Column: Time for talks

President George W. Bush, during the State of the Union Address on Jan. 29, 2002, said he would not permit the Axis of Evil – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – to threaten the United States with weapons of mass destruction. Those words lost luster on Thrusday, when the government only weakly responded to North Korea’s claim that it had nuclear weapons and threatened to withdraw from the six-nation negotiations with the United States, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.

It is difficult to determine whether the isolated totalitarian regime does have a nuclear weapon, or whether it has the technology to mount a nuclear warhead onto a missile that can reach the United States. It is important to note that this is the first time this embattled state has stated it has nuclear strike capabilities.

North Korea understands the cutthroat game of diplomacy. Its declaration comes at a time when the U.S. military is overextended. Furthermore, it understands that the specter of a nuclear war in the Far East is a risk far too great for its neighbors.

North Korea’s aims are clear – it seeks to erect a nuclear shield to protect itself, and food and oil to sustain itself. Despite its tough talk, Kim Jung Il’s regime is weak and unstable. North Korean economy is nonexistent, and its people face starvation every day. It must rely on its military might and the threat of war to sustain itself through foreign appeasements.

It is imperative that the Bush administration forms a cohesive diplomatic solution. This will be difficult, as the administration’s relations with the four nervous neighbors of the Communist menace have chilled. But a war would bring great instability to a region that treads on a delicate geopolitical footing.

The destruction of Seoul, assured in any military conflict in the Korean peninsula, will essentially eradicate a $615-billion-strong South Korean economy and bring turmoil to a people that have already endured colonization, partition and a bloody war in the past century. Also, North Korea has the ability to launch a missile and hit American bases in Japan, as well as major Japanese cities. The Japanese people should not have to relive the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima ever again.

Furthermore, unrest in the Korean peninsula and Japan will cripple the Chinese economy and could in turn destabilize its Communist regime – a scary prospect considering that China is one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers.

Despite all the risks, however, it would be unwise to simply give in to all of North Korea’s demands. The four Asian states and the United States should make it clear that it would simply be in the best interests for the thug state to give up its nuclear program. Failure to do so will not only allow the autocratic government to continue its “sea of fire” rhetoric, but gives incentives for South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear programs – a serious blow to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. United States’ security would also be vulnerable to the possibility of North Korea supplying terrorists with nuclear weapons.

It will be hard to deal with a man as capricious and untrustworthy as Kim. But the alternative is death, destruction and chaos that will set back every single bit of progress made in the region in the past five decades. And so long as the countries keep talking, the ghastly hooves of war will be kept at bay.