked up its stones and hurled them at the mongrel, knocking it dead. Feeling slighted and a little embarrassed that they couldn’t throw as well, the other neighbors gathered all their stones and refused to let America have any more.

Now, the North Korean pit bull has attacked an innocent ally, South Korea, and the United States is low on rocks. Logically, the neighborhood (the international community working through the United Nations) needs to collect their rocks (their combined military and diplomatic power), join America and get behind their wounded ally. If the North attacks again – possibly even harder this time – and the international community does nothing, the civilized world effectively tells North Korea and other brutal, violent regimes that they can go so far as to physically attack neighboring countries and no one will stop them.

The situation in the Koreas is tense and uncertain. The U.S. and South Korea are engaged in war games, which the North has hypocritically warned may cause “full-blown war.” While diplomats scramble, North Korea continues to move toward a nuclear future. Yesterday, the North announced that it is currently operating a uranium enrichment plant powered by “thousands of centrifuges.” Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University scientist who has visited the facility, says it could be quickly converted to produce highly-enriched uranium for nuclear bombs.

In the worst-case scenario, which recent events have revealed to be quite possible, North Korea develops a nuclear weapon and, in another act of paranoid aggression, nukes the South. If that happens, the U.S. would probably launch a joint airstrike with South Korea against the North’s capital, Pyongyang, and bear the price for whatever goes wrong. A better alternative is for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (himself a South Korean) to offer the U.N.’s unflinching support for the South Korean government in anticipation of an attack, and urge the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and other allied nations to offer military support if the North escalates the conflict.

There is hope for the U.N. in this stage of international politics. But if the U.N. just sits back and lets individual nations take the lead against North Korea, it cements its own diplomatic irrelevancy and leaves America to deal with the neighborhood dogs once again.

Arragon Perrone is a columnist for the Daily Campus at the University of Connecticut.