Collapsing North Korea

One peaceful way for President Bush to end a nuclear threat from Kim Jong Il may be simply to open a door for North Koreans to flee their country's giant gulag.

One model is close from recent history. The Soviet bloc of nations began to unravel in 1989 when East Germans voted with their feet after Hungary opened a door to the West. One communist regime after another collapsed under popular pressure - although not in Asia's communist nations, and especially not in North Korea.

Now, as a potential exporter of nuclear material to terrorists or terrorist-sponsoring states, the Kim regime is the target of intense American concern.

After months of trying to negotiate a solution, the White House may be giving up hope that China, a key supplier of oil and food to North Korea, ever can (or will) force its communist ally to give up its ambition to build nuclear bombs - which could happen within a matter of months.

The number of North Koreans fleeing into China has dramatically increased over the past year. An estimated 400,000 have escaped during the past decade. Many flee political oppression. Others want to avoid the starvation that has killed up to 2 million North Koreans.

Notably, more high-level officials are defecting, a sign of political disarray with the Kim dictatorship. The United States could send a strong signal to those potential defectors around Kim by offering to take in thousands of North Korean refugees. The Senate approved a measure this month that would make it easier for North Korean refugees to settle in the US.

China, and perhaps South Korea, would probably oppose such a move. Both of their economies would suffer in dealing with so many refugees. And there's a possibility Kim's police state could continue to keep its people from fleeing.

But given the alternatives - a preemptive US strike, or economic sanctions that might trigger a North Korean attack - the Bush administration might be wise to collapse Kim's bubble by encouraging a mass exodus.

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