The price of past US threats against North Korea

American policies dating from the 1950s might have contributed to Kim Jong Il's obsession with developing nuclear weapons.

If you wonder why North Korea's Kim Jong Il seems so obsessed with developing a nuclear weapon, consider these historical facts noted by The Washington Post's Walter Pincus:

In 1950, during the Korean War, when President Truman replied to a reporter's question about whether he would use the atomic bomb, Truman said that he would use "every weapon that we have." This was just five years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1953, President Eisenhower said that if North Korea did not negotiate in good faith to end the war, he would "remove all restraints in our use of weapons."

Mr. Pincus recalls that in 1957, the US Army deployed nuclear-tipped missiles near the demarcation line between the Koreas. The missiles began to be removed on President Carter's order in the late 1970s.

The current issue of Newsweek magazine has a cover story with the headline, "For 50 years, North Korea plotted to go nuclear. Now Kim Jong Il says it has." So now the Bush administration is straining to develop a coalition of the more-or-less-willing in order to punish North Korea for testing an atomic device and threatening to test more. The administration has succeeded, after making several concessions, in getting a unanimous resolution of the United Nations Security Council that prescribes punitive sanctions against North Korea.

But China and South Korea do not seem to be ready to go all out in enforcing these sanctions. These countries have indicated that their trade with North Korea would be hardly affected. They seem unwilling, so far, to authorize the boarding of ships at sea in order to check North Korean cargo.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has gone to Asia to solicit more cooperation in enforcement. But in both China and South Korea, concern about North Korea's nuclear program is outweighed by the fear that a collapse of the hermit kingdom would send thousands, perhaps millions, surging across the border.

It may be that the challenge this United States administration faces in building a coalition against North Korea is just the price we have to pay for our own threats of nuclear force more than 50 years ago.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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