What’s the status of our mission to denuclearize North Korea?

Don’t Panic!... Your war questions answered

Let’s just say that while it’s a little early to start building an underground bunker in your back yard, now is probably a good time to start scanning eBay for used backhoes and cement mixers.

North Korea already has nuclear warheads. It also has missiles to stick them on that can hit South Korea, Japan, and probably even the U.S. West Coast. And an attack on North Korea aimed at “taking out” its nuclear facilities is not feasible because North Korea’s massive conventional artillery force can level much of densely urban South Korea before we could stop it, killing perhaps millions.

The only way we’ll get North Korea to surrender its nuclear program is through negotiations. As of now, however, the negotiations are kaput.

In February, North Korea announced that it would not even consider resuming the negotiations it had entered with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia until the U.S. agreed to hold one-on-one, direct negotiations with North Korea first. The U.S. has thus far refused.

Sadly, the only one-on-one talking that the U.S. is willing to engage in with North Korea is public name-calling. President Bush has referred to North Korea’s dear leader, Kim Jong-Il, as a “tyrant,” “threat” and “dangerous person,” while North Korea’s foreign ministry recently responded by calling President Bush a “philistine” and a “hooligan bereft of any personality as a human being.”

What does the name-calling match accomplish? Well, first it proves that North Korea’s foreign ministry is way better at name-calling than President Bush. Secondly, it has needlessly irritated a pride-obsessed North Korean regime to the point where the country’s leaders won’t return to nuclear talks unless we apologize. Seriously, Mr. President, you can stop calling Kim Jong-Il a tyrant and a threat. Everyone already knows that.

With negotiations stalled, the situation gets scarier by the day. A few weeks ago, North Korea confirmed that it removed 8,000 fuel rods from one of the reactors at its nuclear facility near Yongbyon. Do you care to guess what it is that North Korea’s nuclear engineers plan to do with the rods? Smoke a spliff and sit in a dark room and stare at them while listening to Now That’s What I Call Music, Vol. 18? Or maybe they plan to sell them as limited-edition glow-in-the-dark paperweights? Nope. Word on the street is that North Korea is going to use the rods to make fuel for two or three more nuclear weapons. Once completed, that’ll put North Korea’s nuclear arsenal somewhere in the range of eight to 10 weapons.

Are you ready for something even scarier than that? North Korea might be on the verge of testing a nuclear weapon. Just to be clear, by “testing” I mean detonating a nuclear weapon. American satellites have detected suspicious construction activity in the anti-Semitic-sounding North Korean town of Kilju. Supposedly, our satellites show tunnel work consistent with preparations for an underground nuclear test. The same images supposedly show that a viewing stand has recently been built.

While American and Japanese officials are talking up the possibility of a nuclear test, South Korea and China aren’t so sure. South Korean intelligence honcho Ko Young-Koo has stated on the record that he doesn’t think a test is imminent. I’m not sure who to believe, partly because I don’t understand why someone would build an above-ground viewing stand for an underground test.

It may be that North Korea, knowing full well that we’re watching with our satellites, is simply faking test preparations to scare us into paying more attention. “Hey, world, look at me!” is kinda the main point of North Korea’s nuclear program, anyway. It certainly is not planning on winning a war against the U.S. or South Korea. North Korea’s leaders know the country would lose a war if it starts one.

North Korea wants nukes so it can blackmail the world into helping its economy and as an insurance policy against an Iraq-style U.S.-led regime change. Our goal is to get North Korea to surrender its nuclear program without a war and without it looking too much like we’ve caved into the blackmail. So far, though, avoiding the appearance of blackmail just prompts North Korea to inch us closer to war.