Don't repeat mistakes in N. Korea

North Korea's Kim Jong Il is more of a monster than Saddam Hussein and ought to have been overthrown in 1993. He has caused the deaths of more people than Mr. Hussein and, instead of feeding his people, has continued a costly weapons program.

In the past eight years, between 2 million and 3 million North Koreans - out of a population of 22 million - have starved to death. Despite one of the longest and costliest emergency food programs in history, North Korea's famine has a proportionally higher death toll than any famine of the 20th century.

Like Rwanda or Yugoslavia, North Korea is a case for UN intervention and the International Court at the Hague.

Had North Korea been ruled by someone rational, then it would have used the past eight years to introduce economic reforms of the sort that China did in 1979 and to normalize ties with its neighbors - above all with the South.

Instead, Mr. Kim has done nothing but play one country off against another in his determination to preserve his country in a Stalinist time freeze.

He has squandered aid not only on his arms program but on extravagances such as hiring an Italian pizza chef and sending his son to enjoy Disney holidays in Japan and France. His economic projects - such as ostrich farming and casino development - have achieved nothing.

Not unexpectedly, the 1994 nuclear deal that President Clinton and former President Carter fixed up with Mr. Kim's father, Kim Il Sung, has completely unraveled. But now there is fresh opportunity for new policy - especially after this month's election of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who intends to continue the "sunshine policy" of his predecessor Kim Dae Jung. In retrospect, the 1994 deal was a mistake. The US should have gone ahead and removed the Kim family from power - by force - and unified the two Koreas.

South Korean President Kim Young Sam was probably right in his belief at the time that the North would collapse with a little outside help after the death of the elder Kim - the "Great Leader" - shortly after Mr. Carter's 1994 visit. A constant stream of reports dribbled out about uprisings, troop rebellions, and at least one attempted coup. Many refugees interviewed in China said they had expected a US-led invasion and believed that Kim Jong Il was so unpopular he would not last long.

But there was widespread belief that it was too dangerous to corner the North Koreans and risk all-out war. The US resident commander, Gen. Gary Luck, warned of 52,000 US casualties and 490,000 Korean casualties.

Then in 1995, North Korea suddenly admitted it was starving and Washington became its largest foreign-aid donor. Sadly, when the food aid arrived in sufficient quantities, it was too late to save many lives.

Hopes that foreign aid which has amounted to $6 billion could be used to coax the North into taking steps to help itself were ill-founded. North Korea has not even bothered to comply with the mandatory preconditions for food aid such as proper monitoring or nutrition surveys. Rather than fostering change, the aid may have prevented a collapse and strengthened the state's power over the populace.

Nothing tried in the past eight years either by Washington or Seoul has persuaded the North to drop itsweapon's program, change leadership, or policies.

Rather, Kim Jong Il seems more convinced than ever that all that kept him in power has been his long-range rocket and nuclear bomb programs. He keeps trying to signal that he'll relinquish those projects if only the US gives him what he really wants - diplomatic recognition, a treaty of non-aggression, and a massive economic aid program.

Kim Jong Il wants to be assured that his state will not disappear like East Germany and that he will not end up like theCeausescus in Romania. Yet realistically, he can never voluntarily abandon weapons of mass destruction because they provide the only reliable guarantee that Washington will never go back on its word.

And giving Kim such guarantees is so morally repugnant in view of his record that President Bush has rejected this strategy out of hand.

Equally, it is out of the question, especially after Mr. Roh's victory in South Korea, for the US to unilaterally prepare an invasion, the way it is doing with Iraq. Without the full backing of South Korea, Washington cannot realistically threaten war and Pyongyang knows it.

Yet there is a third alternative. Kim Jong Il must be faced with a UN ultimatum endorsed by all the great powers. This time around the US and South Korea must persuade Europe, Japan, Russia, and China to speak and act with one voice.

Kim Jong Ilshould be presented with a coherent list of demands and a timetable that covers not just strategic nuclear issues but the entire spectrum of domestic policies.

Kim Jong Il should be singled out and held personally responsible - by threat of arrest and trial - for any failure to comply. At the same time, he should quietly be encouraged to leave the country and, if necessary, even be offered a comfortable retirement.

Jasper Becker is a journalist living in Beijing and the author of 'Hungry Ghosts' and 'Famine in North Korea.'

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